Friday, October 27, 2006

River rat

Over the past year, I have developed a great affinity for poker - especially Texas Hold 'Em. There is something about sitting around the table with a bunch of guys with beverages and pride and some money on the line. I got watching a series of High Stakes Poker on the Game Show Network in January, and I have really come to appreciate the game. I really enjoy the strategy involved in knowing percentages and knowing the other players, but that it is a game that also involves risk. For example, I was playing tonight, and on one of the later hands of the evening, my competition attempted to take me out by bidding in increments (I was by far the chip leader at that point). He finally went all in after the turn (the fourth card), and I called. He had top pair (kings), while I had a flush draw (diamonds) and a straight draw (if I got a ten). I calculated the odds and decided to risk it...and got a ten on the river to put him out. I also won the game on a king on the river (when faced with an ace-high hand), so I earned the title of "river rat." Although I do not necessarily like playing off the river, it does take skill to do so, and I came up on the right end tonight twice. River-riding notwithstanding, I feel like I am actually getting to be a better poker player (not that I am good, but that I am getting better), and that also helps me enjoy the game. But we will see what I say after I get beat good a few times.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Teacher clothes

I have gone over two of the teaching tips I have already discovered: Have lots of shortcuts, and have a wide base of seemingly useless knowledge. And here's trick number three of the teaching trade: look the part. I went out to Value Village before the school year began and picked up "teacher clothes": slacks, khakis, long-sleeved dress shirts, and ties. I was not sure if I was going to enjoy wearing more formal attire than I have been used to (keep in mind how long I have been alternating between university and camp), but I knew that it was part of the professional appearance I had to convey. And I have discovered something I did not expect: I actually like dressing that way on a regular basis. I enjoy looking professional, and it causes me to act more responsible. Plus, I really like wearing funky ties. I have a fairly set routine for clothes: either Monday or Tuesday is a tie day, as is Thursday; Friday is casual day, and Wednesday, as it has been for several years, is "Hawaiian Wednesday." I do realize that it is relatively easy for us gentlemen to dress professionally, but I had not thought of the difference it would make in my daily countenance. The clothes may not make the man, but they at least make the man (ie. me) feel more like a teacher.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Out of touch

Today marked the three-quarter mark of my crazy journey through the final two thirds of 2006: first camp, and now internship. While I do appreciate the space I have had and the time I have been able to devote to my work, as well as to catching up on some personal goals, I am beginning to find myself feeling "out of touch." This is a very unusual and disconcerting feeling for me, and although I see how it has been necessary to go through this process, I am certainly beginning to yearn for getting back in touch with people and life in Saskatoon in general. I think I feel not only out of touch, but "out of sight" and "out of mind", both on my part and the part of others. I need to keep others in sight to encourage me to keep in touch, much as others might need that same source for encouragement. Of course, the sobering reality is that I have two months left out here, but I do want to make the most of it. Therefore, I will be attempting to get back in touch, and would appreciate any attempts on your parts to do likewise (particularly if such an effort were to result in a visit to Humboldt). So I mean it when I say "keep in touch."

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Go banana!

I posted a few weeks ago about how the key to teaching was developing a bag of tricks that would help you succeed in the classroom. Well, I think I have figured out another key: knowing random trivia. For example, when seeking different motivational sets in an English class, my recently-latent yet still-near-encyclopedic knowledge of the first ten years of The Simpsons comes in very handy (as does YouTube!), in addition to my memory of obscure cartoon plots from the 1990s (eg. Tiny Toons' "The Tell-tale Vacuum"). It is so helpful having those references, as well as random meaningless tidbits of information, that can help keep students interested, as well as make me seem really cool. Key to teaching number 2, folks.
On a related note, the debate going on in my circles over the past week concerns the relative inability of women to remember and quote pop culture like Simpsons or Seinfeld (there are, of course, exceptions) as compared to men. We can have a lot more at our figurative fingertips, whereas it seems that if women do remember quotations, it is from sources they have held dear and viewed again and again. Is this because women choose to invest more in "relationship" with such media, whereas men are just out for a quick fix? Is there some natural reason for this phenomenon, or is it a product of nurture? Food for thought...and comments!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Oh, freak out!

I am now in last week of the first half of my sixteen-week internship experience, and I find it interesting that many of the other teachers are checking up on me to make sure I am doing okay. And what is perhaps more interesting is that, aside from the occasional difficult day, that I am just fine. I have pondered this fact for several weeks: am I not stressed out because I am doing really well, because getting stressed out is simply not a healthy way to react to stressful circumstances, or because I am not doing the work I need to be doing (or doing it at the level at which it should be done)? Other interns I know are freaking out about getting little sleep and being stressed and feeling so much external pressure, while I am still relatively calm and collected about the whole thing. But I would rather not descend into a spiral of self-doubt and lack of self-confidence if I am, in fact, just handling things well, so I feel safe in making the assumption that if I am actually way off track that there are the necessary structures in place to make me aware of that fact and accountable for it. My working theory is that I am who I am, that I am confident in who I am and what I can do, and that this "extended job interview" will not be helped by me stressing out, which would entail me forgetting small things and getting angry at people for no reason and shirking work. So I have decided that I am okay with not being stressed out. Unless someone with the power to evaluate me tells me I should be. Then I might start stressing out. [Bonus points if you can identify the source of this post's title.]

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Good night, and good luck.

I finally watched George Clooney's film Good Night, and Good Luck (only a year after I saw Clooney interviewed about it on The Daily Show!), and immediately realized that it deserved all of the accolades it earned, as it is a brilliantly acted and directed film. What really struck me was the difference between television journalism in the 1950s and today; at that time, television was a still-growing industry that was still deciding what its medium would be, much like the internet has been in recent memory for our generation. The unfortunately low intellectual standards that are now assumed with news broadcasting were not entrenched then, so Edward R. Murrow could freely quote Shakespeare's Julius Caesar in his commentary and not blink an eye. Now, aside from some isolated ventures, it is scarely possible to call what passes for news on television "journalism". Maybe it was the invention of "entertainment journalism" that killed the intelligence; or maybe Entertainment Tonight was a response to the dulling of the medium and the culture around it. In the film, Murrow expresses his dismay in what he predicts will be the future of television, particularly in comparison with its potential, and I am inclined to agree with him as far as "news" is concerned. The medium is one of entertainment, and so television does an excellent job of entertaining; unfortunately, McLuhan seems to be right, and entertainment has become the message of television, including the news. It is somewhat depressing to note the similarity of the rise of television with that of the internet because the 'net (and blogs) could well end up the same way as TV, but it is also invigorating to think that we could learn from our past mistakes and make the internet - and possibly even television once again - a medium that is more than entertainment. I guess all I can say about that is, well, "good night, and good luck."

Friday, October 13, 2006


The war is over. After a valiant effort in last year's referendum, a brief glimmer of hope in February, and a soul-crushing mind-numbing decision by the Students' Council in March that created as bleak a tapestry as has ever been made in student politics, the system has finally vindicated those of us who have rallied long and hard for the past two years against the invasion of the CFS. Former USSU president Robin Mowat filed an application to Queen's Court Bench to have the results of the referendum overturned. The judge's ruling: "I order that the referendum held by the USSU on the issue of whether it should join the CFS is of absolutely no force or effect." The sweet smell of judicial victory still lingers in my nostrils like the smell of a long-awaited turkey dinner. Stay tuned to Apatheology and for further triumphant reactions. We did it. We beat the CFS. We are hereby vindicated.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

I need a hug.

There is nothing in the world like a good hug. The kind of hug that shows a level of depth and caring that no other form of physical affection can. A handshake can do in a pinch, but it is not a hug. Other displays of affection are not the same. There is just something about that warm embrace between two people that seems to temporarily heal all of the ills in the world around you and that makes you say "I am glad to be alive." It can be a greeting hug, a goodbye hug, an "I'm sorry" hug, an "I missed you so much" hug, or an "I know" hug - each hug may have a different purpose, but a hug still has that one purpose: to show you care. Today I really needed a hug, so I received some "phone hugs", which were very very good...but they simply cannot replace the real physical contact between two people. So I still need a hug. Any takers?

Monday, October 09, 2006

A wacky red violin

Since the beginning of the MTV generation, popular music has gone through many phases: punk, new wave, bubblegum pop, hair metal, power ballads, grunge, post grunge, gangsta rap, hip-hop, rap-rock, ska, electronica, boy bands, metalcore, and emo. And polka. There has been one man who has transcended the shifting tides of popular taste to finally hit the Billboard Top 10 albums after over two decades of making music: Weird Al. Not only has Al's newest album Straight Outta Lynwood garnered commercial success, it is very possibly one of his best albums yet. He tackles Green Day ("Canadian Idiot"), R. Kelly, Chamillionaire, and Usher, among others, in what is his most diverse and possibly entertaining effort since 1996's Bad Hair Day (he would have included a parody of James Blunt's "You're Beautiful", except that Blunt's label - Atlantic - didn't allow it. You can download "You're Pitiful" here. But I digress.) Somehow, Weird Al always finds a way to keep his finger on the pulse of the culture around him, and to stay, well, weird. Sometimes, he might be a little too weird, but what can you do? Encourage him, I guess. Keep on cranking out the hit parodies, Al! (P.S. - This post's title is an anagram of "Weird Al Yankovic." Cool, huh?)

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Bee movie?

I finally saw the instant B-movie classic Snakes on a Plane last night, and I loved it! The movie was very cheesy, and it truly seemed like the violence was played for laughs. It seemed as if the movie did not take itself seriously, especially Samuel L. Jackson. But, as often seems to happen when I watch movies, it made me think about the nature of the genre of which the film purports to be the new leader: B-movies. The main question I have is whether a film like Snakes has brought on a new viability for that type of film. Can a B-movie be considered a success if it excels in the main market - or can it even be called a B-movie at that point? Certainly, the production values of the film, as well as the acting in it, would lead to the conclusion that it is undeniably a B-movie. But does the marketing of the film as such negate its very nature as such? That is the question. Either way, Snakes is and will continue to be a classic B-movie, right up there with other classics like Evil Dead and Hell Comes To Frogtown, as well as many others. I think there is a difference between a good bad movie (ie. a B movie that you can enjoy) and a bad bad movie (ie a C-movie or lower) that is just painful to watch; at least a B-movie has the bonus of a semi-recognizable rong figure, and some promise of comical awesomeness. A good B-movie every once in a while helps cure anyone's desire to take themselves too seriously - ergo, I highly recommend a good B-movie every so often, especially during awards season. And in November next year, there may be a new entry to the genre...

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Ruby Newsday

Today was a big release day for movies and music, but I managed to resist all temptations (X3: The Last Stand on DVD and new albums by Skillet, Evanescence, Pillar, The Killers, and to a lesser extent Jet) save for one: Corner Gas Season 3. Granted, that resistance was due primarily to the limitations of my particular geographical location (translated: no good music stores here), but I could not resist the "Awesome Eight" superhero caricatures of the characters on the cover of the DVD. Plus, it was cheaper in Extra Foods here than it was on Amazon (that was truly the clincher). Season 3 has some of the best episodes yet (out of the forty episodes in the first three seasons), but I understand that there are some people in my readership who have not yet experienced the wonder that is the Gas. Therefore, here are my top five must-watch Corner Gas Season 1 episodes for the uninitiated watcher: "Tax Man" (2), for the amazing banter; "World's Biggest Thing" (6), if not only for the "crack hoe" jokes; "Cousin Carl" (8) - Brent is emasculated; "Comedy Night" (10) - Book club is brilliant; and "Hook, Line, and Sinker" (11) - the respective interplays between Hank and Karen and Brent and Lacey are hilarious. Honestly, I do not think this show could ever get old.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Tricks of the trade

I have been reflecting recently about my past month of teaching - a process that has been partially inspired by this week's internship inservice and parent-teacher interviews - and I think I have discovered the key to teaching. No, it is not curriculum, or public speaking, or knowledge of material. It is knowing the tricks, tips, and shortcuts that make life easier as a teacher, whether it is in classroom management, marking, or content instruction. Teaching is very idiosyncratic, so every teacher has their own methods that they use, and they will share their ideas with interns (sometimes at the expense of the intern's attention span). Some teachers take longer to figure out those useful shortcuts, while some stumble across a good idea early on in their tenure and hang on to it as long as it works. While I am certainly learning many of those tricks along the way, I think that the lack of these tips is one of the most frustrating aspects of internship: not only do I not have my own shortcuts to help me out, but I have to accommodate other teachers' shortcuts as well. But, in the end, I will have a nice "grab bag" of educational goodies that will help make my life easier after I have been teaching for several years. Sigh.


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