Saturday, February 28, 2009

Phun with Photoshop

We've been focusing on making interesting backgrounds/wallpapers at school this week. One of my students named Marshall Mathers (wink) found a cool and simple demo that makes interesting light rays and shapes out of almost any background. Here are the steps in Photoshop:

  1. Find an image. Note: this can be really difficult as there are not many images available on the Internet.
  2. Rotate and resize to fit the target resolution of your desktop - I'm using 1024x768.
  3. Apply a Gaussian Blur Filter with a radial setting of around 70 pixels.
  4. Create a new layer, zoom out, and make a very large elliptical marquee selection.
  5. Using the paint brush, select a light color and a large soft brush and paint OUTSIDE of the selection (as if you're trying not to have the brush enter the inner part of the circle).
  6. Use transform to rotate, grow, and move to the right spot.
  7. Duplicate this layer and transform to your own tastes. Repeat until it looks good.
  8. Applying a "Color Balance" adjustment layer can also add some color complexity.
Here are some that I made out of random images. Click on the wallpapers to see the full size images.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Oregon's Educational Trilemma

I've been in the dumps lately about the financial crisis in Oregon. We primarily fund public services through state income tax and property tax, both of which have been skyrocketing downward of late (sound familiar for those of you out of state?). We have no sales tax. This has put Oregon in a $880 million dollar deficit for the biennium budget that ends this year. In addition, we might be almost $3 billion in the hole for the next biennium. These numbers are creating apocalyptic visions for our future.

This river trickles down to a ~$8 million dollar deficit for my school district before our year ends on June 30th. This number may get reduced from some help from the state, but the Governor is threatening vetos for any allocations of the stimulus in the current biennium. With the deficit news, we immediately cut 20% from our district's operating budget, removed all teacher fridges and microwaves from the building, shut off lights, yada yada... But this is not enough. No budget cuts or green behaviors are going to fill in that big of a hole. So the state and our district have to do one of the following:
  1. Fire Teachers and Support Staff- Roughly 80% of our operating budget is bound-up in staff salaries and benefits. Yes, like many other businesses, humans are the most expensive asset. Pros: Schools stay open which means parents don't need to get daycare$ or worry about teens home alone. A reduction in staff would hopefully keep the most effective teachers (but seniority is usually the defining protective criteria). Finally, this is an effect way to reduce the deficit (remember the 80% number). Cons: Valuable people lose their jobs. The local economic situation worsens due to the loss of local family income. Services to students will be reduced and programs will be cut - non-core curriculum areas have been targets in the past (librarians, special ed, music, physical ed, and art).

  2. Cut School Days - Our district saves ~$300,000 for every cut day of school. I'm not sure about the math, but we're predicting at least 12 days or more cut between March 1st and June 6th. This translates to an extra long spring break and many 3 day weekends. Pros: Teachers still have jobs. We cut our losses now and prep for next year's debacle. Somewhat lower impact to local economy. Students are excited to have time off (I'm just telling the truth). The state gets a clear message that we're already lean, and they eed to find a more stable educational funding model. Cons: Teachers will lose pay for every day that is cut. Students will get time off but they'll have to do more homework, and it'll make it tougher for lagging Seniors to graduate. Parents will have increased day care costs/worries. Students will get less educational time, so less curriculum will be covered, which = less learning.

  3. Fill the Deficit with a Reallocation of State Funds - The state can decide to spend money on education instead of other state services. I heard from a legislative guy in the know, that $100 million dollars of help from the state would allow all school districts in the state to stay open. Pros: No interruption in school for students. Teacher's pay is unaffected. Parents don't have to worry about daycare costs. Local economies are unaffected, with the exception of other state services that are cut. Cons: We steal resources that should really be allocated to the financial tsunami coming next year. Other important social services will get reduced by $100 million (police? fire? roads? social services?). Impact of a poor education funding model is not felt. I'm worried that just getting a bye this year puts off hard conversations we have to have about teacher's salaries, school funding, tax-bases, etc.

How's that for a bleak picture!?! It should be noted that hard-working people in our local economy are getting slammed. Unemployment is rising quickly. Lithia auto dealerships are being closed down, Harry and David was -15% for the quarter, and many retailers have died or are near death. Southern Oregon was a big part of the mortgage bubble, and many homes are being foreclosed.

So I'm interested in your comments. Is public education an untouchable pillar of our society that should always receive priority funding? Conversely, should education share the same pain that many members of our society are already feeling?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Sid and Marty Krofft Lived in an Alternate Universe

Alreet, for my last post in my cartoon series I'd like to focus on 70's geniuses Sid & Marty Krofft. Technically, these live-action shows are not cartoons but they're definitely Gods of Saturday morning. Sid & Marty forged a spacey, trippy, wildy imaginative alternate Satuday morning reality for zombie-faced, cereal munchers like myself. If you grew up in the 70's, you were affected by the media onslaught of shows like:
  • H.R. Pufnstuf (1969)
  • The Bugaloos (1970)
  • Lidsville (1971)
  • Sigmund and the Sea Monsters (1973)
  • Land of the Lost (1974)
  • Dr. Shrinker (1976)
  • Electra Woman and Dyna Girl (1976)
  • Kaptain Kool and the Kongs (1976)
  • Wonderbug (1976)
  • Bigfoot and Wildboy (1977)

Not to mention, these guys were the producers of two other 70's cultural forces - The Donnie and Marie Show, and the Bay City Rollers Saturday Morning Show (S-a-t-u-r... d-a-y.... Night!). Krofft shows are all over the interwebs, and well covered. Case in point, sci-fi blog i09 did an excellent and thorough post on them last spring. I'll just cover my two favorites.

H.R. Pufnstuf: The main story here is basically good vs. evil, but H.R. Pufnstuf featured an English lad named Jimmy who owned a talking gold flute named Freddy. He was conned into an adventure on a boat by a flying witch named Witchy Poo who wanted to steal Freddy. His boat washed up on Living Island - where everything is alive (and weird!). Jimmy and Freddy take refuge in the cave of H.R. Pufnstuf, who is the mayor of Living Island. Essentially, the whole series is a battle between Witchy Poo and Jimmy/HR over Freddy. Oh, and there are about 12,000 other trippy characters involved.

Sigmund and the Sea Monsters: Sigmund was the runt of a family of sea monsters who cast him out for refusing to scare people. Johnny and Scott were playing on the beach, discovered Sigmund, and let him live in their surprisingly set-like beach fort. The plot was always the same - trying to hide goofball Sigmund from the public, fighting the other sea monters, yada yada. Two interesting casting notes. Sigmund was played by Billy Barty, a Sid & Marty Krofft favorite, and one of the most famous little people in TV and movie history. In addition, Johnny was played by Johnny Whitaker who was originally cast as Jody in the TV hit, "Family Affair". Remember Buffy, Jody, Mrs. Beasley, and Mr. French?

Looking back, these shows were clearly gateway drugs to a much weirder TV. Bionic Man, anyone?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Jonny Quest Wants a New Dad

Continuing on with my indulgent and mind-numbing favorite cartoon series.... I present Jonny Quest!

JQ represented James Bond cool, bitchin' high-tech toys, international intrigue, sci-fi plot lines, and a cast devoid of all things woman. Jonny's Dad was Dr. Benton Quest, a whip smart government scientist. However, it was pretty clear that Dr. Quest's buddy, jet pilot/body guard/special agent Race Bannon, was the anti-nerd favorite in this show. If you've ever been embarrassed about your real dad, Race Bannon represented the best of all the things a father could be. Now that I'm a real dad, I am definitely embarrassed to be less cool than Dr. Quest.

Jonny, his turban-wearing psychic foster brother Hadji (can you ever remember another Indian boy in a cartoon?), and his awesome dog Bandit always seemed to be at the crossroads of a world-ending caper. I like the fact that these 11 year old boys would "accidently" get involved in the conflict and then the adults would just let them go along for the dangerous journey instead of hiding them in a styrofoam bike helmet somewhere.

The music in this cartoon is monsterous, and classic. Big band rat-a-tat horns on hyperdrive, full of fear and danger. Jonny Quest was one of the most violent kids cartoons ever created - the body count is high, and killing occurs without remorse. Still, it was a good ride while it lasted...

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Herculoids

I need a break from reality, so I'm going to do a series of posts on my favorite cartoons. Hank and I were watching "Ni Hao, Kai-Lan" this weekend and it hit me that cartoons have been a staple of child rearing for fifty to sixty years. All those hours spent watching 'toons has had a massive effect on American culture. My wife can vouch for the fact that many of my cultural and artistic references come from cartoons. For better or worse, right honey!?! Sickness and in health?

Before cartoons became "teachable moments" full of literacy, core mathematical concepts, and refined social mores, there was the pile of awesomeness known as The Herculoids. It featured excellent characters and a mind-numbing slew of dialog much like a badly dubbed martial arts film. There were no lessons here just cool monsters, the ever present wonders of space, and tons of sound effects. Check out this title sequence:

What's not to like? This short clip has got a rock ape, robots, molemen, mutants, a laser-eyed dragon, multiple explosions, and two snot-like buddies called gloop and gleep. I'm shocked that no one has made a movie based on this bizarre cartoon. Comedy gold. I encourage you to enjoy the following ride, "The Herculoids - Episode #9 - The Android People":

Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Best Week Ever? Not so much...

Argh! Thank God this week is over. Along with several other national pieces of bad news, the following events occurred in my life:

  1. I am (yet again) the 2009 Rec Room Romp Jacket-bearer. I "won" the jacket with one of the lowest point totals ever recorded in it's fifteen year history. As our culminating bowling event started, I was joined by my friend Critter who was also
    pursuing an all-time low. Alas, he turned on the after burners and I melted. Yes, I have some excuses... I lost two billiards matches by scratching on the eight ball, and the bowling lanes were not regulation length and were dry. However, my Romp history points to a sobering fact - the Jacket and I need each other like peanut butter needs jelly. Jacket, you complete me. I've decided that I'm going to get schooled by Christy in the art of cut-throat competitive tactics before next year. TresJ, Critter, and Sled, thank you for one of the most enjoyable weekends in recent memory - great to hang with the bros in Seattle! I'll do a future post on the jacket, so you can see why I would be detained by airport security if I tried to travel with it.

  2. I spent Tuesday night getting grilled by lawyers in the Novell v. Microsoft case that was started in 2004. I was served papers in mid-December and finally participated in the deposition this week. Apparently, I was an extremely powerful product manager during my time in the Office Marketing group with the power to crush titans like WordPerfect (NOT!) The whole thing was really embarrassing. I live in a small town - so when 3 lawyers, a court reporter, and a videographer set up shop in a local hotel just to videotape me... you can imagine the hilarity. The lawyer from the firm representing Microsoft was awesome. Heidi, thanks for trying to make this as painless as possible. Crossing my fingers that I won't have to do anything more in this case... it's like a bad dramedy TV movie, "Nowhere to Hide - A Teacher Caught in the Crossfire!".

  3. To wrap up the "Best Week Ever", Oregon announced further income and property tax deficits which will force my school district to make drastic cuts to our operating budget this year. Although we won't know the actual amount until later this month, we could be cutting 18 days from our school year. Yeah, I know... you'd like to have some vacation time too... but this means I'll be getting paid 18 less days of salary before June. Still, I feel lucky to have a job and insurance coverage in our current economic nightmare. It could be a lot worse.

OK! That was a really depressing post! Here's to better days. It's a good time to hug your wife and kids, call your parents and tell them that you love them, be kind to your neighbors, and be thankful that you're gainfully employed. Maybe the jacket is not so bad.