Monday, November 24, 2008

Our Gang on DVD

imageI  have fond memories of catching the "Little Rascals" on TV as a kid. Today I have a much deeper appreciation for the era they depict, and how difficult the early ones must have been to shoot.

image A DVD set has been released depicting the shorts that were produced by Hal Roach between 1929 - 1938, considered the best of the bunch.

imageThe "Little Rascals" shorts, on viewing them with my kids, are amazingly funny and brutally honest, and still as good today as they were thirty-five years ago when I say them first. This goes on my Christmas list.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Why I Like Mike

I went back and forth on a title for this post. Dirty Jobs? Mike Rowe? Celebrating Dirt? But you've seen the show, or have heard of it. Dirty Jobs would not be what it is without Mike Rowe.

image Anyway, several months back I got to meet Mike Rowe at a PDS conference in Wisconsin (at some enormous resort in the Dells. Apparently if you build a ginourmous indoor waterpark in the middle of nowhere, people will come.) Mike was the guest closing speaker, and he just sat down and told some stories from the show, and how the show came to be, and took questions from the audience. He seemed like a regular guy, in his jeans and work boots and ball cap.

The most interesting thing, though, was the story of how he's come to see his show as a celebration of the working man, the blue collar worker sloughing through the trenches (literally and metaphorically) every day. We've nearly demonized dirty work in this country, and look down on skilled trades people who we could not live without. Mike sees that, and while he may not be able to make it right he certainly points it out every chance he gets.

What I like best about the show is that he always has fun with his 'guest hosts', the workers, and pokes a little fun at them. But he never tries to do anything funny at their expense. You can tell he has genuine respect for these folks, respect that likely comes from being raised by working class parents and grandparents.

So here's to Mike Rowe, just a regular guy going around finding out how regular people get dirty.

Mike operates an irregularly updated blog over on Discovery, where he mainly answers questions. What prompted this post was his answer to a father who was looking for some motivation and encouragement for his son to finish his Eagle Scout badge. You can read the whole thing here, but this is what Mike has to say:

Your Dad asked me to drop you a line and say something inspirational that might persuade you to dig down deep and find the determination to make the rank of Eagle Scout. It's a reasonable request, from a father who obviously wants to see his son succeed. But here’s the thing - The Eagle Award is not really meant for people who need to be dragged across the finish line. It’s meant for a select few, and I have no idea if you have the guts to see it through.
Statistically, I suspect you do not. Only one out of a hundred Scouts make Eagle, so if you fail, there will be lots of other people with whom you can share excuses. Quitting now might disappoint your Dad, but I doubt that he or anyone else will be overly surprised. Anytime 99 out of 100 people do the same thing, it’s not exactly a shock.

He goes on from there, you should read the entire thing.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

'The Name of the Wind'

Iimage just finished Patrick Rothfuss' 'The Name of the Wind'. I've read many, many fantasy novels. Some of them are just bad. Most are middle of the road : not great, but not a complete waste of my time. I started reading Rothfuss' blog some time ago. I'm not sure how I ended up there; linked from some blog that I found from some other blog that I found... you get the idea. His blog is refreshing. Here's this fairly regular guy who has struggled along writing this novel for years, and suddenly it's picked up and published and people like it. Really like it. And all of the notoriety and recognition and promotion and accolades are new to him, and his reaction is great to read. Very unassuming, very low-key.

And he hasn't forgotten from whence he came. He's currently giving away a slew of stuff if you'll donate to charity.

And to top it off he lives in Wisconsin, which is like my second home now (soon maybe my first!) and I ran across some signed copies of the book when the paperback came out at the giant Barnes and Nobles in Madison. Which was very cool for a book nerd like myself.

imageSo it was with some amount of hope and a great amount of trepidation that I finally approached "The Name of the Wind". I needn't have worried. This thing is _great_. It is the reason we read, to discover new and wondrous things, to be transported to worlds we know not and behold their magic. To say "I could not put it down" would be an understatement. It is quite simply the best fantasy novel I've read in years and years, and I'll be recommending it to everyone I know that reads. I'll let Kvothe tell you about it:

My name is Kvothe, pronounced nearly the same as "quothe." Names are important as they tell you a great deal about a person. I've had more names than anyone has a right to. The Adem call me Maedre. Which, depending on how it's spoken, can mean The Flame, The Thunder, or The Broken Tree.
"The Flame" is obvious if you've ever seen me. I have red hair, bright. If I had been born a couple of hundred years ago I would probably have been burned as a demon. I keep it short but it's unruly. When left to its own devices, it sticks up and makes me look as if I have been set afire.
"The Thunder" I attribute to a strong baritone and a great deal of stage training at an early age.
I've never thought of "The Broken Tree" as very significant. Although in retrospect, I suppose it could be considered at least partially prophetic.
My first mentor called me E'lir because I was clever and I knew it. My first real lover called me Dulator because she liked the sound of it. I have been called Shadicar, Lightfinger, and Six-String. I have been called Kvothe the Bloodless, Kvothe the Arcane, and Kvothe Kingkiller. I have earned those names. Bought and paid for them.
But I was brought up as Kvothe. My father once told me it meant "to know."
I have, of course, been called many other things. Most of them uncouth, although very few were unearned.
I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep.
You may have heard of me.
So begins the tale of Kvothe—from his childhood in a troupe of traveling players, to years spent as a near-feral orphan in a crime-riddled city, to his daringly brazen yet successful bid to enter a difficult and dangerous school of magic. In these pages you will come to know Kvothe as a notorious magician, an accomplished thief, a masterful musician, and an infamous assassin. But The Name of the Wind is so much more—for the story it tells reveals the truth behind Kvothe's legend.

Rothfuss displays a love for music, a high regard for craftsmanship, and places the female on a high, high pedestal. He also makes us completely empathize with Kvothe through his trials. It's clear Rothfuss knows what it is to pinch pennies. Kvothe is constantly concerned with money. He's terribly under informed about women.  He is both a genius and a fish entirely out of water at school. I kept wondering how much of Kvothe was Rothfuss, and how much was projection of his dreams and desires. All of us at one time have wanted to win the battle of wits, make a fortune, slay the dragon, rescue the maiden, win the fair damsel. Kvothe does them all, and ends up nearly where he started.

If you read, you must read "The Name of the Wind". If you stopped reading fantasy because of where it's gone over the last dozen or so years, this is the book that will bring you back. The best thing that I can say is that, for the first time in a long time, I can't wait for the next one in the series.

Go get it now.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

I didn't vote for Obama today

One of my favorite blogs had the following post this evening:

Written by eastside93

I did not vote for Barack Obama today.

I’ve openly supported Obama since March.  But I didn’t vote for him today.

I wanted to vote for Ronald Woods.  He was my algebra teacher at Clark Junior High in East St. Louis, IL.  He died 15 years ago when his truck skidded head-first into a utility pole.  He spent many a day teaching us many things besides the Pythagorean Theorem.  He taught us about Medgar Evers, Ralph Abernathy, John Lewis and many other civil rights figures who get lost in the shadow cast by Martin Luther King, Jr.

But I didn’t vote for Mr. Woods.

I wanted to vote for Willie Mae Cross.  She owned and operated Crossroads Preparatory Academy for almost 30 years, educating and empowering thousands of kids before her death in 2003.  I was her first student.  She gave me my first job, teaching chess and math

concepts to kids in grades K-4 in her summer program.  She was always there for advice, cheer and consolation.  Ms. Cross, in her own way, taught me more about walking in faith than anyone else I ever knew.

Click Here for the entire post. If this doesn't choke you up just a bit, you're the Tin Man, searching for a heart.

More YouTubery

Ok, you may say I've been posting far too many of these things, and you're likely right.

At least this one does not have Muppets.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


image Dr. King said it best. "We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land"

Monday, November 03, 2008


08PIC-0318 There is a moment, a brief shining slice of time, when fall comes to Illinois. It's the day you can smell the smell of burning leaves far away. It's the day that you can go outside without your jacket even though there was a hard freeze the week before. It's the day when you suddenly realize how red the trees are, how brilliant the yellow of the maples, how bright the silver of the silver maples along Route 150.

08PIC-0321The fields are almost done being harvested. The land lays brown and bare, like a new buzz cut on a five-year old.  Grain trucks and combines and pickups crawl the countryside like worker ants laying in winter stores. The kids delight in walking in the leaves, shuffling their feet along to make a path that the wind immediately erases. Black cats and witches and hobgoblins decorate the city.

The sassafras roots lie just under the loam, ripe and ready to make gallons of amazing sassafras tea. Squirrels work furiously and without ceasing, hunting nuts and acorns, sometimes burying them and sometimes storing them. They play, chasing each other between and around and up the giant oak trees in Lincoln park.

08PIC-0327 You won't miss that day if you blink. But it sneaks in unannounced, suddenly and brilliantly just there. Get outside, get into the woods, get to a park. Get to a place where traffic is a memory and city is noise an old dream. Don't let it pass by.

There are folks that fly south for the winter, folks that look for skiing weather in the summer. Give me the fall. Give me beautiful trees and falling leaves and cold nights and warm days all year long.


It's suddenly February and I have a cast. All of them are people I know or have seen onstage, none of them are the people I thought wou...