Saturday, January 31, 2009

Busy Bee

Well.... this week has been long but it's not over yet! I am taking a breather from the homework I am doing to write a note. An update if you will.

I wanted to share what is new. I am volunteering with Oregon Music Live tomorrow (Saturday) while they are shooting a local band called The Slants. I am not real clear on what I will be doing yet but I am ready to help in anyway I can. I plan to take a few classes at the PCM building so that maybe I can try a little camera or sound work next time. PCM is Portland Community Media and they have several stations up here that broadcast shows. So... Public Access. Think Wayne's World. I am not sure they would really pursue the connection but my brother mentioned that when I told him what I was doing this weekend. As far as the classes go... they cost money so I won't probably do too many of them in the near future but I may take a class on camera work.

Of course Sunday is the Superbowl and the Cardinals are in it! Wow! I am still in shock, it just sees unreal. I am looking forward tot he game although I have yet to really nail down a plan for viewing it. I may end up watching at home this year.

Another interesting little thing that happened this week was I got hooked up to volunteer time at a place called Free Geek. They take computers and electronic donations and salvage all usable parts (unusable parts get sorted into the proper recycling sections) and build refurbished computers to sell to people who can't afford a flashy new one. What is even better than that is they have several different ways that volunteering can result in a computer every year. I am not really needing a computer at the moment so I am not doing it for the computer, just for the chance to volunteer at something different and perhaps take advantage of some free tech education courses. Who knows maybe I will need a computer one day. They use Linux on the refurbished computers and I am interested in learning more about Linux, which is almost reason enough for me to contribute hours and accept a computer. Of course, ultimately I want people that need a cheaper computer to be able to get one and I don't need one just to satisfy my curiosity.

I am still tutoring at NELA on Wednesday and Thursday evenings, although I have only proofread one paper so far. Deadlines for scholarships are coming up and they are expecting some heavy flow of traffic and helpers will be needed. That will be good. I am also teaching English to Adult Language Learners.... but this week the freak snow storm caused a lot of trouble so I did not make it in. I will be doing that again this week... I hope it goes well.

Mad Science is nearing this session's end and we are signing up for next session. I, of course, forgot to turn in my availability form today and will need to drop it by Monday. Of course I actually have a few requests to make in regards to the schedule... To further add to my fun I was evaluated this week and it was a choppy experience. I can only improve. The good thing is that after watching my class today I am still being asked to teach in the next session. I have a lot to work on though as I was unhappy with my performance today in general let alone because it was being evaluated. If the evaluation had not taken place I would have still been irritated with my performance today and been figuring out how to do in the very near future (next week).

Monday, January 26, 2009

A day on the phone...

The job market is steadily getting worse and there is no real end in sight. Everyone is starting to buckle down and tighten their belts. People in jobs are hoping to at least stay in a job. Those without jobs are wishing they were in one. As more people join us in the unemployment line the phone line to the unemployment office is over run. I have been calling all morning to get qualified for an extension of benefits but I keep getting a message that all circuits are busy. Makes you wonder why the unemployment insurance office isn't hiring. After all it seems to be the only booming business. So while I endlessly redial, hoping to get through, I figured I should write a new entry.

This is a year of redefiniton. As companies pilot themselves into a black pit and then whimper for the government to bail them out, the people are left to fend for themselves. I am glad that we are bailing out companies and that some people get to stay employed. What I don't get is why no one seem to be talking about keeping these companies accountable. It seems like they need to redesign their business and start thinking of ways to dig themselves out of the pit they dove into, while blindfolded and drunk. Of course I am a nobody. Just some unemployed jerk watching mismanagement get rewarded and the general public get penalized. It's funny how many people are worried about illegal immigrants and the benefits they get when we turn around and hand out billions to companies who should have known better. Getting back to the fact that I am a nobody.... the only thing I can change is myself and what I do in this world. Just because I am currently underemployed and have not heard back from any company I applied to, last response I recieved was in November. It was Mad Science.... So I am not getting a lot of looks from companies, even ones I am perfectly qualified to work for. I need to reinvent who I am and what roads I can walk. Hence the volunteering gigs I keep mentioning. I am currently working with 3 different groups and trying to expand to 4 (maybe 5). I have no experience in any of the areas I am volunteering, I am merely learning as I go. I am not content to sit about any longer. I need to be busy, even if I am not getting paid.

The phone message still says the same thing "All circuits are busy right now". Hopefully I will get this taken care of by tomorrow evening. I could really use my government handout. Bills need to be paid.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Rambling Review of Let The Right One In

I saw a movie last night that I enjoyed. It was called Let The Right One In. It was a foreign film with subtitles and therefore not a movie I usually go see at the theaters. I usually bring mandatory reading movies home to view at my leisure (this time leisure should be pronounced "leh shur"). So you may be thiking, if you usually don't go to the theater to watch subtitled films, what were you doing? Well I read Francisco's review ( of the movie and I was intrigued. This movie was originally released in 2008 in super minor limited release but it seems to be crawling through theaters again. Anyway my friend loved it, and he had not steered me wrong on Slumdog Millionaire, so I took his word for it. I went down to the Living Room Theater, which has nice, comfy, giant chairs and a lounge. It also happens to have cheaper movie tickets, normally 7 but right now Tuesdays are 5. I sat down with the previews already rolling just barely making it in time to watch the movie and definitely with no time to enjoy the lounge.

Maybe I should preface this a bit. This movie is not some overly arty foreign film, nor is it a tear jerking romance. It is a story about a vampire. Now if you know anything at all about me you may know that I like reading and watching things about vampires. I just find them interesting. Having said that, this movie is like no other vampire movie I have ever seen. It is a love story and some may say, including Francicso at, it is a coming of age tale. Either way this movie was different and that was a good thing. As I seem to have committed to this movie review without intending too, I shall start this thing with no further delay.

Oskar is a blond haired 12 year old kid that is a constant victim of a few bullies at school. We see him take abuse from these guys almost immediately. Oskar's silence and meek demeanor are only really convincing if you manage to avoid his eyes. In his eyes he betrays his true desire to even the score but he doesn't. Instead he remains a passive victim for the bullies games. Because Oskar is not real wild about being the scapegoat, he spends his nights fake slicing those bullies, repeating the taunts he heard them use on him earlier in the day. In fact that is how we open the movie with him telling us to "squeal lke a pig." That same night a brunette girl moves in next door, Eli. He watches her as she gets out of her car before going back to his bully slicing practice (which consists of him waving his knife around and saying things about squealing). It may surprise you(wink wink) to know that our friend Oskar has no friends and spends a lot of time alone.

Eli of course is our vamoire. She has a guardian, he must be more then that but this idea is only hinted at. Anyway her guardian goes out and gets fresh blood for her but he is getting old and starting to be less capable of doing his job. He almost gets caught the first time we see him doing this. When he flees the scene without the blood, he leaves her to catch her own prey since her hunger is gnawing at her. This is when Eli meets Oskar. Within their first conversation she tells Oskar they can't be friends but a friendship develops anyway. He goes back inside planning to spend most of his time out in the snow so he can talk to her again. Meanwhile she goes out and ensnares a victim, not realizing she has a witness.

Eli, of course, is not a normal girl, although she appears to be Oskar's age she isn't. When asked her age she says "12.... more or less" and does not answer when Oskar asks what she means by "more or less." Luckily for her Oskar is a weird little boy. The pair that "can't be friends" do become friends. When Oskar realizes Eli is a vampire he does not seem shocked or horrified by it. Things continue to build and get slowly out of control but I am done telling you what happens. See it for yourself.

This movie has been dubbed by some as the "anti-Twilight" and I guess I can almost see where they are coming from. These kids have a definite connection and, as I said earlier, it is definitely a love story of sorts. I think they mean that Eli is a vampire but not an only animal eating vampire. She feasts on human blood, like every good vampire should. That being said the movie has some blood and violence. It also had a quick shot of the girl changing as Oskar peaks in on her, which left me feeling uncomfortable. Thankfully that only happened once. Either way I figured I would mention it so you would not be as surprised as I was. My friend Francisco mentioned it in his warnings as well but I read his review several days before and I simply forgot. This movie is not a slasher flick and is more intriguing and suspenseful then scary. It, however, might not appeal to all. If you read this far you might be a person who should see it.

Apparently this movie is so good they are remaking it. The recent trend in Hollywood seems to be: remake foreign horror flicks by recasting them with English speaking actors and eliminating subtitles. What happened to originality? If you have seen a horror movie in the last few years then you might have seen a remake. The Ring, The Eye and The Grudge are all examples of movies that were originally foreign films remade for the American audience. Why exactly do I need to see a remake of a film that was just made and so good that critics love it and American studios are fallng all over themselves to remake? Why not just see the original and read the subtitles? Don't wait for the remake.... see this one!

Monday, January 19, 2009

A Rambling Review of Slumdog Millionaire

I had heard very little of this movie but I have to admit the title is intriguing. However I was not sold on the idea from what little I knew of the movie which was some poor kid in India wins big on "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" I figured it would be about the struggles after he gets the money. I decided to take a pass and possibly rent it one day. Then I read a friend's blog. Now let me tell you about this friend, his name is Francisco and I have known him since my high school days. Recently we reconnected during my most recent visit to Phoenix. I learned a little about him and what he is up to these days over lunch. One of the things he does is teach a class as a community college that is an intro to film production. It sounded interesting and this guy knows his stuff. So I decided to check out his reviews of movies. I read a raving review of Slumdog Millionaire there and I moved the movie from my "to Rent" list on to my "see in the theater list". Francisco's blog is and he has a lot of reviews there, please check it out. As I said before, I don't listen to critics but I listen to people I know. I am glad I listened, this movie is great. Without further ado, I bring you my review of Slumdog Millionaire.

I can't say that I know much about India besides the fact that I love their food. I know a little from watching Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations show. There are some pretty tough areas to grow up in India. That is where our hero, Jamal lives as a child with his mother and older brother Salim. In a little slum filled to the brim with people and every spare spot is filled by a shack of a home. That of course is not where we start, we start with Jamal being tortured. The police are interrogating him to find out how he knew all the answers of the Millionaire game show to prove that he cheated. As he is repeatedly questioned Jamal's life story is told as he explains how he knew all the answers to the questions. Every single question is linked to a memory of his life and most of them are not good memories. So we flash between his life and the interrogation as the story moves along, and it moves fast. We start back in the slum he grew up in while he talks about how he answered the first question, which, like in America, is a simple answer. It is a funny story abut getting an autograph from the most famous man in India but also a sad one as his brother steals it and sells it. We now have our roles set, Jamal is a dreamer that is also determined and his determination gets him through a lot of tough spots and Salim is the schemer and willing to do anything for a little money. Jamal believes in his brother all the way through the movie long past when you want him too. This is not simply a story about brothers though, it is a fated love story. Jamal and Latika belong together and he risks everything several times to make that happen. Latika is a girl he meets the same day his mother is killed in front of him as he and his brother run for safety. Every story he tells the officers about his life also tells how he came to know the answer of a question in the game show. His life story is heartbreaking, intense and enthralling. My friend Francisco says that director Danny Boyle takes you on a roller coaster ride and he certainly does. This film hits every emotion as it unfolds before your eyes. It is a great ride though and one you should check out soon.

Just a little info you may want to know. This movie is violent, brutal and at times scary. There is violence, child abuse, kidnapping and some real hard scenes to watch. Having come clean about this I implore you to see it anyway. Even though there are a lot of twists and turns in this movie, the true story of the importance of family and love comes through.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Mochitsuki Festival

I volunteered at Mochitsuki today. It is the Japanese New Year and they had a lot of things going on. They had booths set up for local clubs: Anime, Go (a cool looking game), magnet schools, abacus schools, a spot to make cat ears and many more things. They also had food popping up all over the place. I ate sushi, Kalau pork and cabbage bento (Hawaiian), and shrimp tempura. Amazingly enough at Mochitsuki they had mochi. What is Mochi? It is a sweetened rice cake. Sticky rice is taken and pounded into a dough like consistency using a wooden mallet. Watching the demonstration of the traditional way to do it was pretty fascinating. It required skill and timing because as one person smacks away with a mallet another person flips the hot rice over. So they work as a team in perfect rhythm to avoid cracking skulls. When it is at the right consistency they start pinching off small pieces for people to try. They provided free samples and each sample had 3 choices of pairing; sweet bean paste, soy sauce or soybean powder. My favorite was the sweet bean paste.

Besides the various booths, food and mochi pounding demonstration they had local community groups putting on little shows. They had hula girls, a swing band, karate demonstrations, a Taiko demonstration (drumming) and other groups. They also put together a show you paid to watch that had taiko drumming, folk dance and a storyteller. The show was worth paying 12 bucks for. The drumming alone was worth it but the storyteller, Alton Chung, was great and added a great dimension. Alton Chung even taught me the word Onara....

Either way I helped with the community stage and also the clean up a little. At least, I was helping when I was not talking, eating and enjoying the performances. I will definitely put this on my calendar and hope to make it back next year.

People, Relationships and Serious Questions from 3rd Graders

As some of you have read, I have been looking for volunteer positions to help me get more experience in teaching. One of the things I have been doing to find these listings is to scour the Volunteer section of Craigslist. It is filled with some very interesting opportunities and a few ridiculous ones. Whenever I look there I think about how technology can help bring people together that might not ever connect. I had no real idea how to volunteer. I am not as comfortable walking in and asking if they need help as I am responding to a posted ad. I know from the ad that they are looking and usually before I respond I know if the days and times will be right for my schedule. It is fantastic. As a result of these posted requests I have set up two very different opportunities for myself and I am excited about starting them next week. So here I was feeling pretty good about the internet and the way it keeps me connected with people. You might not know this but I am not a huge fan of the phone. If it was not for the internet most of you would never hear from me. So in my "happy with the internet" state I decided to look around other parts of Craigslist. I was instantly reminded of the bad side. Amidst the good and honest postings are scammers. People that are preying on your fears and feasting on your ignorance. Now, to avoid a lawsuit or a defamation case, I will give credit to Craig and those that frequent his list. They do a good job of monitoring and pulling things that are sketchy. So this is not a rant about those evil scammers out there.

After some lengthy exploration I finished looking through the community, job and gig listings. I was not quite ready to go to bed as I have a large tankard of rum and coke I am wading through... So I decided to look at the romantic listings. I was amazed at the ineptitude of several of the posters. One woman who is seeking companionship starts off by saying "I was reading about all the dorks and..." Then she follows that up with "so freekin bored and thought i would let you guys know... some of y'all are dorks, but cute in their own way, so now i have made my own dork page." I don't know about you but I am looking for something to go beat down her door with, she sounds great! So here I am reading this post thinking "why would you post that?" What made you think insulting everyone right off the bat would help you meet people? As my thinking progressed I realized that maybe there is something wrong with society..... why are there so many singles out there? And why are most of the singles so inept at dating and/or meeting new people? Why does a new web dating service pop into existence every other week?

I figure that it was about the time I left college that I realized how hard it was to meet people as an adult. I made new friends at work and the fact that I was back in Phoenix among good long term friends helped a lot. I was hanging with old friends and had figured out how to make new friends as well. I had periods where I did not feel as connected or where I was not as interested in knowing my co-workers outside of work but I still had my core group. The problem was I didn't like Phoenix and I wanted out of there. So I moved and it has been an interesting task to make the friends I have up here. I have made several good friends but it wasn't as easy without the core group to fill in the gaps. Life can be lonely for a while when you are in a new town. When I look around and read the notes on Craigslist, OKCupid, and Singlesnet I see a common theme of disconnect and it does not always have anything to do with a new town. As I thought more about this common streak of loneliness I began thinking of things like the rather rude remark "Old Maid" or even the fact that Ichabod Crane of the Headless Horseman tale was a single male who taught and seems to have been regarded as a bit of an odd duck. Was it really so odd to be single later in life back then? What is different now? Is it the lack of a local community, parents and relatives living nearby and up in your business? Maybe it's because the new world means less actual human interaction. Sure I talk to people a lot through the day but I don't always connect with them. Perhaps people have learned to not be friendly and open. When you next travel through a day take a mental note of how you interact with people you don't know. Think things like, did I just pay for my gas or did I greet the attendant warmly and exchange pleasantries? What makes us so distant from people around us? Don't we all inhabit the same area? Why do most people pretend other people don't exist? Telling children about "stranger danger" may have helped bring about this general lack of warmth towards the unfamiliar faces around us but I know that message is taught for a real reason. Strangers can be dangerous, even those that promise candy, however don't we need to at least be pleasant to each other?

It occurs to me that most of this pontificating did not really originate out of my casual interest in Craigslist people. It hearkens back to a little girl from my class today and the conversation we had as she helped me clean up. We were talking about the projects we had been making in class, actually she is not in my class because she is in a music program but she has a strong desire to be in my class. She began the conversation by asking me how I became a Mad Scientist. I told her a version of the truth and she began a streak of questioning that would lead me to this post. She asked me if I built the Styrofoam planes with my kids and I told her I had none. She then asked if I built the Styrofoam planes with my wife and I once again admitted I had no such person in my life. She was quiet for a second as she was putting what I had told her into her classifying schema. I continued cleaning. After getting a grasp on the fact that I was an adult and not married, she wanted to know about what I was doing to rectify this situation. She looked me in the eye and asked "What if you met someone who thought you were cute and she made you happy, would that make you happy?" I answered the only sensible answer "Yes." Then she asked me with a straight face, "What if you met someone that you fell in love with and you got married tomorrow, would you want that?" Now it was my turn to pause (and stifle a giggle). No one has ever asked me a question like that before but I realized this girl was serious and I decided to take the question seriously. So I said "Well I would be surprised by something like that but I think sometimes it's good to listen to what your heart says." We had a longer conversation as she was enjoying talking to me and I was enjoying talking to her. Then her mother came and asked a bunch of questions about Mad Science birthday parties and when the next Mad Science class session started because she knew her daughter wished she could be in class. Somewhere in that conversation the one I had with the woman's 3rd grade daughter was put on the back burner. Where it waited to build strength and burst out in a long rambling post at 2 AM Saturday morning.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The latest and somewhat greatest!

A recent email to share.

Dear Crazed Lunatik,
I enjoy your blog most of the time but it seems lately all you ever do is whine. Please stop whining and share some more poetry or stories.

I did not include the name of this emailer. I will give this person a name of my own creation The Anti-Whining Whiner or AWW. AWW you make some valid points. I have been whining a little bit lately and I have not posted any new writing. I wish I could say I am sorry but I have decided not to lie about it. I am not sorry, I can only post what I post. I have not written any new poems or short stories lately. It is hard to post something you don't have. AWW, don't take this personally, but I really wish you would stop being so whiny in your whiny emails. Actually take that personally.

Well this probably won't meet the ever whining AWW's approval but I recently finished Alice Sebold's latest novel, The Almost Moon. This is a story about a woman who grew up with a mentally ill mother. In the first few pages she kills her aging, decrepit, shut in of a mother and the rest of the story is split between thoughts of her life and what is happening now. This woman, her mother and her father needed counseling at the very least. Probably needed medication too. If you daydream about ways you can kill your mother... go to a shrink. Whatever you do Don't write a book about it. This book was terrible. I hated all the characters and I was hoping the world would end so I would not have to finish the book. The world, as you may have noticed, has not ended and I had to finish the book. My recommendation: Don't bother.

Other then that, I taught my first class last week and this week I will teach 3. I am also pursuing a few volunteering opportunities that I can add to my resume. I am meeting with someone tomorrow about tutoring high school students and on Wednesday I am meeting with someone to discuss teaching English to adults. I hope to set up one more thing to mentor HS students that are trying to get into college. I also volunteered to help with a Japanese festival called Mochitsuki, this Saturday. The other thing I am checking out is a volunteer opportunity with a group who are trying to put on a show about Portland music. I will let you know how all this works out.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Photo rant

I hate printing my photographs.... There I finally said it. It's true. It seems so simple and easy but the reality of the situation is what looks good on your computer rarely looks good printed.

This is what happens... I take a big ol' bunch of pictures and I select the few that actually managed to go from my head to the little digital point and click. We are not always in total agreement and as a result it often decides not listen to me. It takes a picture focusing on the thing I had no intention of photographing and blurs out the thing I spent time lining up. Of course I realize my non-digital slr camera would not have this issue and would be a better choice but it's expensive to buy film, develop film and have pictures you haven't seen yet developed. As a result I tend to go digital and often times growl at my camera while I attempt to capture my subject appropriately. The other day my camera magically produced an image with nothing in focus... it was unbelievable. The problem was I had actually brought out a tripod.... so it wasn't due to my shaky hand. So I am generally stuck with simple subjects that the camera and I can both see the ideal subject clearly. We make beautiful photos together when I keep it simple (stupid?). Unfortunately, I am not really the ideal point and click guy.... I see great shots that have a little difficulty to them and I work to pull them off. I get excited when they work out and foolishly try to get the camera to understand what I want in an even more difficult shot... I never learn.

So there I am with 300 shots... and perhaps I am lucky and I can use half of them. The problem that arises next is that I tried different angles of a subject and have several shots from those different angles that work. Now I try to identify a couple shots that are superior. Suddenly I am now at a quarter of the original shots and I have to run through again. Nobody likes a 75 picture slide show. Out of those 75 I select around 30 some odd pictures and I clean them up and make them look good on the computer. I produce a slide show and people tell me the shots they liked. Then Christmas rolls around and I think... I have picture frames and a lot of fantastic pictures so I should give photos out this year.

After deciding which prints for whom, I order prints... but the prints come back looking awful. I immediately begin to tinker so I can reorder these prints and the colors are still goofy. I am stuck at that point because I can't really afford to just order more and more prints until I finally get the colors corrected. So I took all these photos and worked on them for hours only to have an issue with the prints. If I had a film camera and a darkroom I could just develop and tinker until it came out the way I dream it should.... but I don't. I have a digital camera and a computer. I could produce images on my own except that the ink cartridges get sucked dry super quickly when you do that and ink cartridges cost a mint. So I am back to printing at the store and waiting.... then tinkering and printing again. This sucks! So if all you got was a card this year.....

Either way it's a new year. 2009. Woo or something.