Thursday, December 13, 2012

Featured Mod: ALIENS Killing Floor

The xenomorphs can leap and climb walls.
Tripwire Interactive's Killing Floor is a wave-based shooting game where you shoot zombies with a lot of weapons as a cast of interesting and funny characters. Since it's been connected to Steam Workshop, a way to collect player-created content and modifications (mods,) a group named the Wolf Pack Clan has released the ALIENS Killing Floor collection. Instructions on how and where to download it will be at the bottom of this post.

A lot of work's been put into this mod, and we can tell. The audio is spot on, with the aliens, weapons, and characters' voices and sounds coming straight out of the movies. You can choose between different characters from the Aliens, like Apone, Hudson, Vasquez, and Ripley herself. The mod features its own unique weapons, character models and classes, and enemies. You can choose to be a Medic, Rifleman, or Specialist, each with their own perks, much like their Killing Floor counter-parts. The aliens themselves come in a few flavors, too. Facehuggers, chestbursters, adult drones, leaping runners, and acid-spitting stalkers.

Another notable thing about this mod is its difficulty. Holy crap is it difficult. Playing on beginner is frantic, but easy to keep control of. Especially with a group, it's not too tough to handle the waves. Even if you are in a group, though, the Alien Queen is ridiculous. She has no less than two or three times the health of the Patriarch (the normal boss for vanilla Killing Floor,) an instant kill melee attack (or maybe it's a two-shot kill... it happens so fast that no one's sure,) a Siren's scream, and to top it all off, she's huge and way faster than you. Good luck running away. The second I saw her, I began searching the levels for an airlock I could shoot her out of. No such luck.

For instructions on how to download, visit my community blog at

The Space Pirates are a group of my friends who play video games together. Sometimes we record our videos, which can be found at our YouTube channel.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Weekly Response: Problem Solving and Video Games

Video games combine art, theatre, music, problem solving, and literary techniques in ways that engage, teach, and entertain.

This week, we learned about a lot of things. We saw TED Talks on "boy culture" and, perhaps more memorably, one by a young boy about the stimulating educational benefits of World of Tanks, an online game. We also saw a video about an entire middle/high school in New York, the Institute of Play, where scholars learn in an environment that connects the curriculum to the designing and creation of video games. For instance, in order to make a video game with an engaging story about The Iliad or The Aeneid that was faithful to the material, students had to read and understand these stories on a deep level and then find a way to interpret the story through media/the creation of a game and present it. This made me think about Valve Software's Portal 2.

Portal and Portal 2 contain developer commentary, which you can access from the main menu for them and the rest of Valve's games since the release of The Orange Box onward. These games focus very, very heavily on challenging problem solving, deep and interesting characters, and an engaging narrative. The developer commentary contains a lot of insights into the work that went into the game and the testing phase for it. They employ a lot of educational techniques, including scaffolding, when teaching the skills needed to complete the game or giving details about the story behind the one that is told to you through character interaction. These games are so successful at this that I remember it was said (though I don't remember where) at its release that Portal had the most heart of any game that year, even though it contained one primary character besides you, the player. And you don't even speak.

Here is a great example from the commentary that shows how the developers adjusted the game's levels and employ scaffolding techniques in order to teach skills, create an engaging and heart-pounding experience, and surprise the player, defying their expectations. If I were to write a novel at some point in my life, I could definitely use a lot of the techniques for developing the story that Valve's developers did.

Be warned! This contains spoilers for the end of Portal 2.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Weekly Response: Identity

This week, we learned about the myth of the "Model Minority," with a focus on Asian American students. Basically, the myth is that people of certain minorities are innately more intelligent and talented than other people. Sometimes, members of the minority take the stereotype and internalize it, and one of the biggest problems this can cause is an identity crisis in students. The story of adolescence is "Who Am I?" and so students have enough trouble figuring out who they are at this crucial time of transition and discovery in their lives, and you all know that. Add in the pressures of stereotypes and parental expectations turned up to eleven and you have a serious problem on your hands. It's hard enough being a teenager without being railroaded down a certain path of life before you even chisel out what your personal strengths and interests truly are. If I was pressured to be a doctor or an engineer, I would have failed out of college freshman year. I just do not have the mind for all the math an science involved. I love math and science, but my mind is just not built around it. I'm more right-brained I guess one could say. Anyway, personal identity is a serious issue that affects all students no matter who they are, and the contexts of your life can make it better or worse, and I'm glad this class took the time to teach me that I should create an environment that will allow students to learn more about themselves while they learn about English and literature.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Weekly Response: Educacion

In class this week we learned about "Educacion," and our next intervention is going to focus on it. In simple terms, it is teaching students how to be people, not just teaching them facts and skills. It is the incorporation of values and a sense of what it means to communicate and cooperate effectively and craft oneself into a better person. It means that a teacher needs to recognize that he or she is a creator of relationships. This doesn't just mean relationships between texts and their contexts, but the students and each other as well as other people they know or will meet in the future. There should be a sense of culture in the school experience  and a sense of how the students will fit into the community. One suggestion we had in class would be to host a Career Day, the way St. Mark's does for their juniors or every single school does in all those old cartoons. A teacher should create a good relationship with the students in order to foster better relationships between the student and the school, their classmates, and fellow teachers.

It's definitely an interesting and important new dimension to teaching to think about, and that's one of the reason I decided to write these responses on my personal blog instead of creating a class one. I want to keep these somewhere that I know I can revisit them at, somewhere that maybe current and future colleagues could read them and remember the importance of these bits of their jobs. I certainly hope to incorporate the idea of Educacion into my classroom in the future.

Friday, October 26, 2012

I Would've Remained Ignorant if It Weren't For You

I love drawing, too.

I love this blog, and it has given me a new love of writing. I really enjoy writing for myself and other people at the same time. I can't tell you the amount of times that I have come back to this site and read old posts in order to examine how I have changed and how this blog has affected my life and potentially the lives of others. Just yesterday, I went back to a blog I did earlier this year just after finishing John Green's The Fault in Our Stars. This post ended up being a runaway hit, which is a icing on the cake that is my personal love for it. I really enjoyed writing that post. When I finished rereading, I scrolled down to look at the comments and found this:
"Today I found my copy of TFiOS again, and realised I never really understood the meaning behind the front cover. So I googled, and found your write-up of the book. And then came the waterfall of tears. Maybe I'm just not a very deep thinker, or maybe I was too engrossed in the plot to realise the amount of intricacy present, but this beautiful piece of writing evoked all the memories I had of the book and more. So many feelings never felt, so many thoughts never thought. Thank you so, so much. I would've remained ignorant if it weren't for you."
 This post had a huge effect on me. Recently, I began to feel a little bit of discouragement. My grades are great and I love all of my classes, but I was beginning to have doubts that maybe I was not cut out to be a teacher. Sure, my heart is in the right place, but I am a very disorganized person and I like having too much on my plate, something long-time friends and readers already know about me. Sometimes it feels like I am fighting fate by fighting these traits I have, but usually it all works out fine and I can always overcome them and perform well in whatever it is I'm doing. Sometimes, though, I feel like my opinion does not matter or people do not see me as knowing what I'm doing when it comes to teaching. Right before I read the above comment, I was in a class where we were basically asked to come up with ways to help students achieve and get motivated. One of my ideas was literally laughed off before I could half-way explain it. I felt stupid. But it was humbling, and I think I needed it. Besides, I don't think the person who laughed at the idea meant it in an offensive way. Still, I felt that my ideas may not matter.

This anonymous comment immediately made me feel like I made a difference. Like my thoughts really do matter. Not only that, but these were thoughts I had and skills I applied that were very directly tied to teaching English. In that post, I basically gave a lecture about symbols and motifs in a work as well as describing the significance of the art on a book's cover. To think that I had actually opened someone's eyes to the value of close reading, to the value of looking under the surface of a work of art or a work of literature to find something more meaningful, is a truly powerful feeling.

I am reminded now of the notes I took in my Marching Tech class last year.
Effect is everything, and hands-down the hardest effect to have on an audience is to make them cry.

It is so wonderful that someone took the time to build me up like this, to call something I wrote beautiful, to say that it made someone cry. I honestly did not think my writing could be that important to someone. My tutoring experiences in my middle school placement have also made me feel like what I do in the world is important. I tutored math! Not only did I help young scholars arrive at the answer, they learned how to get other answers as well! Now I know the feeling Mrs. Reilly described to me once in high school. When I was first considering a major in English Education, I asked my English teachers different questions about it. I asked Mrs. Reilly what her favorite part of teaching was, and she told me that it was seeing the lights go on in students eyes... seeing it all come together in their heads.

Thank you for letting me know that I make a difference, my anonymous commenter, friends, and family.
I would've remained ignorant if it weren't for you.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Weekly Response: LGBTQ Students

So that last response is a day or two late, but this response will luckily be just short of a week early!

This week we've had visitors from UD Haven so that we could hear the coming out stories of some of its members. These were very normal people who learned something about themselves that they did not want to have to hide, and have been very strong in their journeys to where they are today. I heard stories about wonderful friends and school faculty that supported them, and "friends" and faculty that did not. Our speakers are human beings, who were mistreated by other human beings. I heard stories of faculty using the word "fag" and of students who did not have many places they could go. A classroom should be a safe place, and to hear that a teacher could insult a student in such a way, especially at a public high school, hurts. to hear.

It's a tricky subject for my background, especially since I expressed interest in possibly teaching at St. Mark's later in life. When it came to my Catholic high school, I learned just how divided people are. The majority of the student population that I knew supports gay marriage from what I have seen. That's just a fact I've observed, and it is happening everywhere. I read a news story a while ago about a talk given at another Catholic high school in the country, and when the speaker changed the subject to why non-heterosexuals shouldn't marry, the student body stopped listening intently as they had before, and erupted. The crowd yelled and booed and if I remember right, weren't quieted until the man left the stage. The Catholic Church, from what I've heard, accepts homosexuals as children of God, but calls them to a life of celibacy. Many members of the Church do not know about this stance, and I have heard of so many parents who started ignoring or speaking so hatefully to their own children. I don't remember St. Mark's as an institution ever really talking about this issue, and so students often asked teachers about it during classes. As far as the student body knows, the school just doesn't really want to talk about it, and I would give an educated guess that it is because the faculty all have different personal opinions, and even though the school probably does have an official stance, don't want to anger or offend anyone. With a student body and a lot of parents that mostly support gay rights and a church and other parents and some students that are very much against it, the school is left in the middle, which I can understand.

Can we just ignore something that affects students so intimately though? I could understand being caught int he middle and not wanting to say anything for fear of less enrollment one way or the other, but I have heard stories that some teachers don't like to hear "fag" or anti-homosexual remarks in the classroom or hallways, and that some other teachers either ignore it or are flat-out okay with it. Even if it is decided that the school cannot be in support of gay rights or anything, I don't think it can just ignore bullying. And maybe to some capacity it doesn't, but if that's true, it certainly does not match the stories I have heard from friends who have had to deal with it with little-to-no support.

The world is changing, and no matter what your stance is on current issues, you can't ignore them as an individual teacher, because these issues already do and will continue to affect your students for the rest of their lives.

Weekly Response: Those With No Future

This post is a little late, but it's something I have difficulty thinking about. I came from a home and school environment where college was expected of me. I'm not even sure if I know anyone who ever told me they weren't planning to go to college before we actually graduated. St. Mark's has some ridiculous rate of students who go on to college. I want to say it's somewhere in the range of 96-99%. I have been looking to this future my entire life along with all of my peers around me. To hear in this class that there are so many that simply don't think they will ever go to college for one reason or another, some not even wanting to be in high school any longer than they absolutely have to... Just floors me. I knew kids like that existed, and that there were a lot, sure, but I never realized the scope of this problem and how local it was. Since I began to consider teaching, I always imagined teaching in an environment like St. Mark's, or mostly just St. Mark's itself. These are environments where even if the kids complain that the teachers are too strict or expect too much, that still drives them to college. Even the ones who didn't seem to care at all went to seek a higher education afterwards. Motivating kids who just have no desire to even try is a challenge of teaching that I just never thought about. That's one of the reasons I am so thankful for this class, and one of the reasons that I am excited to continue doing our intervention projects.

Those outside of the class: The "Intervention" projects for this class are papers that are between three and seven pages depending on detail and formatting and the style you write in. They focus on finding a problem in the area of diversity that affects students outside of the classroom and will affect their performance in class. We discuss the problem in the first section, and then set about attacking different aspects of it in our lessons while still teaching the material in the other sections.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Life in The SAST Lane

Bacchus Theatre is located in the Perkins Student Center in the basement. The door is directly to the right of the Hen Zone. I will be in "The Devil Inside Us All," playing Henry, a broken man who finally has a chance of returning home and leaving his personal devil and other self, Edward, behind forever. If you want to see my descent into madness, please come out to see us!

All of the plays are great, so I really recommend you make a night of it, even if you don't know any of the actors. It's just plain entertaining stuff. We go everywhere from the cartoonish comedy of "The Chest of Deceit," to the suspenseful and emotional "Overtones" to the unnerving "The Devil Inside Us All" to the blast of comedy and choreography that is "Our Pop Culture." (See if you can spot me as an extra in the background of that last one.)

Total running time: 60 minutes

Click to enlarge! People did a really great job with these posters!

Come live life in the SAST Lane with these four incredibly entertaining one-acts!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Weekly Response: First Tutoring Experience

This week, the students in the class I would normally be observing were taking a test, and so I was sent elsewhere. Just down the hall and to the right, I came to a small room with a small handful of students and a teacher. One student was using a computer, one was finishing up something by herself, one was getting some help on an ELA (English Language Arts) worksheet, and one was working with graph paper. When I explained why I was there, I was asked to sit down with the one drawing the graph. His name was Daniel, and he was graphing from a table in his textbook. Oh, crud, math, I thought to myself. Luckily, I'm better with visual math than I am with the more abstract stuff. This is when all that "professional disposition" stuff came in. I figured I should be professional, that if I showed confidence that I could help him out, he would have confidence that I could, as well. If anything went wrong, I figured that I would just do the equivalent of calling the manager when I have a register problem at the drug store, and ask the other teacher for assistance.

Everything went great! I helped lead him to finding his mistakes and fixing them while making sure he knew why he was making the changes. One question asked which axis the independent and dependent variables would go on, and I wasn't 100% sure myself. So we worked it out together logically and came to the correct conclusion. It was a very rewarding experience, and I hope I was able to help Daniel in a way that sticks. Unfortunately, I probably won't know if I did, since it looks like my placement time slot comes just before his math class. Maybe I'll get to see him again and ask, though.

He was extremely cooperative and well behaved. Every time I go into this middle school, the students continue to defy the harsh stereotypes other teachers seem to give them. It seems like anytime a professional has talked to one of my classes about middle school kids, he or she will focus on how crazy and moody and rebellious they are. I guess I can definitely learn a lot from the teachers at the school I'm placed in, since they're obviously doing a lot of things right.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Weekly Response: Great Expectations

One huge theme that just runs throughout this entire Diversity in Secondary Education class, my classes as a major in a field relating to education, and my entire career as a student, is great expectations. My teachers have always expected a lot from me, my professors have expected more, and in my future, I may be expecting a lot from other people for a living. It's a huge responsibility. Mr. Esquith, our speakers, all the people we're reading about and watching videos about all achieve success at least partially because they expect so much from their students.

We should always expect more from each other. When we expect more from ourselves and each other, we meet those expectations, we make the world better. In a marching band, for example, if the band director expects nothing from the students, the students will expect nothing of themselves or each other, and all of them will get nothing in return. That also leads to ripple effects. The audience at a football game, the school's administration, the football teams themselves, other bands in the area... All of them will come to expect nothing out of this band. It is the same for students. If we do not expect a lot of students, they will not expect much of themselves, and the nation will expect nothing of Delaware. It's an important lesson, and I am so glad that this theme is so prominent in my studies. I have my own strengths and shortcomings, but they are getting better and better because my parents, girlfriend, friends, and professors expect so much.

Expect more of yourself, help others, and I'll see you next week.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Week's Response: Mr. Rafe Esquith

This blog began as a vehicle for a lesson in finding my voice as a writer in one class, and now it has evolved into a method of responding to the material presented in another. I'm taking a very interesting Diversity in Secondary Education class (EDUC419, UD students,) and my professor wants my fellow students and I to write weekly responses to the themes we're touching on and the material we are learning.

An excuse to sit and write more blogs? Cool.

Informal? Sweet.

We watched a video about the man to the left, Mr. Rafe Esquith, and his approach to educating students. For the normal readers who aren't my professor, here's a quick overview:

Rafe is a teacher at Hobark elementary school. A man with a passion for music and Shakespeare, he teaches his students math and reading skills, teamwork, and confidence through the arts. Examples of this are teaching his students how to play the guitar and putting on a production of Macbeth with them. The vast majority of his students achieve excellence, and he has become very well-known in the academic community. 

I personally really like to act and play music, so his education through the arts really stuck with me. I think they're extremely important, and I really like his attitude of "THERE ARE NO SHORTCUTS." I wish I had really internalized this attitude myself in grade school and high school. I was able to get great grades there very easily. It all came easy to me, so I built virtually no study habits. Now I'm struggling in college with keeping all the information and due dates and reading straight. I'm getting by, but I've been forgetting a lot of things and remembering them too late, and I am legitimately afraid that this could kill me later. I am scared that I'm not going to make it.

That's where another one of Rafe's philosophies comes into play. He sets two simple goals for his students: "Work hard and be nice." This is advice that will be relevant for his students' entire lives, and he appears to do an incredible job of getting them to really take that to heart. I know this because working hard and being nice is the only way I'm going to pull myself together and accomplish the goal of being organized that I have been crawling slowly towards for the past few years. Rafe doesn't just give them class goals, he gives them life goals, and I really like that.

Anyone who is having trouble keeping work straight, take the advice my girlfriend Kelsea gave me: Download iHomework if you have an iPhone or an iPad. I'm sure there's a Google Play equivalent as well. As I type this it's buzzing to remind me to visit a professor during office hours to improve a grade on a paper!

Work Hard and Be Nice.
See you next week, everybody. 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Road Trip! Symphony of the Goddesses

Worth it.
The year 2012 marks the 25th anniversary of The Legend of Zelda. It's a video game franchise that taught many children about the corrupting force of Power, the value of Wisdom, and the true strength of Courage. This summer, I've been preparing for the marching band season, working, going out with my girlfriend, having friends over often, working, playing video games, getting back into comic books, cooking ramen, and working. It's been a great summer so far, though I haven't taken time to blog, and I apologize for that. Thanks to anyone waiting for an update.

Today, I went to the Symphony of the Goddesses. First, I waited for everyone to meet at my house. The plan was to leave at seven o'clock, thinking it would take about an hour to get to the Mann Center on the outskirts on of Philadelphia. Everyone arrived by six and things were going perfectly. No computer in the house would allow me to print my ticket from my email receipt. Small bump in the road. I ran to Zack's house across the street, and on the way, I saw his mom walking on the sidewalk.

"Hey, can I use your printer? I can't print my ticket," I asked her.

"Sure. I'm going to use your pool." We part ways.

After that episode, I got my ticket and ran home. It was getting pretty close to seven, and Andrew was hungry. We all figured that we could eat, and it was still about 15 of seven. When we got to KFC, there was a guy waiting on a huge order in front of us. Ten minutes later, the lady at the counter finally came to take our order. She was nice and all, but we were in a rush and getting pretty frustrated. It was after seven. A sudden look of shock and horror washes over my face.

"I don't have my ticket."

Kevin's face suddenly mimics mine. "I left mine at your house, too."

Zack follows: "I left mine on my keyboard by my computer."

We have lost cabin pressure.

We got lawn seats. Luckily, they had extra seats available.
Safe to say we had to run back for our tickets. When we got back, the food was finally done. And it was good. We grabbed a box popcorn chicken for the road and head down I-95. After surviving some questionable drivers and leaving a while after our expected time of departure, we made it.

We were on time. Back on track.

Unfortunately, when Andrew decided to come with us, tickets were no longer available online. We figured we'd just get tickets from those guys who just stand outside of stadiums selling spares. Still on track.

When we arrived, the entire area was flooded with police and event staff. Derailed.

Luckily, tickets were on sale at the door, and for $10 less than all of us had paid for it. Soon we were surrounded by people in costumes, people dressed casually with excited grins (like us,) and people dressed in shirts and ties with their grandmothers or whatever (because it was a symphony, I'm guessing.) The next few hours were incredible. We had a great view of the stage and both jumbo-trons. People teared up, remembering their past adventures and the memorable scenes from the series on the screens. The videos that accompanied the music were well put-together and thought out and definitely for the fans. The music was beautiful. Now I'll hand the keyboard over to Patrick to explain one example of the detail put into this show:

"I LOVE Zelda, and Link's Awakening is possibly my favorite game of them all. I can, and have, written a several page blog about it, but all you need to know right now is that the Ballad of the Wind Fish is the ONLY song that I needed to hear at the symphony. Sure, everything else was amazing, but I absolutely needed to hear that song. Not a word was said as to whether or not it would actually played though, and I grew worried as the show went on. As a medley of A Link to the Past played, I grew more hopeful still, as it was only the second movement since intermission. And then the tease. As the medley came to a close, the projector showed the ocean; a sunset over the sea.

Now for those not learned in Zelda lore, the hint may have been completely missed. Very few people know this, but after the events in A Link to the Past, Link set off in search of adventure to new lands, and that adventure came in the form of the Oracle games. Afterwards, Link tried to return home to Hyrule, but got caught in a terrible storm, beginning the events of Link's awakening.

Knowing this, I grew incredibly excited at the prospect of hearing a real Ballad of the Wind Fish, but people began to get up, applaud, and leave. I wanted more, I wanted the song that embodies one of my favorite games, the song that, quite literally, is both the goal of your heroic adventure in search of freedom and the apocalypse for the island. It wasn't going to happen, I missed it, the tease had been hollow and completely in my imagination. I was happy with what I had heard, but disappointed that there hadn't been more.

And then the creative director walked on stage, exclaiming "Hold on, hold on, we're not done here!" I remained standing, elated that I had a second chance, it could still happen. "Now, this next one is a little obscure," my smile widened, "so some of you may not recognize it. It came in a cartridge only yay big," he continued saying, holding his fingers at about the size of a Gameboy Color cartridge. "Now, that means it could be one of three games." I knew what was happening. I couldn't stop myself. I yelled, alone, in sheer excitement. I didn't care that I was standing, yelling my heart out in the silence. Happiness does strange things to a person. "It's from Link's Awakening, The Ballad of the Wind Fish." The crowd goes wild, realizing why I was so happy, probably seeing me as less of a madman and more as a prophet. Probably.

The song itself was amazing, bringing back every emotion that the game had invoked on my first playthrough. I listened to most of the song with my eyes closed, remembering all of the inhabitants of Koholint Island, specifically Tarin. The presentation was almost as impressive, and honestly, was the highlight of my entire time at the symphony."
From, since I didn't have a clear picture of the stage.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Two Months

So it's been a while! I've been keeping myself really busy getting my not-as-fun class requirements out of the way, having a date and a night with friends just about every weekend, doing homework, playing video games, studying, the whole nine yards of being nineteen. I saw Phantom of the Opera, which had my neighbor Ryan and the immortal Mark DiStefano in it, my cat just jumped into my lap and scared me to death, my dad and Mike and I built my new bedroom and an addition to our driveway from scratch, Fluffy continues to shove himself into my face for attention...

I also started a blog specifically for video game related posts on Destructoid where I've talked about the finer themes throughout Mass Effect 3 with my opinion on the ending, what got me into video games, and why your little sister will love Plants vs. Zombies. I also did some amateur eSports casting for Dota 2, which is basically acting as a sports commentator for a competitive video game. It sounds ridiculous, but it's actually very exciting and a lot of people make a living off of it. I do it for fun, so I don't, but still!

I've also been chopping fruit with a katana and taking a Marching Tech class.

Are you a bad enough dude to chop cabbages clean in half?

Wait, what was that?

The katana? Well, my brother got it when--
No, the other one.

I've been taking a Marching Tech class (which is, believe it or not, a lot cooler than owning a katana.) I'm moving forward with my dream of being on staff (or at least working behind the scenes) for a high school marching band. It's a class where I learn how to write a marching show, from analyzing a score to writing for a specific band the size of which is up to us. I'm personally writing for a band of about 70 people, including color guard and dancers. It's been an incredible experience so far, which is certainly helped by the fact that it is taught by Prof. Heidi I. Sarver, of the UDMB and George N. Park's Drum Major Academy. I have learned so much in just a short time, and now we're working on our final project, which is to carry out the whole process or not. A band won't be playing or marching it, but I am currently in the process of writing an entire show. It's a lot of time consuming work, but I am enjoying every minute of it. hours can fly by writing, and I don't mind that one bit.

Speaking of the GNP DMA, I have also applied to become a member of IMPACT Team and help behind the scenes and as a go-between for students attending the jumble of initialisms and acronyms that is GNP DMA UMASS 2012 and their instructors. I'll find out next week if I get in. Even if I don't, I can always apply for next year when I've honed my skills as a conductor and leader even further. I quite literally just read online that there has been a record number of applications for IMPACT team (90+) this year, so wish the other potential staff members and I luck!

I may even have a chance to help the band that built me into who I am, the St. Mark's Spartan Marching Band, by possibly having the chance to put their drill online during the summer, which should help the students come band camp.

I'm sincerely sorry that I have not been posting. I have several unfinished drafts, including one on The Last Airbender: The Legend of Korra, which I hope to fine-tune to give you more higher-thinking posts, and my brother Mike and I plan on posting his new videos here on YoungMelonWorld in the future!

And you know what's even better? I've been promised to not get the absolute worst hours possible again this year at my job this summer! That's just icing on he cake.

Well, I have to go to Marching Tech, so thanks for reading!

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Fault in Our Stars: Review and Thoughts


John Green's newest book The Fault in Our Stars discusses the subjects of life, death, love, and making a mark on the world. These are subjects that are of an incredible importance to teenagers. These are things we can finally begin to appreciate and see and experience, things we are finally old enough to truly start considering the gravitas of, and Green gives them all a striking immediacy in this book. TFiOS is paced very well, and Hazel's voice is expertly crafted. Green has a beautiful use of language that is intelligently written and thought provoking while still moving the plot along and remaining easy to follow. I don't want to spoil anything in the review, so I'm going to just say that you should buy this book or borrow it from a friend.

The Fault in Our Stars is a story in first person from the point of view of Hazel, a highly intelligent sixteen-year-old girl who has a terminal cancer that prevents her from breathing well. She spends much of her time at home with her caring mother and equally caring but sometimes overemotional father, but has her GED and is attending classes several times a week at a community college. Every so often, she goes to the mall with her friend Kaitlyn, and she regularly attends a support group in a church. When a boy named Augustus Waters shows up one day and seems to take an immediate interest in her, Hazel begins her journey to an infinity. But some infinities are bigger than others.

Thoughts On TFiOS

The following doesn't really spoil anything, but they're still thoughts on the novel that can only be fully appreciated after reading the novel. You may be able to guess at a plot detail or two.

I really like John Green's books.
Alright, so that's an understatement. He's my favorite author.

Anyway, I really enjoyed noticing the motifs of stars and water throughout the book. Water is a universal sign of life and death, and that certainly does come up a lot. Two things I absolutely know John Green did on purpose: choosing significant names for his characters and making sure the cover said something significant in regards to the book. John and Hank Green have done vlogbrothers videos on YouTube that have explicitly stated these things. The cover (top of the post) is blue and features clouds, calling water to mind immediately. The clouds are black and white, showing the duality of this one symbol. The text looks like it was written in chalk, which is a decidedly impermanent way to write anything, yet here it is, in the middle of nature, the universe, temporary, but certainly meaning something. There's a whole book behind this cover. There's a lot of meaning to this temporary thing. There's black chalk in the white cloud and vice versa, which makes me think about how the characters lived their lives with the shadow of death always present, and there is a shadow of life in death. This resembles the yin and yang, a symbol showing that the two cannot be separated, and will always live on the edge of each other. This too, at least for me, calls to mind the impermanence of life. Chalk is temporary, but it really can never be completely wiped clean off of the chalkboard once erased. There's a shadow of it still there, which will sit there until water washes it away.

Augustus Waters. Online sources tell me that the name "Augustus" is from Latin and means "venerated," and he certainly was, especially to Hazel. Gus wanted to be recognized throughout the world, but in the end what was important is that he was recognized by his family, friends, and Hazel. The name "Waters" has a more obvious significance. While the amber fluid, this water filling Hazels lungs, was killing her, Augustus Waters let her live. She was able to experience so much with him. Of course, she was living before, but his life gave her own life a new dimension. An infinitely new and different life of love that is so out of this world that some, like the unfortunate Kaitlyn, have not been able to reach. He was able to fill the infinity of the dark cynical skies of her mind with an infinity's worth of new stars, bright and shining experiences that will hang there forever, while always being forever distant, and always bright times of life against the dark backdrop of a looming death.

"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings."

Shakespeare's Julius Caesar (1.2.135) 

Stars are everywhere in the novel, as well. Stars are for making wishes, though we are constantly reminded that "the world is not a wish-granting factory." We are underlings, living on earth, with the stars lightyears away. Peter Van Houten says that the above quote is wrong, and it is in this context. Whether the stars are responsible for granting or not granting wishes, whether God or the universe itself plans for things to turn out a certain way or He/She/It/They just roll dice and see what happens, we do not choose a lot of the things that happen to us. No one decides to get cancer. It happens. Star-crossed lovers do not decide "I think it would be a logical decision to fall in love with you, as that situation would be beneficial to us." No, they fall in love because the stars crossed. Whether they meant to or not, you're in love and it just happens. Hazel decided it would be a very bad idea to try and get involved with Augustus out of fear of hurting him, but as the book says: “I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, then all at once."

Stars brought Hazel and Augustus together. Van Houten and his novel An Imperial Affliction, a star, a guiding light in Hazel's life which she shared with Augustus, brought them close. The champagne, or "stars" brought them closer in Amsterdam, and remained a bubbly symbol of their affection for one another as the novel went on. All of these things brought them so close, but only they could decide to embrace the circumstances their stars had put them into. Only love and the miracles of human consciousness and the connections between different ones can make something out of the movements of the stars. We can only truly live and experience happiness and love and the true meaning of life when we act with other living people out of those things. Yes, we'll all die and fade into obscurity at some point, and yes, that's a pretty scary thing, but life begets life begets life begets life begets life. We owe a small debt to those who used to be people and all those who have yet to be people and the universe that will know all of us in some matter of space and time even if we do not affect it to increase awesome. Life is just a beautiful thing, and simply experiencing it is a miracle. That may not be too clear, but I guess I'm just saying that Love is the whole point, and only we can give it and give life meaning.

The stars also signify something different in the novel. The stars, the universe, put us in our place. Sometimes we love them and sometimes we hate them for it. Why they seem to grant some wishes and ignore others is unknown. Whether you call it God, "the universe," or just the force of Chance, a capital S Something is at work in the background of the novel. The Literal Heart of Jesus is an important place in the novel, and those characters in the book that represent organized religion, mainly Christianity, (Patrick from support group, the idea of the group itself, and the minister) all serve as a force of good, but sometimes they get wrapped up in a bit of, as Hazel would describe, and pardon my language, "bullshit." This is a pretty realistic view of religion for teens and a lot of people today. They are humans trying to do something to spread love and respect, but they're still humans, and that's not their fault. The Genies are trying to spread happiness as well. It's just the way their stars moved. I like this, too. I really like the way all of this is brought up in the novel. You can call it God or Chance or Stars, but whatever you do call that Something is a personal spiritual journey, and in the scope of humanity, it's up to human beings to love other human beings when that Something is ignoring them or puts them in a bad situation. Or maybe the human being giving the other human being love in some form is in fact that Something. It's ambiguous and is really left up to the readers to decide for themselves, the way it is in real life. And whichever you choose, it's still important and meaningful as long as you're being a good person.

I wrote all of this just after finishing the novel, and these are my fresh and immediate thoughts about it. John Green is a master of understanding humanity and a master of conveying great messages about the human experience. Please comment if you find yourself interested in doing so. Thanks for reading this wall of text!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Baconquest 2: The Baconing

Team Bacon 2012: Mike & John Young, Kelsea Meadows, Patrick Kilgore, Andrew Muto, Kevin Stewart, Catie Wascheck, Serafina Donahue, Zack Brincat, John Patterson

It's that time of the year again! Last year, the class was told to branch out with what we wrote about, and we were assigned a week to post something so that everyone could see it. "Baconquest" was a big success, and we found out that Panera Bread had some of the best take-out bacon you could find on Kirkwood Highway. This year, we decided to give our own bacon dishes a shot. My brother Mike agreed to film and edit the event, and so we all met one rainy day in December to celebrate bacon in our second annual Baconquest.

We all went to see Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows in Newark and proceeded to the nearest Pathmark to shop for what we need. This was our list:

"'Bacon' on three..."

Ortega taco sauce
Chicken patties
Parmesan, mozzarella, cheddar

We watched probably three or four episodes of Community on DVD before Kevin showed up with our side: "Crack Potatoes," which his family was kind enough to prepare for us. Once he arrived, we were ready to start cooking. Zack unveiled his grand contribution: a special maple glazed bacon to be used in the chicken dish. We couldn't wait to start. These recipes are really good if you're in college and would like to make a cheap, quick meal.

Double Layer Bacon Nachos

Tortilla Chips
Ortega Taco Sauce
Shredded Cheese (Cheddar, Mozzarella)

This dish is the simplest one. Just make nachos.
Lay down a layer of tortilla chips, pour the sauce on.
Put cheese on the chips, and then repeat.

Microwave for a few seconds to melt the cheese for best results.
Serve it hot, and use as an appetizer. If you prepare it early and wait until the rest of your dinner is prepared, it may go soggy like any nachos would.

 Crack Potatoes 
Amazing. Just saying. Picture from PlainChicken

The full recipe for our side (as well as better instructions for making it) can be found on

Basic Ingredients:
2 (16oz) containers sour cream
2 cups cheddar cheese, shredded
2 (3oz) bags real bacon bits
2 packages Ranch Dip mix
1 large (28 - 30oz) bag frozen hash brown potatoes - shredded kind

 Bacon Egg Drop Soup

This one's easy. Just get some ramen, put an egg in it while it's cooking, and then sprinkle crispy bacon over it when it's done. That's it! We ramped it up a little by the equivalent of six bowls of ramen. You can see the bowl of eggs in the shot of the fryer in the video at the top of the page.

This is another that will go soggy if you let it sit, again, like any soup would, so if you plan on using ramen in a big meal, make it close to the time when it'll be served.


Cheesy Bacon Chicken

To make this dish, you need to fry some chicken patties for about four minutes. After you do that, put some of your shredded or sliced cheese and pieces of bacon on top and put it in a warm oven for a few minutes so that the cheese can melt. It is very quick and easy to prepare, and it was definitely the crowd favorite.

Afterwards, I made us some bacon brownies with the help of John and Kelsea. We don't have any pictures of the ones we made, but here's a picture from, where we got the recipe (the recipe basically being 'fry bacon, pour half the brownie batter, add bacon, pour the rest on, bake.)

The consensus was that the bacon brownies were definitely better than the regular brownies. Weird, huh?

Thanks for reading! Leave a comment if you liked it!