Wednesday, August 29, 2007

So, What Happened...?

I never did get around to reporting how it went at that medieval camping event.

I spent a whole month preparing Sonshine to go to it. I let him roll around in a pile of fabric for an hour so that he could pick a fabric for his tunic that would feel comfortable to him. I made two tunics for him, two for Bagel, and three for Knuckles (you can't go anywhere with Knuckles where there's going to be strange food unless you have three outfits, because he WILL throw up). I had Sonshine and Bagel try on their outfits numerous times and play fight so that they could see how fun it would be there. My brother Little D made Sonshine his very own personalized boffer sword. By the day we left, Sonshine had made a lot of progress. A month earlier, he would withdraw and start making Curious George noises instead of talking, just from fear of this event. Now he was excited to go and see the event.

We got there and it wasn't an hour before Sonshine was melting down and scratching himself till he bled. We called my mom (who had agreed to be our backup in case this happened) to come and get him, but she couldn't get him until the afternoon. But it did comfort him to know that his time there was finite. Nevertheless, he started having bathroom issues. He had to "go" so I pointed him in the direction of the nearest portapotty, but he went without his shoes on and got stuck screaming in a patch of sticker burrs. After I rescued him, he waited an hour or two before trying again to go to the portapotty. But then he wouldn't go into the portapotty. I tried to explain to him that the portapotty was freshly placed there and so would be cleaner than the park bathroom, but he still wouldn't go in the portapotty, so then I had to persuade him to walk to the park bathroom. By the time he got there he had wet himself, so we had to go back to our tent and change him into his spare outfit, and I washed his clothes and hung them out to dry.

Bagel did all right during the morning, but he refused to eat the lentil pottage I made for lunch, and by afternoon he was melting down. He badly needed a nap, but he would not take one and he just kept screaming "Get off me! Get off me!" So Grandma took him home too.

Knuckles did throw up right after lunch, but he enjoyed himself the rest of the time. He had a grand old time playing with a bucket with a couple inches of water in it. It kept him cool in the heat, and made a splashy noise when he put his hand in it, and the best part about it was that there weren't any brothers shoving him away from it. He had it all to himself! Princess enjoyed running around in her medieval clothes with her little rag doll wearing a matching tunic. She made some friends and they made forts in the bushes.

Little D and I sold scarcely anything. We let a lot of people sample our wound ointment though, so hopefully next time they'll remember how well it healed their minor wounds and buy some. We did sell some body powder, but I've gotta figure out a better way to package it. But Little D did get to do some boffer fighting, and he made some friends with other young men his age. We had them over for dinner on Friday when I made vinha d'alhos. I had made my usual 5-pound package of vinha d'alhos, but I didn't think that Sonshine and Bagel and FH would not be there, so we had a TON left over and we invited all and sundry to come and eat with us.

FH had to work on the Friday, so he came up on Saturday to the camp. He wore the tunic I'd borrowed for him, but he didn't stay long before he took off with Little D to go to Smith and Edwards to browse for medievalish stuff.

Our next event is going to be the Shire of Arrows' Flight's Insurrection, which is being held here in Tooele. I will be making a very brief appearance at Harvest War, just long enough to teach a little class on counting boards.

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Sunday, August 26, 2007

What Happened Here?

This summer I taught my last class for USU Tooele. It started off predominantly, and ended up being entirely, full of concurrent enrollment (high school) students. Now that's fine with me. I don't mind teaching high school students. What's got me shaking is that I just finished grading their final exams and posting their grades. It was utter red pen carnage. Ink flowed like blood on a battlefield.

What pisses me off the most is that these kids are all taking courses at their high school with names like "trigonometry" and "calculus" and "Algebra 2". But when you give them a polynomial division to do and instruct them to "perform the division", they immediately go and use every algebra mistake in the book, except for the one student who multiplied the two polynomials instead. They don't reduce their fractions, they leave things half simplified, and other manifestations of general half-@$$ery. Their attendance record left a lot to be desired too; for weeks I would show up to class only to find that there were only two students present, then the next class it would be a different two students and they would both be scratching their heads because neither of them had attended for a week and had missed an entire chapter's lecture. I admonished them over the need to be thorough, to finish problems all the way or risk losing points, to show your work in at least a semi-legible manner. All for nothing. Only three of them passed the final.

I labored for seven weeks and I taught these students nothing. I am so disappointed. I'm disappointed in them, because they could have done so much better. I'm disappointed in myself, for not being able to find the way to get through to them. I'm disappointed in a school system that would fool these students into thinking that they were some kind of advanced math geniuses, when they can't even factor a quadratic trinomial or solve a linear inequality.

I can only hope this has been a wake-up-and-smell-the-coffee experience for them, that they realize that they are being ill-served to function in a college environment, and that they correct either their expectations for the future or the level at which they're willing to work. That's the only possible benefit I can see for them coming out of this fiasco.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Pork Rechallenge Fails

Knuckles' allergist told us that when his six-month "detox" period (free of all the allergens) was over, we should rechallenge him with the lower level allergens to see if he reacts, and if he doesn't react, we could reintroduce those foods. The doctor said he was likely to grow out of those lower level allergies as he got older. Pork was one of Knuckles' lowest level allergens, so we rechallenged him tonight with pork. I bought some pork and cooked it very plain, with only salt and pepper. For three days I made sure Knuckles had only "safe" foods (e.g. not onions or tomatoes, both things we suspect he might be allergic to) and didn't throw up.

Well, the rechallenge failed. He enjoyed his pork very much, until it came back up.

Maybe next year... sigh...

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The Real Thomas The Tank Engine

Of all the children's shows my kids watch, Thomas the Tank Engine is one of the most realistic. By that I mean that the interactions between the characters are more genuine than in, say, Bob The Builder. While Bob and friends are all preternaturally happy, the engines are rude to each other, they get in trouble, and they each have a distinct character. Nevertheless, there are some very unrealistic things about Thomas The Tank Engine (least of all the fact that the trains talk). For one, the cardinal sin on the island of Sodor seems to be Causing Confusion And Delay. This will get you a very stern talking-to by Sir Topham Hatt, where in the real world you'd probably be fired instead. Also, there seems to be an incredibly consistent problem with cracks in the tracks, which seem to appear at random and for no good reason.

So here's my list of Top Ten ways Thomas The Tank Engine could be made even more realistic:
10. Mavis gets Diesel fired for sexual harassment after he "accidentally bumps her buffers" one too many times
9. Bertie the Bus breaks down on the tracks, but his friend Thomas can't stop in time and crashes into him, injuring 6 schoolchildren
8. One of the firemen is caught sabotaging the tracks by cracking them in an effort to score more overtime hours waiting for the Breakdown Train to come
7. Harold the Helicopter comes to Gordon's rescue by taking his passengers when he's broken down, only to crash in a fiery explosion on the hills from being overloaded
6. Sir Topham Hatt involved in sex scandal with the herds of sheep that roam the island at will; Lady Hatt subsequently discovered to be "getting it on" in the sheds with Thomas' driver
5. Affirmative-action hire Rosie can't cut it on the Sodor railway and is sent back home to America
4. Engines unionize over the issue of coats of paint, but they decide to also demand more coal. This angers the diesel engines, who then break with the union and collude with management to foil the steam engines' plans to suddenly all contract "boiler ache" on the same day.
3. Cranky the Crane gets put on antidepressants, but they only make him feel worse, and he topples himself over into the sea, where he is rescued from his suicide attempt by Bulstrode the Barge
2. Salty's mob-style execution triggers an investigation wherein it is discovered that before he came to the Sodor railway he was involved in drug smuggling at his previous location, which explains why he wouldn't reveal the secret to his unusual ability to keep trucks in line

And our #1 most realistic Thomas scenario...

1. Stepney and Toby are finally sent to the scrapyard, where they foment a revolt among the scrapped engines. The engines fix each other and stage a coup wherein Sir Topham Hatt is run off the island on a rail and the socialist Sodor Railway is privatized.

Telephone Etiquette

Lately I've been getting phone calls from people who seem to have learned how to use a telephone without learning any etiquette. Our young people nowadays have all this communications technology available to them, but they aren't being trained to use it properly. So here's my guide to telephone etiquette.

  • Call only between the hours of 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. (10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekends). Unless you know a person is awake at that hour or it is an emergency for which they would want to be woken, it is rude to call at other times.
  • If it is OK for people to call you outside of those hours or not OK for people to call you within some of those hours, please tell them specifically which hours. "I'm usually up until 10:30, you can call me then." "I sleep in on Saturdays, don't call me before 11."
  • When you answer the phone, use a polite greeting such as "Hello" or an identifying greeting such as "Goldberg residence, Carol speaking". If answering for a business, use the business' name: "Bob's Tires, this is Jereth, how can I help you?"
  • "What?" is not a polite greeting. Waiting for the caller to speak first is also not polite.
  • When calling someone, as soon as you hear their greeting, greet them in return, identify yourself, and ask for the person to whom you wish to speak, even if you suspect that the person you want to talk to has answered the phone: "Hi, this is Jim, is Sandra there?" Use your first name if you are calling people with whom you are acquainted; use your full name if you are calling strangers or a business: "Hi, this is Chris Brown, may I be connected with someone in the Sales department please?" If there is a specific identifying bit of information that is crucial, reveal it when you introduce yourself: "Hi, this is Joe Green, my daughter Julie is a patient of Dr. Stone's. May I speak with Dr. Stone's nurse please?"
  • Do not assume that everyone in the universe will know who you are as soon as you begin to speak. Caller ID will reveal the number you're calling from, but not the identity of the caller. So if you are, say, a student in the class just starting tonight, your professor will not at this point know who the hell you are and certainly won't recognize your voice, so don't start off your call to the professor by demanding information about tonight's class.
  • Calmly explain why you have called and what information you want. Don't assume that the person who answers the phone will know what the hell you're talking about or have any idea what you're about to ask for.
  • If you are calling asking for help with something, even if you deserve the help, politely ask for the help and thank the person who has attempted to help you even if they were not that helpful. "Hi, I bought a widget earlier today, but I can't get the humdinger to hum. Is there someone there who could help me please? ... You'll transfer me? Thank you!"

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Thursday, August 02, 2007

U.S. Ministry of Magic Cover-Up!

Life imitates art: Lord Voldemort is on the loose!

OK, I probably shouldn't joke about that. But when I heard of a supposedly perfectly good bridge collapsing for no good reason, I was reminded of Chapter 1 of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.