The next “Snakes on a Plane”

April 16, 2015

A few years ago “Snakes on a Plane” came out.  It was greatly overhyped.  It was awful, though it had some funny moments (sometimes unintentionally hilarious).  Its successor may simultaneously have been waiting for decades, and may be coming out soon.

Back in 1980 or so, and I’m simply quoting from the opening on screen words of the trailer:

For over a decade, Noel Marshall, Tippi Hedren, and their family lived with 150 untrained wild animals to create what became the most dangerous movie ever made.

For those not in the know, Tippi Hedren is the actress likely best remembered for starring in the 1963 Alfred Hitchcock classic The Birds.  Her husband of the time, Noel Marshall, is best known for executive producing The Exorcist.  The most notable member of “their family” was their young daughter of the time, Melanie Griffith.  The next text in the trailer notes:

No animals were harmed in the making of this film.  70 members of the cast and crew were.

I bet you kind of want to see this film now.


While it couldn’t be billed as such, it might be sold today as “Born Free” meets “Saw”.  The film is appropriately called Roar.  If you want a laugh, check out the press clippings toward the end, in addition to the cast introductions (including their injuries).


Best video game ever (a NCLB/Race for the Top parody)?

April 12, 2015

This appears to be a trailer for a video game in its early stage of development (or it may just be a great parody).  However it elegantly sums up the main problems with education policy in the United States over the past 15 years of NCLB and Race for the Top … and I have sat through more presentations and classes, and read dozens of articles by DEd’s than I care to admit on this topic.


It is now my favorite video game.  The game is a school simulator where you play the role of the principal.  Attending your school are pineapples.  Pineapples tend to do pretty good at standardized tests, and as your test scores go up, you earn money for your school.  However, if you do poor job, your pineapples start turning into students, and they tend to not score as well.  Your job is to stop your pineapples from turning into humans so that your tests scores stay up, and you warn money.

When you have no one else to blame … blame the Sox

April 12, 2015

I’ve been accused of having fun at the Cubs’ expense, though I argue that the Cubs are having fun at their own expense, and I’m simply reporting what is happening.  As a Sox fan, you couldn’t make up the real problems that the Cubs create for themselves.

And when I thought it couldn’t get worse, some Cubs fans help ease the shipwreck a little deeper.

According to a report at “Bleed Cubbie Blue” (part of the SB Network of websites), which itself is likely greatly misinterpreting a Chicago Tribune article by Mark Gonzales … the REAL culprit behind the lack of hot dog buns and long lines for the men’s room at Wrigley Field has been uncovered … and of course they are blaming the White Sox, because when you have run out of excuses, you blame the other guys.

Apparently, the Cubs realized back at the start of the 2014 season that they would not have the reconstruction project done on time, and that they wanted to start their season on the road.  The MLB schedules are made up more than a year in advance, and as such the Cubs were scheduled to open at home vs. the Cardinals.

Cubs schedules are complicated because they share the city with the White Sox, and it is very rare for both teams to be playing in town at the same time (this is to keep traffic and police requirements to a minimum) … it still happens maybe a few times a year, but with Opening weekend being an especially busy time, it is not realistic to have both teams in town at the same time.

The Cubs apparently requested a change (which would have also required changes to the schedules for their opening opponents (the Cardinals), and the Sox opening opponents (the Royals … who as defending AL champions were scheduled to open at home).  According to the story, the Sox vetoed the Cubs request by saying that they didn’t want to open at home in consecutive years.

Is this true?  It might be, though I suspect that IF it is true, the Sox were simply repaying decades of the Cubs and the Tribune Company rubbing the noses of the Sox and their fans in the ground, capitalizing on their media empire that billed the Cubs as Chicago’s premier baseball team (despite having a worse record than the Sox).  In fact Chicago’s CBS affiliate reported (based on an interview on Chicago radio station WSCR) that as the Cubs knew they would not have Wrigley Field ready on time, they considered supplicating themselves to Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf to rent U.S. Cellular Field.  According to the report, they didn’t bother asking because they knew the White Sox would say “no” … though I suspect the real reason is that they were afraid he would say “yes”, in return for exorbitant sums of money that the Cubs might have had to fork over … knowing that as their fans suffered, the Sox could say “we did make the offer”.  But I digress.


The Chicago Cubs must realize by now that anyone can have a bad day, week, month, year, or even century.  The Cubs have repeatedly assured fans that on the far side of these projects is a bright shiny future for the Cubs.  If that is the case, fine, fans, players, and ownership have nothing to worry about, and while there are some pretty bad missteps along the way, there is a light on the horizon.  That said, blaming others for your mistakes is not really classy.  I’m not laying this one on the Cubs, but the way Al Yellon carries on (not directly accusing Jerry Reinsdorf, but coming close) while implicating MLB for “dropping the ball” … sorry Al … it is the Cubs front office who dropped the ball.  Blaming others for your team’s lack of foresight is pretty unbecoming.  If the schedule was a big deal, the Cubs could have put off construction for a year.  If the comfort of their fans was a big deal, they would have had sufficient facilities for the fans.  From this outsider’s perspective, it is yet another example of some corporate billionaire who thinks because he has money he knows how to do anything, and again managing to screw things up.

I’m sure brighter days rally are ahead for the Cubs, but that is no reason to blame anyone else for the mistakes of the front office.  If the situation were reversed, and Hawk Harrelson attacked the Cubs for not allowing a schedule change and thus implying the Cubs ruined Opening Day on the South Side, we would never hear the end of it from Cubdom.

Go, Cubs fans, go (wherever you can)

April 6, 2015

Men’s rooms and the Chicago Cubs … two things that get linked together in history for so many wrong reasons.

For those who have never been to venerable Wrigley Field, especially those of the male half of our species … you miss out on a singular experience: going to the bathroom the way Roman slaves surely must have done it.

The men’s rooms at Wrigley Field featured famous troughs that run down the middle of the room.  It was double sided, so when you went to relieve yourself, rather than simply facing a wall, you were facing a few dozen men doing what you were doing.  While this was going on, there were people bumping you in the back trying to get up to the trough, so you had to hope you weren’t getting knifed by some poor depressed and drunk bleacher bum, or having your wallet stolen (seriously, like you re going to take your hands away form what you are doing to stop someone), or making sure your aim doesn’t get anyone else wet, which will set off a fight that will be nothing but a huge mess.  Cubs fans are incapable of denying all of this.  Women, who have long had reason to complain about waits to their facilities, can count themselves lucky to not be male Cubs fans.


So traditional Wrigley Field is undergoing massive renovations (including the installation of a traditional jumbotron), which they hope to have done in May.  The famous bleachers, site of more drunken brawls than most bars will ever see, were covered with Ernie Banks commemorative tarps.

Unfortunately, in the Cubs quest to pack as many people into venerable Wrigley Field as they could, they realized that there were now a lot fewer available men’s rooms.  As this article highlights, things got bad.  In the end, this isn’t too bad.  Cubs fans are kind of used to relieving themselves wherever they need to.  There is even a handy map to advise newcomers where they are more likely to get away with public urination in the greater Wrigleyville area.


Meanwhile, U.S. Cellular Field features exceptionally clean bathrooms, urinals, and far fewer drunken brawls and knife fights.


It adds new meaning to “Chicago Cubs are #1”.


I know that one of you just rolled her eyes at that one.  I deserve it.


Additional Note:  Apparently the bathrooms were not the only problems at Wrigley Field for Opening Night (scanning the audience, I don’t detect any shock or surprise).  Apparently, the Cubs also ran out of hot dog buns, prompting a talking head on ESPN-1000 in Chicago to quip:  “Too many wieners and not enough buns for the Cubs”.

The sun came out today ….

April 5, 2015

Today is Easter.  That’s a big day on the calendar.  A day filled with a lot of mystery and a day filled with some paradoxes linking death and resurrection.

Even for those who don’t celebrate Easter, today is yet another day filled with spiritual renewal mixed with the paradox of death and resurrection.

Given that I had some time for Spring Break, I decided to take a risk and do something a little different for today.  Back in 1949, Ogden Nash published a short poem entitled “Line-Up For Yesetrday”.  It is not among Nash’s more sophisticated poems.  The structure is very simple.  He tried to find a player from the past to match each letter of the alphabet, and for each player, he composed a short three-line description.  I thought that I could try it, but to make it a little more challenging, I decided to limit myself to players who played only during my lifetime.  Some letters were much easier to work with, others were far more difficult.  It really isn’t the greatest of the last “x” years, but I thought I would try to be a little creative in my off time (between cleaning and helping various teams win pub trivia … made a little under $200 in cash and prizes this past week … not bad as those things go).

So without further ado …


Line-Up for the Past 40 Years

By:  Me


A is for Aaron, leader in power,

Fleet-footed fielder

who made pitchers cower.


B is for Bert, Dutchman by birth,

Strikeouts in droves

and announcer of mirth.


C is for Carlton, a commander pitchers did dread,

He powered out baseballs

For Sox, White and Red.


D is for Derek, who played in the six,

his hitting and class

topped with wiry tricks.


E is for Eck, finish or start,

a master of pitching

who stopped each batter’s heart.


F is for Frank, the Big Hurt in the flesh,

Power and average

swatting balls with a thresh.


G is for George, Kansas City’s favorite son,

an average through the roof

meant that pitchers were done.


H is for Henderson, the game’s greatest thief,

living lightning on basepaths

Gave all opponents a beef.


I is for Ichiro, an all-around master,

Two continents could not contain

this pitcher’s disaster.


J is for Johnson comma Randy by name,

Not even birds dare fly

across his pitching domain.


K is for Ken, a chip off Ken Senior’s block,

like a young Willie Mays

made a call from the Hall a lock.


L is for LaRussa, the league mattered not,

leading teams to victories.

and the World Series a lot.


M is for Micahel, Phily’s hot corner elite,

Gold Gloves and home runs

a remarkable feat!


N is for Niekro, older brother of Joe,

the kuckleball sensation

who made Atlanta fans shout Go!


O is for Ozzie, the Wizard of Oz,

His backflips and great D

made all batters pause.


P is for Padre comma mister, there’s but one,

one of the all-time greats

Smiling Tony hit a ton!


Q is for Quis, 1980s closing royalty,

His late inning heroics

earned him Kansas City loyalty.


R is for Ripken, Cal Senior’s son, Cal,

The Iron Man of sports

Who raised everyone’s morale.


S is for Seaver, the franchise in one,

wins laced with strikeouts

and rarely a run.


T is for Thome, an all around friendly kind of guy,

tape measure home runs

like he didn’t even try.


U is for Uribe, a utility sort of man,

silnging the leather

and leaping walls without a plan.


V is for Vlad, who impaled balls with bats,

Pitch him at your own risk

unless you want to help his stats.


W is for Winfield, an all-around star,

hitting and fielding

all well above par.


X is in Express, as in Ryan’s top speed,

scorecards recorded “K”

to finish the deed.


Y is for Yount, the pride of Brew Town,

all-around greatness

Twice the MVP crown.


Z is for Zisk, the great Polish Prince,

powering shots o’er the roof

with nary a wince.



To those celebrating Easter, Happy Easter!

For those celebrating Passover, Chag Sameach!

For all, Happy Opening Day.

The real crux of the matter

April 4, 2015

Several years ago, Bill Gates injected himself and a ton of cash into the education debate, leading to Race to the Top, which essentially stripped teachers everywhere of tenure and created the Common Core and its science counterpart NGSS.  While the results are still in an early stage, the evidence right now shows that education is not improving, and the number of teachers entering the field is dropping precipitously at the same moment that retirements and attrition are taking off.

Why did Bill get involved?  One of his biggest public pronouncements on the issue was that he could not find enough quality engineers, computer scientists, etc to hire.  It is overwhelmingly true that we need more people in STEM related fields, and it should be attracting people, because right now, those are the fields with the money.  I mean, there are politicians out there who are keen on shutting down parts of higher education that aren’t useful from a technological/economic standpoint (then again some politicians want to close down the very STEM areas that are so crucial, so what do they really know?).

Yet …

This new study from the Journal of Science and Technology Education shows an alarming trend:  Based on a study of college undergrads who started as STEM majors, 48% ended up changing to a non-STEM major before graduation (or dropping out altogether).  Even more alarming, when the study focused strictly on students that were regarded as high performing (based on entrance test scores and college grades since admission, 36% ended up leaving their STEM major (I guess the good news here is that STEM was not the field showing the highest rate of attrition in colleges and universities … over 60% of education related majors did not graduate with their intended degree).




Where are these kids going?  The study breaks down into:  humanities, behavioral science, business, education, health, and other.  “Other” is the clear winner.  “Education” had the smallest number of transfers, which tends to counter a lot of preconceived notions that teaching is the bastion for those who couldn’t succeed elsewhere (because who would go into education today, amirite?).  Among the top performing students,  humanities, social sciences, and business were (receptively) the fields of choice, but were all very close.  For moderately and lowly successful students, business was overwhelmingly the field of choice (after “other”).  Education saw the lowest number of transfers (into education) of all ability levels, though, again, going against common assumptions, the lower achieving students had the smallest number of transfers into education.


The conclusions aren’t terribly shocking: the STEM students most likely to transfer out of their major were people who didn’t take a lot of STEM as a freshman, and tended to earn poorer grades.  Students who attended highly selective colleges were more likely to switch out of STEM than moderately selective institutions, and STEM majors in public universities were more likely to switch than those at private universities.


So why are top performing students who go into STEM majors jump ship?  As noted, they generally see a chance to succeed in other fields.  So why do so many high performing students suddenly under-perform in college?  That is a more complex problem … change of environment, lack of oversight from parents, grades in high school that were not indicative of a rigorous course???  All of the above and more.


It would be interesting to see a follow up to this study in 5-10 years or so.

Is the UK a sign of things to come in teaching?

April 4, 2015

I just caught this article from the BBC.  I’m amazed at how many countries out there are in an education panic.  It makes it seem that no country is out front leading … or maybe nations are panicking for no good reason.

What are the British panicking about:  a lack of qualified teachers!

Much like the US, the British have been cutting funding for education, and have imposed some new evaluation systems that have made teachers unhappy.  The difference is that the UK was ahead of the U.S. in doing this, so we might (might) be able to use the UK as something of a crystal ball.

According to their DFE (Department for Education), there is some alarming data:  The poll notes that 61% of teachers noted that at least some of their colleagues were under-qualified, and 66% felt the situation was getting worse instead of getting better.  To top that off, the DFE published the actual numbers (not percents, unfortunately) of teachers who are teaching and who do not have the minimum qualifications to teach.

On the one hand, the number of unqualified teachers in public schools has actually gone down since 2010 (17,800 to 17,100 in 2013).  On the surface, that seems like a good thing.

Here’s the real kicker though:  When you look at the British academies (these are the British equivalent of American charter schools: public funds, but privately run without local control), the number of unqualified teachers has jumped alarmingly (2,200 to 7,900 in 2013).

Since these aren’t percent figures, it is difficult to tell if this is due to an absolute increase in teachers teaching at academies, or if academies are having a much more difficult time hiring qualified teachers.


As we start up the tall crest of the upcoming teacher shortage, one prediction was that private an charter schools would be the first to see this problem.  I know that many charter schools are starting to have problems with turnover and teacher replacement, and based on some anecdotal evidence, even in Chicago where teacher shortages are not yet a thing, some private schools have been having a harder time finding people to teach.  This means that parents sending their kids to private and charter schools might want to start investigating a little further in regards to their staff.  Remember:  these schools are not required to publish their teacher qualifications, and private schools are not required to have any certification whatsoever.  Parents really need to decide if it is worth plunking down $20k a year to send their kid to a school where the biology class is being taught by someone without any college degree or practical science experience (let alone any classroom experience).  This is far more common than parents think, because they jump to the assumption that “if I am paying all of this money, I must be getting a higher quality product”.  That might be the case with cars and wine, but it is not necessarily the case with education, since the money you pay to the school does not always get translated into better staff.