417 Idea Home

I like to surprise Angie with “extra destinations” on our annual birthday trips.  (The first corn maze we went to in Columbia was a big birthday surprise.)  This year was no different.  The fun we had in Springfield would probably have been enough (Japanese Stroll Garden, Braums, Battlefield Mall), but I wasn’t finished yet.  I took her down to tour the 417 Idea Home in Branson.

We’ve been talking about building a home for some time now.  The Idea Home was a collaborative effort that took four years to complete.  The home featured the best of what local architects, designers, builders, and suppliers had to offer.  It was meant to be an inspiration for people who want to build their own homes using the latest materials and technology.  Something that you can actually touch and walk around in.  And, best of all, Angie had never heard of it.

It was great fun for both of us, and it fueled another round of design plans and revisions.  One day, one day….

How to play chess

I came across an instruction slip that must have come from a chess game I had at school.  I thought it might help someone learn how to become a great player, so I’m posting it here.  (Please note, if you look carefully, you might find a couple of typos.  They are not mine; I wanted to reproduce these instructions in all the glory of the original.)

CHESS INSTRUCMON

Loc are drawn to estaohsh who has the while chessmen and thus, who can move first.  This player is then allowed the 16 black chess pieces.  The board is positioned so that each player has a dark corner square on his left.  The rooks are positioned on the two corner square to the left and right.  Next to these come the two corner square to the left and right.  Next to these come the two knights.  One on the left and one on the right.  Next to these, the two bis hops and in the center.  The queen and king, the white queen is always positioned on a light square and black queen on a dark square.  The eight pawns are then placed adjacently in the second row in frond of these chess’ pieces.  The pawns are then placed adjacently in the vance from its initial quare on the second rank, the pawnhas the option of moving one or Two-squa res.  The rook moves only on the ranks and files any distance and the bishop only on the diagonals.  The queen can move in any direction The knights are the only pieces which are able to change direction during the course of a move and “jump over” one’s own or one’s opponent’s pieces; a knight takes one step of one single square along the file or rank and then, still moving many from the square that it has left, takes one step along the diagonal.  The king may move in any direction, one step at a time.   Continue reading How to play chess

On a bicycle built for two

bikefortwoTwo seats.  Two sets of pedals.  One steering mechanism.

This contraption is truely a compatibility test for couples that surpasses what you could get on those many of those “online dating” sites.  You go through several stages on one of these things.  The first, of course, it, “Hey, that looks like fun.”  Next comes, “Okay, you are pedaling too (fast | slow) for me, could you (relax | pick up the pace)?”  Then comes, “In order to steer this thing, we have to work together.”  Then there’s a stop and a short break, followed by a pep talk by the one whose idea it wasn’t to stop and take a short break.

Then there’s communication.  Deep communication unlike what was occuring before.  Decisions on speed and direction are seemingly made and executed simultaneously.  You turn to your mate and see she’s smiling.  You realize you are too.

Riding on a side-by-side bicycle built for two on the Katy Trail near Rocheport is an education and a ton of fun at the same time.

Internet cultural dropout

Hello friends.  Yes, this is a new post.  It’s been nearly a year, and some of you may be wondering why it’s been so long.  It’s simple.

I dropped out.

I’m generally a pretty well-adjusted and happy guy.  I’ve always worked hard, enjoyed spending time with my wife, and tried to stay connected to and participate in society and culture.  I enjoyed getting into the blogging scene and experimenting with the medium.  I had no audience, really, except for those who are close to me, but I know my playful attempts to add something to the Internet will be out there in the ether, along with countless other individuals’ similar musings.

But the Internet is a communication medium, and my dropping out probably has more to do with a change I’ve seen since my early days on the web.  I put my first page up in 1995.  Things were very different then.  There was no real formula for contrubuting.  Bright flashing animated graphics, music in the background and links to cool things that popped up on the web were the norm, I guess.  People took care in what they posted, there was a community responsibility to add value to the internet in the process of crafting a presence for yourself.  But somewhere along the way, anonymity took over and the results of that have snowballed ever since.

I first noticed the shift on Usenet news groups.  There, new identities were much easier to create than a webpage presence, and people started assuming multiple identities.  These people were invariably the folks who would be argumentative, stirring up trouble on the news groups, and delighting in lowering the level of discourse.  They are known as “trolls.”  The multiple identities often times were used to back up the original troll identity, pretending to lend support and keep the regular members angry.

Anonymity breeds cruel and hateful behavior.  The more savvy internet contributors get, the further away from the original ethic of contributing positively we get and the more trolls with their “nym” armies start “flame wars” and then enjoy the fireworks.  With no reputation at stake, people who used to post technology articles to social media sites like digg.com are now vastly outnumbered by people spouting hostility.  Anonymity on the web = no consequences for hateful behavior.
Even an article submitted telling about today’s solar eclipse is met by trolls.  One comment:

“What’s new in this? Is it the first Solar Eclipse ever? wtf?”

Anonymity breeds cruel and hateful behavior.

That’s just a technology site.  Don’t go looking for intellegent and civil discourse on a site like the Daily KOS.  But news sites aren’t the only thing affected by this.  In fact, anonymity allows for much, much nastier behavior.  For instance, last year a mother created a fake MySpace profile in order to start an online relationship with one of her daughter’s rivals for a spot on the school cheerleading squad.  The resulting harassment inflicted on the teen eventually caused her to commit suicide.

This is not the Internet I knew when I made my first page.  That is why I haven’t spent much time inhabiting it.  But you know, it doesn’t have to be this way.  The web may be anonymity and hostility run amuck, but this little space I’ve carved out can be more.  It, along with the spaces of my friends, family, and kindred spirits around the world can make something better here.  Something that can provide some good-natured fun and elucidation.  Where disagreements don’t end up in name-calling.  To contribute to this web, not to degenerate it.

I’m going to start blogging again.  On my terms.

Christmas all year

JesusChristmas really came fast this year, and even now, it’s hard for me to think it’s over.

I was really in the Christmas spirit, too.  My classroom was decorated to a tee.  I’ve show others extraordinary patience and kindness to others, including forgiving grouchy people who repeatedly ran their shopping carts into me on Black Friday, taking extra time out to talk with people who just need to talk to someone this time of year, and yeilding to people whose road rage caused them to do something unwise.

In fact, now that the holiday has passed, I don’t want the serenity and joy I’ve gained during this intense, but short Christmas season to end.  Christmas may be the celebration of Jesus’s birth, and it’s a time of year that reminds us of the spark of divinity in all of us.  But He’s more than a birthday.  Yes, I hear an odd calling.  I know what I have to do.

I’m going to keep this going as long as I can.

What a country!

In the United States, you can always find a party.   In Soviet Russia, the Party finds you!

heartThat’s the kind of thing I expected when Angie and I went to Yakov Smirnoff’s show in Branson.  What I got was a whole lot more.

You see, Yakov is more than just a comedian.  He is an art teacher.  He is a professor of psychology.  He is a writer.  He is an actor.  He is a traditional Russian dancer.  We got a glimpse of each of these facets at his show.

The comedy in his show was family friendly, but sharp.  His clever play with the language was like George Carlin without the vulgarity.  “I bet you never looked at it that way … but you will now!” was his refrain.

What struck me most about Yakov was his genuine affection and appreciation for America.  He spoke in a way that isn’t fashionable now.   Continue reading What a country!

Galaxy Zoo

galaxyI want to let you know about a website that just launched.  It’s called Galaxy Zoo.

After you sign up, you go through a little training before you are presented with questions regarding the classification of galaxies.  No, computers are not yet at the point where they can reliably distinguish elliptical and spiral galaxies, viewed from any possible angle and with any number of irregularities.

It’s all good fun, and it helps advance galactic research.  “So, what did you do yesterday when it was raining outside?”  “I became a member of a research team taking images from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey to classify galaxy shapes so research can be done using the data.”  Wouldn’t you like that on your resumé?

Honors

The end of the school year is always a melancholy, contemplative time for teachers.   We send students off to their next challenges with all the knowledge and experiences we were able to give them during the year.  It is also the time of the teacher retirement ceremony, where we say goodbye and farewell to those who have devoted their adult life to the education of children.  The true impact of these sad farewells won’t be felt until next fall when that trusted resource, a wealth of experience and information, is no longer with us.   But then we will add new teachers, young and full of enthusiasm and energy.  It takes both kinds, really, to balance out a good educational staff.

I paused from packing down my classroom for the year to reflect on the year.  About then, a teacher I’ve worked with for the past few years came by and put a piece of paper on my desk.  It was a page from a teacher’s calendar.  By the time I had read it, she had almost slipped out.

Those teachers with the patience to stay true to the task, those teachers with the skill to bring order to the confusion, those teachers with a kind and understanding heart to see all children as capable and worthy, those teachers who teach special education children – these are truly the “saints of education.” – Harry and Rosemary Wong

“Thank you very much, but I don’t think I deserve this.”   She turned before she left and said simply, “Yes, you do.”

Blue Man Group

BlueManGroupHow To Be a Megastar 2.0 Tour.  The Blue Man Group.  Where to begin talking about this concert.  Well, more than a concert…an experience.

Angie and I decided to have an “appetizer-dinner” at one of our favorite restaurants in Columbia, Old Chicago, which, incidentally is where this odd group is originally from (the city, not the restaurant).  Once we got to “The ‘Zou” we were greeted by the music and video of Mike Relm, the opening act.  We didn’t have the best seats in the house, but once the Blue Men started their show, we felt like we were in the thick of a great rock concert.

The show was much more than that, though.  It was music with inventive percussion instruments and a full backup band.  It was comedy with audience participation.  It was special effects with crazy lighting and luminescent clothing.  It was gross, with half-eaten food being used as an art medium.  It was art with paint flying and splattering.

All of these elements added up to a slightly off-kilter look at the phenomenon of fame and rock stardom.  Angie and I really enjoyed it on every level.

Meet Graviton!

If you will indulge me for just a moment, I’ve created a superhero in the time between family visits this holiday season.

Graviton is the superhero persona of Dr. Mortimer Albee, an astronomer who was studying a previously unknown gravitational phenomenon five times the intensity of a black hole.  During his night of observations, he noticed something very peculiar.  The phenomenon was highly directional, and, in fact, was traveling right at him!  The effects were focused by the telescope he was using, and his entire body was exposed to the intense gravity phenomenon.

After being realigned on the subatomic level, Dr. Albee found he could “bend” gravity to push objects, regardless of their mass.  What he could push, he found he could pull, too.  In fact, he could even bend light around him to become invisible!