Saturday, November 17, 2007

An Indelicate Question About Robots

Regarding the news that men will one day have sex with robots...
...if I stick my dick in a Roomba, can I claim the honor of being the first man to fuck a robot?

More of Becca's Awesome Bitchery

ME: Did you see that Maxim did their list of the 10 least sexy women and Fergie wasn't even on it?

BECCA: Who was number one?

ME: Sarah Jessica Parker. I don't know, I always thought she had a whole ugly-hot thing going on.

BECCA: Oh, yeah, sure, she's hot, and I especially thought she was great as the villain in the Saw movies.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Nigersaurus taqueti

Paul Sereno pulled the curtain back on a newly discovered dinosaur yesterday. I wanted to be a paleontologist when I was a kid, and it does my heart good to know that there are still wonders like this to be discovered. What's really unique about this little sauropod is that all its teeth are in the front; no one's ever seen that in a dinosaur before. It has hundreds of tiny teeth in its mouth (50 columns of them), and its skull is "feather-light." Its vertebrae are very thin and its spine would've been mostly hollow.

The name comes from the discoverer, Philippe Taquet, who first found bones of the creature in Niger in the fifties. It takes time to put these things together.

This is all going to be detailed on Wednesday in the National Geographic online magazine, and I can't wait to read about it. The world needs all the new dinosaurs it can get.

Bigger Than the Sun

Click here to read a fascinating, not-overly-jargon-heavy story about the Holmes comet, which is now the biggest object in our solar system "by far." It's a fascinating universe we live in.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Ho Ho Ho

Westaff, a recruitment firm, has told its Santa Clauses this year that they might want to say "ha ha ha" instead of "ho ho ho," because "ho ho ho" might be considered offensive to women. Now, I know Westerners tend to be oversensitive and easily offended by the dumbest and most innocent things, but isn't that one just a bit over the top?

And yet, I wonder if there are women who are offended by Santa's "ho ho ho." To be fair, he's been bellowing that one since before women were called that by idiots.

Julie Gale, who runs Kids Free 2B Kids, a campaign against sexualizing children, says: "Gimme a break. We are talking about little kids who do not understand that 'ho, ho, ho' has any other connotation and nor should they. Leave Santa alone."

I agree that we should leave Santa alone, but I do think she might be a bit short-sighted about what kids understand. Just saying. My half-sisters were born in 1992 and 1995, and I know how early kids understand the connotations of certain words, okay? I know Americans love to indulge themselves in their obsessive and frankly bizarre fantasy that children will never learn what sex is and that it even exists, but it happens a lot earlier than anyone seems to remember. I'm not saying kids should be having sex, I'm just saying: they know. They're not stupid.

Anyway, I don't see a problem with "ho ho ho" other than the usual: dumb people overreacting and assuming everyone else is dumb. Leave me the fuck alone and stop trying to do my thinking for me, alright? Especially on the holidays.

Me Wantee!


Class Notes

So, it turns out that "individual special needs assistant" really means they'll just stick you wherever.

Yesterday, I went to an elementary school to be an assistant in a second grade class. It was a slower class, I could tell, and there are a couple of ill-behaved children who get sensory overload (is that what they're calling lack of focus now?) and need extra help. It was weird sitting at a table with a bunch of second graders. Let me tell you, if I've been holding off seeing myself as a grown man before, yesterday made it a lot harder. There's nothing more sobering when it comes to realizing their age than a bunch of kids calling you Mister.

For this segment, I've renamed all of the kids after Doctor Who companions.

I was late getting to the school thanks to some bad directions, but once I found it, they let me sign in and took me to a second grade class where I was supposed to sit across from a student, Turlough, and help him if he needed extra help. The assignment called for two half-days of work, yesterday and today. I was just sort of dropped right into it and tried to pretend like I knew what I was doing. There are three problem kids in this classroom, all boys--Turlough, Adric, and Harry, the last of whom is apparently so ill-behaved that he has to sit by himself away from all of the other students. They were otherwise divided into three groups of six (five at my table). The kid next to me, Jamie, had a mohawk he seemed to enjoy.

The students were, for the most part, pretty good. I tried to help Turlough with his math, but he was hard to get through to. It wasn't impossible--eventually I did--but he spends a lot of time doing tricks I recognize from my own elementary school days: taking more time than necessary, not paying attention, drawing instead of staying on task, becoming suddenly very interested in someone else's shirt, and then writing the answer in after someone else has given the correct one. I don't think it's necessarily sensory overload so much as it is a general lack of focus that could probably be helped by some individual attention. In fact, a number of the kids, including Turlough and Adric, have to meet a couple of times with specialists for that very reason. The job I did as an aide is usually filled by whomever they can get; the school hasn't hired a regular person.

I've never really, really thought about how much negative reinforcement kids get from other kids. If a kid gets laughs, he'll keep acting up. That's another of Turlough's problems. Too much energy and nowhere to focus it is another. Well, he has somewhere to focus, but he's not interested. I told him that math should be his easiest subject (although it never was for me, but I was trying to encourage him), because numbers are either always right or always wrong. It's simple and not vague. He seemed to pick up on that.

The kids were interesting in the way little aliens are oddly fascinating; so like you and yet so unalike. I felt so old in the undersized chair. I felt the oldest when the kids were doing their writing, and little Tegan leaned over and asked: "Mr. Frog, how do you spell princes?" And then I was pulled, dazed and confused, into responsible adulthood.

I was even left alone with the class for a few minutes, so I walked around and made sure no one was monkeying around. I saw one girl, Jo, who had an NIU Husky drawn on her face. She must've been at this weekend's football game. "Are you an NIU student?" I asked. "No," she answered earnestly, "but I want to go there. Did you go there?" "Yes," I nodded. The rest of the day she kept checking up on me, showing me she could say her alphabet backwards and asking me how to spell words. When the kids were getting ready to go out for their lunch, she asked if I was going to have recess with them and then, very concerned, looked at my sweater and asked: "Are you going to be warm enough in that? Don't you have a jacket?"

I was supposed to work for half the day, but Turlough asked if I was still going to be there after lunch. "I don't know," I said. "Usually the person who sits there is here after lunch," he said. "Do you want me to be here after lunch?" I asked. "Yeah," he said. So I told the teacher I could work the full day, which she was happy with. She told me the kids were especially ill-behaved this week, but that they were even worse when she had no assistant. Honestly, she seemed relieved.

While she was in the hall getting ready to march the kids down to the gym for lunch, Zoe walked in and said: "I need to go read to someone, but she's not there." She showed me the book she had; she's part of a program where the kids need to read in front of a specialist for extra help. I didn't know what the hell to do, and Zoe was looking up at me expectantly.

"What do you usually do when she's not there?" I asked.

"She's never not been there."

Damn. I told Zoe to go and check once more; she said the door was locked and the lights were off. She told me to hear her read and sign her slip saying she did it. I wasn't sure what I should do, and I said, without thinking: "Okay, let me see... I've never been to this school before."

In that earnest way kids have: "I can tell."

I took Zoe back into the classroom and listened to her read two pages with only a few stops and starts. Then I signed her paper and she went to lunch. The teacher didn't seem to have a problem with me doing it, so I guess I was okay.

Poor Zoe apparently had an accident; she went to the office and came back in a gym shirt and some old pants. Poor kid.

During lunch, the teacher and I talked. She asked how long I'd been subbing, to which I quipped: "About three hours." She gave me some good advice and told me I was doing fine considering I didn't know what I was supposed to be doing. Since I'd missed breakfast trying to find the school, I jumped up when she said I could go eat lunch. I flew to Wendy's and devoured one of their double cheeseburger-shaped mounds of grease, then washed it down with a Dasani and flew back. I got to class before anyone else.

After a bit about the Mayflower, it was time to march the kids down to the gym again for P.E. Harry and Adric got in trouble in class; I was told that I was supposed to take Harry and Turlough for a walk to calm them down from the sensory overload of P.E., but Harry ended up having to spend an hour or more in the office. The walk didn't happen, but Turlough manages to calm down after several minutes.

P.E. wasn't bad; the kids were having fun playing, and I spent a bunch of time talking to the girl subbing for gym. She was about 25 and blonde, and she gave me a lot of good advice about subbing in DeKalb. She told me I was overdressed (I had on dress pants, a collared shirt, and a sweater--I saw a lot of the teachers were wearing jeans these days), and told me when the phone calls start and how to stop them if I can't or don't want to work. Blondie was personable and very cute, and asked me if I'd ever been to that particular school before. "It's my first day," I said. "Have you been subbing long?" "It's my first day." She seemed to find that very cute. She let it drop that she would probably be available on Thursday to go out for a drink after work, but I didn't take her up on it. Damn it.

Zoe hurt herself in gym; she fell on her knee and she was crying and wanted to go to the nurse. Blondie asked if I could take her, but I didn't know where the nurse was. Zoe did, though, and I helped her there, telling her she could go as slow as she wanted if it hurt too much. The nurse gave her some ice, and I walked her to the classroom. On the way, I told her about how I twisted my ankle, and she had some questions about whether it hurt and if I could still walk and stuff, and she was so interested that she stopped limping and started walking normally and didn't focus so much on how much she hurt. Wow, I'm good with kids. I wasn't sure about that, but that's what I planned and that's how it worked. Cool.

The rest of the day was alright; man, you could not pay me to go through second grade again. It's just so boring. The teacher turned down most of the lights and softly read the kids a book about the pilgrims. She has a water fountain in the class, and things were just so serene for a couple of minutes that I almost fell asleep. (I don't know what it is, but around 2:15 or so I start to get very, very tired and want to nap.) I was trying hard not to yawn, I was so relaxed. While they were reading, Zoe waved at me once. I don't know why, but little girls have always liked me--it was that way at family parties my whole life, and it's true now. There are always little girls who want my attention and want to show off. Man, why can't that be true of women my own age? Can kids just tell if you're nice or not? Tegan took time out from her book to tell me about how her uncle has real live turkeys at his farm. It was very cute.

When the kids had their library time at the end of the day, I tried not to listen as the librarian badly read to them. The teacher and I whispered to each other; she told me to be wary of the high schools, because they're not much better than the second graders. "I need a drink," she joked. I nodded in agreement.

By the end of the day, with students getting ready, I noticed some of them hugged the teacher as they left. Man, did I ever do that? I can't remember. I wonder at what age they start discouraging that. Jo told me again that she hoped I would be okay without a jacket. Zoe made a big point of showing me her invitation to someone's bowling party. Then I told the teacher I would be back in today for a full day if she needed me, but she told me classes would only go until noon; conferences on Friday. So I said I'd be in again, anyway.

When I got back this morning to sign in, someone in the office asked: "You're SamuraiFrog, right?"


"Are you a certified substitute teacher, or can you only aide?"

"No, I'm certified."

"Hold on." Then she went into the principal's office and brought out the principal, who put me down as a sub for the day and led me off. She wanted to put me in as a teacher in another classroom. At first, I was disappointed to not be going to my original group of second graders, but I know that teaching pays more than assisting. She took me past the library to a first grade class that needed a teacher. Then she said, before we reached it: "We have a Spanish instruction class that needs a teacher."

"Oh, I'm sorry," I said, "I don't speak Spanish. Just a little bit, but not enough to teach in Spanish."

"It's okay," she explained, "the assistant will do most of the teaching. She's from another class and she speaks Spanish; we just legally need someone certified to be in the classroom. You'll be fine."

So, Mr. Frog the special needs assistant became Mr. Frog the first grade Spanish instruction teacher. Thank goodness for the assistant, though (I'll call her Mila), because she did most of the teaching. We both were going through the instructions left by the teacher very quickly, trying all day to find our bearings. She was very nice and friendly, although she twice forgot I couldn't speak much Spanish. The first time, I said, almost meekly, "Lo siento, yo no intendo," and she apologized profusely. The second time, she caught herself and laughed pretty loudly.

The kids, whom I'm going to rename after Disney short characters, were better behaved than the second graders were. There were a couple of troublemakers, Horace and Beppo, but they didn't disrupt too much. Again, there were a couple of girls--Minnie, Daisy, Clarabelle, and Dinah--who wanted my attention. The kids had a pizza party today, which was yet another thing to add on. I just tried to hang on and help Mila as much as I could; I did read a book to the students, Thanksgiving Is a Day for Giving Thanks, which the kids enjoyed. That was the only time I sat all day, which was nice. Daisy especially wanted me to help her while she was doing her story (they had writing and drawing time, too), but I think she was just showing off, because she couldn't think of anything to ask. As someone who wants to have kids, I found it very cute, but kept reminding her that other kids needed my help, too. She said: "You're a funny guy."

The kids today were calling me "Teacher" instead of "Mr. Frog," which I thought was cute, too. It's so weird that I was sitting at home earlier this week and now I'm suddenly a teacher with a classroom full of kids. At noon, I marched the ones taking the bus to the gym and saw one of my kids from yesterday, Tegan, and she gave me a big wave and a big smile. And one of the kids, Mickey, actually hugged me before he left, which was sweet.

So, I've now been a special needs assistant and an actual substitute teacher. After class, Mila and I talked a bit and she laughed about me being only on my second day and just getting thrown in, but I'm starting to wonder when I'll not be thrown in. That's the job, I guess. It's kind of like Quantum Leap; all of a sudden there you are, in someone else's life, and you've got to acclimate yourself quickly and do what you need to do. It's exciting, actually, and I really like doing this. I hate to say something as cheesy as making a difference or something, but I do feel like I've done something at the end of the day.

I already love this so much more than the office job I quit.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

I am so pissed at Disney for deciding not to do the next installment of Fantasia. Why is it that every time I think they're going to live up to their promise, they disappoint me? Anyway, this is one of four shorts completed for Fantasia, and the first I've seen. And it's beautiful. It captures Andersen's fairy tale perfectly using Borodin music, and gives me a pang of sadness both for the Little Matchgirl and for the loss of more Fantasia. Now, is Disney going to put Destino and Lorenzo the Magnificent on DVD or what? **** stars.

This is another Luc Besson production, and like most of them, it's fun and hilarious and enjoyably dumb. Salma Hayek and Penelope Cruz need to make about 19 more movies together, and I want them now. *** stars.

Great David Leaf doc about the FBI case against Lennon and his fight to stay in New York when he was threatened by deportation. I love documentaries about Lennon, one of my greatest heroes; but they also make me sad that the simple, plain-spoken, passionate artist is no longer alive. This one doesn't tread ground that's over familiar. **** stars.

I enjoy sex toys, I enjoy Katie Morgan, I enjoy Katie Morgan talking about sex toys. HBO sex specials tend to be a little too fakey happy for me, but I liked it. *** stars.

Classic Czech film about life during World War II and a young rail officer who falls in love. Playful, sexy and funny, while also having the depth of many European examinations of life at war. I can't get enough of these European films from the fifties and sixties about daily life and how it tries to survive in times of crisis. **** stars.

I loved Ocean's Eleven; I despised Ocean's Twelve. This one falls somewhere inbetween. It tries too hard to be breezy and fun and cool and vaguely 1961-ish, but it's also self-conscious, self-referencing, and a tad bit smug. Most of the situations are recycled and the best reveal is a repeat of one from the previous movie. It's a step in the right direction jettisoning Catherine Zeta-Jones and the dreadful Julia Roberts; I didn't even mind Al Pacino. But the spark is long gone and the character interplay is too cool to catch. So, it's alright, but so much less than it could have been. It looks great, though. *** stars.

Pure shit. I made it halfway through and didn't laugh once, so I shut it off. It's a typical DreamWorks type of awful; built around a personality that isn't funny (in this one, Mike Meyers is barely even trying anymore), all the humor is telegraphed and unfunny or references something unfunny (those references have become much more product placements of late), and no kid or adult could care about the plot. Shrek spends so much time whining; remember when he used to not care if people liked him? Now he's constantly undermining himself. Look, DreamWorks, I made it through the terrible Madagascar and the ridiculously bad Shark Tale, and my biggest complaint about your CGI movies is this: no kid cares about the existential crises of lions trying to overcome their instincts to eat meat or an ogre who is nervous about being a father. Your movies are too dumb and soulless for adults to enjoy and too complicated and unfunny for kids. Figure it out, already. And this thing with Jack Black, this Kung Fu Panda... is there a chance to destroy this before it happens? Stop basing these movies on one person's personality. They suck! No stars. Choke on my dick, DreamWorks.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Health Report: Week 48

Well, it's finally official. The school district has entered my information into their substitute system, and I'm a real teacher kind of. I was told this afternoon that I would most likely start getting calls tonight, but I got three calls early this evening and accepted two days as an individual special needs assistant at a nearby elementary school. I'm not sure what that entails, but I've actually worked with special needs kids in the past, and I'm excited to be doing some kind of school-related work. It's the first step towards teaching for real, possibly.

The only thing I'm a little worried about is my ankle. It's mostly healed, but I still can't move it in certain directions and I still can't complete a full step. I can put pressure on it and my range of motion has increased, though. It's a lot better than it was. I've been laid up since Halloween, so I'm eager to get off the couch and back to work.

I'm still not up to walking in the morning, though. I have started controlling the amount of food I eat, though. I eat less and I feel better when I do. And I haven't had an HFCS soda since my last Health Report, which is good. The cleansing has begun, and this time it's permanent. I can already feel that I'm starting to lose weight, because I know how my belly fat is distributed and what the cycle is that it goes through when I'm losing and gaining weight. I'm starting to lose inches and that should lead to real weight loss if I work harder. When my ankle is better, I'll start going to the gym again. The job I'm working tomorrow is only in the morning, so if it leads to something longer, I can always go after work.

Oh, man, I wish it was an easier process. Well, it isn't hard, actually, but I wish it was easier to get in the habit and the mindframe. Once I do, it'll become second nature again.

Not much else to report; I'm excited about tomorrow, and I'm sure I'll let you know if I enjoyed my time or ran screaming from the school system.

TV Report: I Predicted This

Tim Kring felt the need to apologize for Heroes. I understand a lot of people don't like where the show's at right now (I understand; I've stopped watching it and will catch it on DVD), but I don't think apologizing is the right way to go. I admit, it sucks when a show you enjoy starts to go bad, but TV is generally only good when people are telling the stories they want to tell and not caving in to what the audience wants. And I liked Heroes last season. Eventually. What got me back into the show was a marathon of the first five episodes--taken at once, there was actual momentum instead of painstaking and frustrating set-up after set-up. That's why I'm awaiting next year's DVD. And why I'll probably do the same for the next season of Lost.

Anyway, according to the linked Entertainment Weekly and other media outlets, Heroes is in "a creative decline." The implication being that the first season was brilliant (let's not go overboard) and the second season isn't as good. The ratings are down 15% from this time last year. Kring acknowledges the slow pacing, the fact that it's taken too long to establish the major arc, the clumsy way new characters have been dropped in, and the general crappiness of the Hiro-in-Japan and Claire-in-love-with-whiny-emo-boy storylines. Plans are now underway to make the 3 December episode a finale, partially because of the strike, but also to start fresh for the second half of the season.

In other words, Kring is admitting that his show sucks and groveling to fans in order to get them back. Which never really results in quality.

The funny thing is, these are the same problems the show had last season. The pacing and set-up were too slow, too self-important, too mannered. It took too long to establish the major arc because the writers couldn't figure out how to introduce the characters and set up the story at the same time. And last season had crappy storylines, too--I hated Peter and Nathan so much that I was actually pissed off that they survived. But it picked up and built and, I thought (though I seem to be in the minority here) that it had a satisfying, appropriately comic book ending. And I find that, when it comes to comic books and TV shows, fans don't really know what they want, but they love to complain about what they get.

Anyway, I'm really here to be smug and say: toldja so. My prediction back in May was: the first six weeks of next season lose viewers because people will say they took too long setting up all of the characters. Just like they already did. And I know it sounds smug and all, but I never get tired of watching me be right. The tastes of comic book fans and TV viewers are just too easy to predict. They both feel entitled to something, but they have no idea what.

I'll catch it on DVD. There are other shows that I don't even care that much about. Yes, I mean you, Chuck. Nice try, but Jesus Christ.

Deer Fishing

My boss from the university sent me this one, and I just thought it was kind of oddly neat. Maybe it's a puff piece, sure, but it was kind of neat. I don't know who sent this to her originally or how much this has made the rounds, but here it is.

Last Saturday morning, my buddy Bo Warren and I were trolling for stripers in the Chesapeake Bay. We were 1½ miles offshore in about 80 feet of water contemplating why the fish weren't biting. We looked back to check our gear and saw something odd in the water. Was it a seal? Can't be, we don't have seals around here.

On closer look, it turned out to be a buck deer that was WAY off course. He was desperate and barely staying afloat.

I've seen deer swim a river or bayou before. When you see that, the first thing you notice is that they are powerful swimmers. Their head and shoulders are out of the water and they make surprisingly good headway. This critter was just keeping his nose up and looked like he'd been swimming all night long. In fact, he was so worn out that he swam toward the boat probably thinking it looked enough like land to him. When he got closer though, he wasn't sure what to make of the two dudes on board, and backed off.

So, since the fish weren't biting, we thought we'd give this buck a hand. Turns out Bo grew up around cows and was really handy with a bowline. He lassoed the deer on the first try! Bo grabbed his neck, I grabbed the flank, and we barreled over backwards into the boat.

Before I knew it, Bo was on top of him and had him tied up just like a calf.

We hit the throttle and shuttled him to the closest beach: Kent Point. I beached the boat and we carefully unloaded the deer onto the sand. The whole time we kept thinking he was going to kick the snot out of us. He never did though; he was totally spent. We untied him and jumped back. Too weak to stand, he just sat there quivering. We even picked him up again and put his feet underneath him, but he still couldn't walk. Don't know if he made it or not, but I think his chances were vastly improved. Hopefully he recovered after time.

When you're out and about, ya just never know...

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Song of the Week: "Woman"

I need some John Lennon today, and I haven't heard this song in a while.

Veteran's Day

Every time there's a memorial day like this and I write something political, I get castigated by someone for politicking on a day when it's inappropriate. But my questions are these: first, how is it political to point out that America treats its veterans badly? We expect them to make the ultimate sacrifice for us, and when they're lucky enough not to die in a war, we punish them for it by cutting their benefits, making it difficult for them to get a job, and denying them the medical care they need because of traumas--both physical and mental--suffered in the line of duty. That's not political, and god damn our government for trying to politicize things like morality, good-naturedness, realism, and common sense. And second, how is it inappropriate, on a day when we're supposed to remember and reflect on the sacrifice made so we can have our barbecues this weekend, to realize that 1 in 4 Iraq War vets is homeless? They have a day for veterans, and we're okay with ignoring their welfare?

You know, I don't criticize America because I hate it. I want this to be a better place. And if you really can judge a nation but how it treats the least among them, then we deserved to be judged very harshly indeed.

A Money Meme

I'm not sure where or when I found this, but what the heck, let's do it now.

A philanthropist awards you a great deal of money with the stipulation that you may use half of it for yourself and the other half you must use for the benefit of others. By "benefit of others" it can mean anything really, buying a gift for a family member or donating to a charity.

A. How would you spend the money on yourself?
Well, I'd pay off my student loans for sure ($48,000 or so) and some of the other debt I have. I don't know jack about investing, but I'd search for opportunities to make my money grow, as they say.

B. How do you use the money for others?
When I can give money, I give to veterans and to research for child cancer, because that's how my sister died.

C. If you were to spend part of your money to have a performer do a show for you, who would it be and why?
David Bowie, of course. He's the best.

D. If you were to use it on a new vehicle for yourself, what kind?
I wouldn't mind an Aston Martin... However, if I could get one of those Futura Batmobiles...

E. If you spent part of it to go to a "fantasy" camp, what type would you choose?
Is there someplace where I can get in shape? Or maybe I could go to Hedonism...

F. If you were to use it to buy season tickets for a sports team, what team would it be?
The Cubs. They were my grandpa's team, and they're my team.

G. If you were to use it to go on a cruise (assuming you like cruises) where would you cruise to?
I want to go on one of those Alaskan cruises while there are still such a thing as polar bears.

H. If you were to use it to go to NYC to see a show (or shows), what would you see?
I guess I'd go see Spamalot. There's not much I'm interested in going to see.

I. Totally off the subject, what is your favorite carnival food?
Huh? Okay, well, funnel cake. Big surprise, the fat guy likes funnel cake.

Frankly, I'm Surprised It's So Low

81% Movie Freak