Monday, July 28, 2014

Cash has discovered Pinterest

. . . And I thought I loved Pinterest.

Cash loves it even more.

Saturday morning, as I was waiting for my Videoscribe tutorial to convert to a .mov file, Cash crawled into my lap.  He has seen all of the  superhero movies on my MacBook Air, so I decided to show him superheroes on Pinterest.

As soon as the images came up, Cash was hooked!

Now every time I sit down to get some work done, Cash crawls into my lap and says, "Dad! Let's look at superheroes and Legos!"

I just have to get the app on the iPad and Cash will be pinning left and right!

Oh That Kenzie!!

This morning as we were getting to leave, I asked Kenzie if she would give me a really cool Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle poster that she colored a few nights ago.

"Kenz," I asked.  "Can I bring this to school and hang it up in my classroom?"

"Dad," she said, putting on her shoe.  "I can't.  I promised that to KoKo, and she'd be heartbroken if I didn't give it to her."

"Oh, come on," I said, teasing.

Then Kenzie had to explain, "Dad!  That's why I drew you that picture last night. Remember?"

In fact, I did.  She drew a picture of her and I walking down the street while Cash and Mom were in the house.

"Dad, you can always have this painting so when I'm big and move off to college, you can look at it and remember how cute I was when I was little.  That way you'll never miss me."

What a sweetheart!  The wisdom of an almost six year old!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

This was my weekend

It took me the better part of Saturday and Sunday, but I have these two videos created and published to Youtube.

The first is a trailer I created to entice students to take College Comp 2.  I used Videoscribe exclusively for this.  Well, I added the music via Garageband.

The other is a video highlighting the final Linchpin project in College Comp 2.  I used Keynote, Timeline 3D, Vimeo, and iMovie to bring it all to life.

Did I mention that I have the greatest job ever?  And I don't even have kids in my classes yet!  #livingthedream

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Noble Teaching Purpose

Now that I've bought a premium subscription to Videoscribe, I am having a blast.  Here is my third attempt, on one of my favorite topics.

The Breakfast Club

In the summer of 1984, my parents moved from Red Lake Falls to a farm just north of Marcioux Corner, right on the intersection of Highway 2 and 32.

I went from having cable in town (my favorite was when HBO had a week-long free trial - and then at one point we wrapped tinfoil around our cable that ran into the back of the TV and we got free HBO, in black and white . . . that's where I saw Star Wars about 40 times, as well as Swamp Thing, Super Fuzz, Cannonball Run, Smokey and the Bandit, Jaws 1 and 2The Last Chase, and when I was home alone with my brother, Rambo: First Blood, American Werewolf in London, Conan the Barbarian, and Excalibur).  I was also in constant contact with my friends and spend many afternoons biking around town (my favorite times were spent on my Huffy with my little Sanyo speakers taped to my handlebars plugged into my Soundesign headphones with Def Leppard's Pyromania blaring).

Though our farm was only 10 miles south of Red Lake Falls, it felt like I was on Mars.  That meant seeing my friends only about once a month, rarely riding my bike (I mean, where was I going to bike? Though Dad did eventually get me a Honda 250 three-wheeler which was awesome!), and it also meant only three channels (not counting, of course, PBS).

That also meant the end of any movies.  My wife just shakes her head every time she mentions an iconic film from the mid-eighties - The Goonies, Ghostbusters, Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, Tron, National Lampoons Family VacationGremlins, Indian Jones, The Lost Boys, Dirty Dancing . . . I just shake my head and say that I've never seen it.  I did eventually see The Lost Boys, though, when I had the chicken pox as a freshman in high school and mom rented a VCR from US Video and Doug, the owner and my Babe Ruth baseball coach suggested she rent The Lost Boys for me.  You could say that between Return of the Jedi when my parents took me to it in TRF all the way through Top Gun, which I attended with Dale Vatthuer, a friend of mine from school, who asked me to spend a couple nights with he and his family in Grand Forks for his birthday, I missed all of those iconic (or at least popular) films.

The one 'classic' I did happen to see, although it was the edited for TV version, was The Breakfast Club.

I show this in my Composition course at the ALC to discuss rites of passage and coming of age.  As we watched the first half, Kenny, who teaches the summer history courses here, peaked in again and again to catch parts of it.

"What an great film," he told me in between classes.

"Yeah, it is," I agreed.

"It would be an interesting assignment to examine if each of those categories of kids can still be found today," Kenny said.  "Or if there are new categories for kids."

That was, in my opinion, an excellent idea.

For those who don't know The Breakfast Club, it's the story of five high school kids who have to spend a Saturday in their high school library for detention.

The characters feature John Bender, the punk, rebel kid from an abusive home; Andrew Clark, the squeaky clean jock; Brian Johnson, the nerd and geek; Allison Reynolds, the "basket-case" goth-chick; and Claire Standish, the rich, preppy prom queen.

Mr. Geiser asked where the emo kids would fit today.  I'd probably lump them in with Bender's group.

Then I said it would be an interesting psychology assignment to apply these groups to Lincoln High School.  The only group that I see not represented from our school here is the rednecks.  The kids who used to park in the back parking lot with their large trucks splattered with mud, their hunting supplies in their trucks, and wearing camouflage and cowboy boots.

Then again, country music was not nearly as popular in the mid 1980's as it is today.  In fact, country was nonexistent in our world until Garth Brooks became really popular in the early 1990's.

Mr. Geiser mentioned how interesting it was to view the film as an adult now.  He noted how the film changed for him as he grew up.

This, I told Mr. Geiser, happened to me with To Kill a Mockingbird.  When people first read it, traditionally in middle school, students are caught up in the childish aspect of Scout.  Then when people read it again, usually in high school or college, they are caught up in the racial tension and the horrific consequences of the trial.  Then as adults, people read it and relate to Atticus and how he chooses to raise his kids in spite of the racist environment they are surrounded by.

So it is with The Breakfast Club.

I know when I first saw it in 1986, I connected more with Bender, the rebel, for that's who I really wanted to be.  Yet, as I grew older, I was more like Andrew.  When college hit, and I was constantly studying and writing papers, I was definitely more like Brian.

Mr. Geiser argued that we all have pieces of these different characters in us.  Perhaps that's why the movie is as relevant as ever. Here is one of my favorite scenes.

And what a great ending!  I still remember this when I saw it for the first time on a Sunday afternoon up in my room.

Friday, July 18, 2014

This is an amazing tool for presentations

Ever see those RSA Animate presentations?  Like this one on Steven Johnson's Where Good Ideas Come From?


Here is another one from Ken Robinson.

Well, I've been searching for awhile for an app to do this same thing for my presentations.  And now I've found it:  VideoScribe.

Here are two I've created using their free trial software.

This one is for one of my College Comp 2 assignments: the Sticky-Note Book Report.  This literally took me 15 minutes to put together, so it's rough.  But it was awesome!  If you're thinking about flipping your classroom, this would be an essential tool.  After all, you can only show so many Powerpoint or Keynote presentations before students' eyes gloss over.

Here is my second attempt.  This time I added a voice over to it.  Not sure why it cuts off at the 5:33 mark with about another minute left.  Perhaps it was an issue when exporting it.  Perhaps it's an issue with the free trial software.

Once I get the Pro version of Videoscribe, I should be able to export it to my own computer in .mov files.  I can also add video and my personal artwork and pictures from my files.  I've asked to use classroom or school funds to buy a yearlong subscription, but this is just too awesome not to buy on my own if I don't get approval for this!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Movies I Love to Show in Class

In no particular order -

The Village

Poor M. Night Shyamalan.  His first few movies (Unbreakable, The Sixth Sense, and The Village) were spectacular.  Others, though, (The Lady in the Water and The Happening) are not so.

But when I saw this in the theatre, it reminded me of the works of Nathanial Hawthorne.  I see so much of "Young Goodman Brown" and "The Minister's Black Veil" in this film.

I think it suffered from poor marketing, as it was marketed as a horror film, which it certainly is not.

It's not without its faults (how a blind girl can manage to find her way in the woods? Some terrible dialogue, "We have the magic rocks . . . Why have we not heard of these rocks before?  Why do you wear the cloak of the safe color?" ), but it has elements of symbolism and plot structure that are great for discussion.  And its themes?  Excellent.

Plus, how Shyamalan breaks up the story and scenes to manipulate the reader makes for great analysis and discussion.


Ever since I taught Comp II many, many years ago, I have fallen in love with our theme of a film review.  We used to do it on The Natural, but since I've focused on a variety of movies: The Lion King, The Incredibles, War of the Worlds, Little Miss Sunshine to name a few), but Jaws is my favorite.

The story of its making is fascinating.  Remember, this is Steven Spielberg's big screen debut.  Had this bombed, would we have Indian Jones? Close Encounters of the Third Kind? Schindler's List? Saving Private Ryan?

Spielberg's use of the power of suggestion is brilliant.  He knows he's saddled with an incredibly fake looking shark.  Wisely, he holds it off until the very end.  By then we're invested in it so we can put up with how sketchy it appears when it leaps onto Quint's boat and gobbles him up).

John Williams' excellent score.  Play just a few notes of it, and it'll register with you.

Spielberg's great sense of humor balanced with shock.

The incredible suspense created in the dock scene, Ben Gardner's boat scene, and the cage scene towards the conclusion.

The great character development.  We actually care about Chief Brody and his family.  He's a good man and we want no harm to come to him.

How Spielberg plays upon our fears (fear of the unknown and fear of being eaten alive) and makes use of actual shark attacks from history (the Jersey man-eater and the USS Indianapolis).

Training Day

I show this as a modern retelling of Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown."

It's amazing how similar the two works are.  The wilderness.  The devil trying to corrupt a young man. The themes of good vs. evil, appearance vs. reality, and temptation.  Even the use of the color pink.

I haven't seen a film related this closely to a short story that it isn't actually based on since Hemingway's "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber" and American Beauty.

Sleepy Hollow

Though it's been awhile since I've taught this film (it goes best with American Lit or what is our Lit & Lang 11), it's an excellent film to show to illustrate American realism vs. American romanticism.

Here Ichabod Crane is a man of science from the New York City (all elements of science and realism) who must venture into the woods to Sleepy Hollow to face the Headless Horseman (superstition and magic, all elements of romanticism).

Plus, the film is gorgeous and does a great job making me feel like I'm back in 1799.


I like to show this as a modern comparison of To Kill a Mockingbird.

The idea of putting yourself in someone else's shoes and seeing what their world is like (which is one of Atticus' mantras) is perfectly illustrated here.  As are many of the same themes of Mockingbird.

I also show this in College Comp 2 to illustrate Steven Johnson's concept, from his book Everything Bad is Good for You, about how current pop culture is more intellectual complex than ever before because of multi-plot thread narratives like this one.  I have students track three main characters fro this film and then analyze how they "crash" into each other and impact the overall theme of the film.

The Island

A Michael Bay film? I know.  A lot of pretty people, explosions, product placement, and extreme lapses of logic.  However, it connects well with one of my favorite short stories, "The Lottery."

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The End?

In Science Fiction II, we are watching 28 Days Later, which is about the end of civilization (at least in Britain) from a zombie apocalypse via a rage virus that spreads and infects the bulk of the population).  Then I saw a new trailer on iTunes Movie Trailers for a film called Aftermath, with the tag line, "The only thing worse than the end is what comes after."

As I watch these films and recall all the other end movies I've seen (probably the earlier one I can recall was the controversial (for the time anyway) The Day After, which aired in 1983 about a nuclear holocaust.

What all of these films never address is this simple question: what if people actually helped each other and were able to work together?

Oh yeah, I know why.  There wouldn't be any of these apocalyptic films!

I wonder what actual history has to say on this subject.  The Great Depression was pretty horrific, but it wasn't the end of America.  The fall of the Roman empire was terrible too, yet societies are still here.  The Dark Ages?  Same thing.

I would just like to see an apocalyptic film that actually differed from the traditional idea of survival after the end of the world (whether that be aliens, disease, technology, zombies, vampires, werewolves, a meteor, and so on) is worse than the actual threat to our existence.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The problem with customer service

Just read this nightmare example of terrible customer service when a husband (who just happens to be a former editor of a technology site) and his wife tried to switch cable providers.  Luckily, he recorded the agonizing conversation and uploaded it. Now it's gone viral.

This is not how you treat people, let alone customers.

Why don't we ever read about poor customer service from Zappos or Southwest?  Because they know how to treat their customers . . . like people, not like numbers.

I am reminded of terrible customer service at least every other week when I get my mail and there is a new DirecTV flyer or letter asking me to come back to them.  

I left them simply because my house has 57 oak trees surrounding it and a clear view of the southern sky is an impossibility.  Thus, there's no reason to get a dish put on this house. 

Not to mention that when I had my previous dish moved from our house to the garage, it was a fiasco.  The first man who came (and remember DirecTV outsources all of its maintenance) walked on to my property.  Looked at the tree in front of my dish and said, "Cut that branch and it'll be fine."

So I cut that branch.  

But it wasn't fine.

So I cut several more branches (much to Kristie's chagrin).  And it still wasn't fine.

So I complained to DirecTV about the service call (apparently, the man shouldn't have left until the reception was how I wanted it).

A few days later a different service guy showed up.  He moved the dish to my garage, and things were better . . . except he didn't bury the 25 feet of cable.

He said he couldn't do that.  I had to.


So it wasn't exactly with a heavy heart that I terminated my relationship with DirecTV.  

And now they waste who knows how much in inundating me with offers asking for me to return and lying about how much they miss me.

Had their customer service been better (even average), I wouldn't have canceled.  Had they sent a guy over to move my dish, helped me bury the cable, and thrown in a discount on Sunday Direct Ticket, I would have never, ever left them.

But no.  They treated me poorly and now they just piss me off trying to get me back.

The polar opposite of this: apple.

They have always treated me well.  As a result, I've spent thousands of dollars on apple products and services.

I will never - God willing - own a PC.  I'm an apple lifer.

Another great customer service provider - Purdy's Shoes.

I went in to get Cash a pair of shoes.  The owner came over and immediately started helping me.  I wasn't pressured (such as Trade Home Shoes in the mall) and coerced at all.

After personally measuring Cash's feet (which Cash thought was pretty awesome) and coming back with a pair of shoes, the owner actually said, "Well, the only way we'll know if these work will be if you run in them."

Cash grinned.

Then the owner said, "Run to the door and back as fast as you can."

Well with how much fun Cash had doing that, I didn't even bother to ask the price.  I was sold.

Of course, when I looked at Kenz she was fighting back a frown and longing for a new pair of shoes.

The same excellent service ensued . . . including having Kenz take a lap around the store.

Then I even ended up with a pair of sandals!  Great customer service and I will always go there from now on. I'm a lifer.

Treat your customers humanely and value them; they will do the same.

Reynolds' Top Horror Films of All Time

In honor of Science Fiction II, where we are examining zombies and how they represent real human fears (death, cannibalism, plagues, disasters, collapse of society, and so on), we are going to watch two of the classic horror films in the zombie genre: Night of the Living Dead and 28 Days Later.  So as I think about the first time I saw Night of the Living Dead - and how much it frightened me - I thought I'd revisit my semi-annual Top Horror Films list.

10.  Tucker and Dale vs. Evil - I saw this campy classic a few years ago at the behest of my step-son Casey, who raved about it.  And it was absolutely worth the time to watch.

What I love aboutt it - it's twist on the attractive, preppy college kids go campy and find redneck killers. I never saw this coming and loved every minute of the film.

9.  Let Me In -  This is the American version of Let The Right One In.  This premise is excellent - a young boy who is bullied befriends a young girl . . . who just happens to be a centuries old vampire.

What I love about it - the pool scene where the young boy is nearly drowned by bullies and is saved by the vampire.

8.  Cabin in the Woods - I saw this with the impression I was going to see just another run-of-the mill killer in the woods or zombie flick.  I couldn't have been more mistaken.

What I love about it - So much.  The laboratory underground (when all the monsters escape) is classic.  The ending is also amazing.  It's a perfect example of "I never saw that coming."

7.  The Descent -  I could hardly sit through this one.  Clostophobia and the dark are key elements in this film.

What I love about it - It's a nice balance of found-footage with a traditional horror perspective.

6.  28 Days Later - I wanted to see this so badly that I actually went to it by myself.  The entire film went by in about 10 minutes.  This was my first time ever seeing "fast zombies."  I'll never forget it.

 What I love about it - the balance of terror at the fast zombies and the sinister isolation the main character feels when waking up in the hospital all alone.

5.  Prince of Darkness - A campy classic that I recall fondly from high school.  I saw this about half a dozen times with my friends Harry and Simon at Simon's house (he was one of the few kids I actually new who had a VCR).

What I love about it - this has the best "smart person" in a horror film scene.  The ending - which is actually the beginning of the film - is brilliant.

4.  Night of the Living Dead - I first saw this (okay, I only saw about 20 minutes of this total since I had to change the channel every so often) during the late night horror series on KBRR with Mad Frank.  The mock news footage of the zombie plague erupting after the astronauts returned to earth and brought some type of virus back that re-animated the dead.

What I love about it - it's place in the horror cannon.  There have not been many movies that you can say "this started it all" about.  But Night of the Living Dead is where the fascination with zombies began.

3.  The Thing - A sci-fi classic.  Another Jon Carpenter film on the list (the other being Prince of Darkness).  This is gory and haunting.  I saw this one summer when we had a week of free HBO.  The rest of my family was out during yard work while I went inside. (Imagine that!  I'm sure I was trying to get out of the work). I became fascinated by the premise of this isolated arctic station battling an alien.  Then I saw the scene where a man seems to go into cardia arrest.  The camp medic attempts to shock him a a diffibulator.  Then "it" happens - the alien reveals itself in the man, causing his chest to turn into a great gaping mouth with wickedly sharp teeth.  The poor doctor's hands plunge right into the maw.  The mouth snaps shut.  The terrified doctor attempts to pull free and his arms are severed.

That was enough for me.  I was out helping my family with yard work.  It terrified me.  I'll never forget it.

What I love about this it - the ending.  Is the alien dead?  Is Childs an alien? Is MacReady?  Carpenter has never said a word.  But we're still waiting for a sequel!

2.  Seven - I never saw this one coming at all.  It was one of those rare films where I wasn't even aware that I was watching it.  I was in the film.  Pulp Fiction is the only other film that has ever really done that.

What  love about it - all of it.  The cast is superb.  The writing is excellent.  Kevin Spacey's Jon Doe is the most frightening of all monsters.  The twist at the end is a club to the face.  And best of all, what this film gets right is that it just suggests the horror.  This is where the Saw film gets it all wrong.  In Seven, the horrific murders are shown after the fact (well, all but one).  They are only hinted at and suggested.  In Saw, they glorify the murders, which makes them somehow less frightening.

1.  The Blair Witch Project.   Like Night of the Living Dead, this film can say that it started it all: the found-footage film craze.  But none have done it as brilliantly as The Blair Witch Project.

What I love about it - the isolation.  The use of the power of suggestion. Ramsey Campbell says this is the greatest film in the HP Lovecraft tradition.  It's got it all - the story is told after it's happened.  We know something terrible has happened to the narrator.  The monster/entity is only hinted at and glimpsed ever so briefly.

The scene where they wake up and realize their camera man is missing . . . and then they find some "present" from the witch . . . well, that still gets to me.