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Measles and Me Update

The doctor's office said I'm fine, that I don't need an MMR booster.  Okay, then.  One fewer injection.

Measles and Me

Outbreaks of measles are popping up in a number of places, thanks to stupid, foolish, morons who refuse to vaccinate their children.  I was right properly vaccinated against measles, polio, smallpox, and a host of other diseases back in the 60s, thank you, and have enjoyed a disease-free childhood.  I never even caught chicken pox, and when the vaccine for =that= became available, I was down at the doctor's office on the very day it became available.  My doctor was a little surprised--an adult was the first one to ask for the varicella vaccine.

At any rate, I've recently learned that the measles vaccine can wear off.  And because a bunch of stupid, foolish morons are currently endangering public safety, and because I was vaccinated over 40 years ago, and because I work in a germ factory, I'm suddenly in the position of needing to find out if I should get a booster shot.

I called my doctor's office to ask.  The receptionist left for a moment or two, then came back to say she would put my question up to the next doctor or tech who was available and they would call me back, probably tomorrow.

So we'll see.  I suspect I'll need to go in.  Stupid, foolish morons.

When Life Hand You Lemons, Make Lasagna

I was grocery shopping for the week, list and menu in hand, and I got to the pasta section.  Monday was supposed to be stuffed shells, a dish everyone in the household likes and one that generates a lot of leftovers for lunches.  But the pasta section was completely devoid of large shells.  I looked everywhere.  Teensy shells.  Small shells.  Middle shells.  No large shells.

All right, then.  Time for a quick modification.  Lasagna!

I've never actually made lasagna.  That was always my ex-wife's dish.  Woe be to anyone who dared bring foreign lasagna into our house!  I never even learned the recipe.  However, years in the kitchen taught me the basic ingredients: lasagna noodles, ricotta, mozzarella, Parmesan, marinara sauce, spiced ground meat.  Similar to stuffed shells, really.  I added a few ingredients to my shopping app, grabbed some lasagna noodles, and finished the groceries.

Today I made the marinara and let it simmer for a couple hours, then added ground sirloin and let it simmer some more.  Boiled the noodles until al dente, then layered them in a baking dish with the meat and sauce and the cheeses.  Baked for 40 minutes and done!

It came out perfectly.  Everyone ate a big piece and rolled themselves away from the table.


Kids, News, and Fear

A woman in Maryland was arrested because she let her two children walk to the neighborhood park alone.  Beyond outrageous.

Maksim ran all around our subdivision in Ypsilanti when he was five and six.  When we moved to Wherever, he went to the convenience store and the grocery store, which were both across a busy road.  He was 10. I encouraged him to play in the woods out behind our house, but he wouldn't. Why? Because none of the other kids' parents ever let them set foot out of their yards.  Maksim was the ONLY kid who was allowed to leave the yard without someone watching him. I was shocked and saddened. When I was growing up, we rode the horses, went to the woods, dug tunnels in the snow behind the barn, and climbed to the tops of the apple trees in the orchard. Seriously, people--crime rates are lower today than they were in the 70s and 80s. Children aren't being snatched by strangers. Your kid is more likely to be hurt while riding in a car than by playing in the neighborhood. The news media lives by feeding everyone fear.


Necessary SF

A few days ago, a colleague in the English department approached me.  One of her students has discovered science fiction and wanted recommendations about what to read. Unfortunately, my colleague isn't really knowledgeable of the genre.  So she came to me and asked if I could make a list.

Well, sure!

I sat down and kind of flung together a quick "Science Fiction Everyone Should Read" list off the top of my head, arranged it in more-or-less chronological order by publication, and sent it.  Just for fun, I'm positing it here.

This is not, of course, a comprehensive list, but just what I could think of over lunch.  It stops in the 90s because that's when my lunch break ended.  :)  You may notice Heinlein isn't on the list.  It's because I'm not recommending him to anyone.  I didn't rec my own books as a potential conflict of interest.


The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury: Lyrical, poetic SF, extremely famous.

I, Robot by Isaac Asimov: Hasn't aged well, but Asimov helped define the SF genre, and everyone's read this one. His three laws of robotics are a staple of science fiction.

The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham: An invasive species of walking plants has become popular in everyone's garden just as nearly everyone in the world is struck blind by a radioactive comet. A strange classic in the field.

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin: Genly Ai travels as an ambassador to an alien world where the people change from male and female as part of their normal yearly cycle, and he is forced to try and fit in.

Dune by Frank Herbert: The Fremen struggle for freedom on a desert world filled with giant sandworms and an addictive spice which is the only substance that lets humans navigate through hyperspace.  Many sequels followed.

Ringworld by Larry Niven: A man discovers a legendary world that forms a ring all the way around its sun.  It's big enough for millions of planets.  But who built it and why?

The Forever War by Joe Haldeman: A conscripted soldier goes off to fight aliens in space, but when he returns, he and his compatriots discover that traveling at close to the speed of light has slowed time for them, so they arrive home hundreds of years after everyone they know has died.

Kindred by Octavia Butler: A black woman from modern-day Los Angeles is accidentally transported back to the pre-Civil War south, where she must survive slavery.  Holy cow--read anything and everything Octavia Butler wrote.  Seriously.

Wild Seed by Octavia Butler: An immortal woman living in Africa in the 1600s is discovered by a man who can't be killed.  Their lives intertwine over centuries.  This is Butler's absolute best book, and the highest recommendation on this list.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams: Makes fun of every SF trope and story ever written.  Silly, but satirical as well.  There's a whole series of these.

To Your Scattered Bodies Go by Philip Jose Farmer: Everyone who ever lived is reincarnated at the same time on the banks of an endlessly long river.  Mark Twain is one of the main characters.  This is the first in the long-running Riverworld series.

The Gaea Trilogy (Titan, Wizard, and Demon) by John Varley: THE science fiction novels of the 80s.  Explorers find a strange, circular ship near the orbit of Jupiter and they send a team of scientists and explorers to find out what it is.  Inside the ship is an incredible world of living blimps, centaurs, and other wonders.  And they're all created by Gaea, the ship itself.  Except Gaea is going insane.  John Varley is famous for his strong female characters.

Steel Beach by John Varley: Humans have been kicked off Earth by aliens and now live in scattered colonies on the moon, Mars, and other places.  Fortunately, technology has turned these colonies into an Eden away from home, all overseen by CC, the central computer.  But lately, more and more people have been committing suicide, and other threats loom. Hildy need to find out what's going on.

Neuromancer by William Gibson: The very first cyberpunk book.

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood: Dystopian fiction written before dystopia was cool.  In a near-future world, the US has fallen apart, and few women are fertile.  The remaining women who can conceive are passed around from man to man in household after household, forced to stay in each place until they give birth.  Offred is one of these "handmaids," and she wonders if it's possible ever to escape.

Dragon’s Egg by Robert L. Forward: Okay, I didn't like this one at all, but everyone raves about it.  It's the definition of hard SF.  A scientist discovers life on the surface of a dwarf star, but time moves so quickly on the star that from the time the scientist notices it to the time people start to do something about it, the life has already evolved from simple organisms into sentient beings capable of interstellar travel.  If you like hard science, this is the book for you.

Helliconia Spring by Brian W. Aldiss: On Helliconia, each season lasts a thousand years.  Spring is the first book in the series.

The Crystal Singer by Anne McCaffrey: Killashandra Ree has no prospects in her life, until she arrives on the planet Ballybran and discovers that she has a rapport with the crystals there that no one else can understand. The Heptite Guild mines these crystals, however, and they want her power.

The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers: Often called the first steampunk novel.

The Postman by David Brin: In a near-future dystopia, a wandering vagabond discovers an abandoned mail truck and decides to deliver the letters inside.  He accidentally starts a revolution against the dictator that keeps the area under his thumb.  The movie was awful--read the book.

The Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis: Scientists have learned how to travel back in time, but they need historians to do so safely.  In The Doomsday Book, a woman goes back to the Middle Ages and stumbles into an outbreak of the Black Plague.  In To Say Nothing of the Dog, a pair of time travelers go back to the Victorian era to track down a missing time traveler, and what they discover shakes up their entire universe.

Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey: The first of the Dragonriders of Pern series.  The colonists of Pern are nearly wiped out by a threat called the Thread, which falls annually from the sky and devours everything it lands on.  The colonists genetically alter the local lizards into full-blown dragons that, with their riders, fly up to destroy the Thread before it reaches the ground.  There's a whole series of these.  SF that reads like fantasy.

Fool's War by Sarah Zettel: Written by one of my best friends. A rogue AI is rampaging through the space networks and threatening war.  Only Al Shei and her ship's jester (no, really) can stop it.

Snow Crash and The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson: Freaky near-future SF that will turn your mind inside-out.  Neither of these are an easy read by any means, but once you get into them, they really rock your world and hurt your brain.

The Vor Game/Barrayar/Mirror Dance/A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold: The Vorkosigan books are hugely popular.  Miles Vorkosigan is one of the most popular characters in science fiction.  Space opera at its best.  Start with The Vor Game and keep going.

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton: The book is way better than the movie, and makes more sense.  Best if you've already read Frankenstein.

China Mountain Zhang by Maureen F. McHugh: Near-future SF set in a world where China has become the dominant power and Chinese culture rules.

Jumper by Steven Gould: Seventeen-year-old Davy Rice, raised by an abusive, alcoholic father, suddenly discovers he can teleport.  You can't help but love Davy.  The movie was awful.  Read the book.

Red Mars / Green Mars / Blue Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson: Mars is being terraformed, but it ain't easy . . .

Mars by Ben Bova: The first set of humans arrive on Mars to have a look around, but personalities clash and it's not easy to survive on a planet that actively tries to kill you.

What did I miss?

The New Media Literacy

The new English 9 curriculum has an entire section of media literacy.  Yay!  The school district handed all of us English teachers a set of scripted curriculum and said, "Here's how you have to teach the unit, day by day, hour by hour."  WTF?  You're going to tell ME how to teach media literacy?  Dude, I freaking INVENTED media literacy in the state of Michigan.

I went through the district materials with a sinking heart.  No, no, and NO!  It was bad, bad, BAD.  Mistakes.  Incorrect information.  Activities that incorrectly mixed up media type with message style.  It spent an entire class period on radio adversiting, and teens don't listen to the radio much these days--when they want music, they stream from YouTube or Spotify or Pandora.  A number of web sites were outdated or simply gone.  And much of the teacher material was just badly-written and difficult to understand.

Then the district announced that the unit materials were meant to be just a guideline.  We could do as we liked as long as we taught the main points.

Well, all right, then!

Still, it meant revising heavily.  I went through the materials and added, revised, changed.  And cut, cut, cut.  This and this and this needed to go because it was repetitive, inaccurate, or poorly done.  And things felt rushed and stupid.  I was skipping stuff and doing a poor job with a lot of material.  And then, while I was hauling a box of waste paper out to the recycling bin, I stopped dead in my tracks.  Why was I in such a rush?  ROMEO AND JULIET, the usual focus of the third marking period, was already done.  I had LOTS of time.  I shouldn't just be subtracting poor material--I should be ADDING what I knew to be good.

I went back in and added brand new material.  How women and men are portrayed in advertising.  How ads affect body image.  How advertisers persuade us we're bad people in order to make us buy something.  And more!

Much better!  And this marking period I get to teach media literacy, my favorite subject, all day long.


Final Exams and New Curriculum

Last week we had final exams at Wherever Schools, and this year I had a higher-than-usual share of wailing and gnashing of braces from failing freshmen.  (This particular group has an abnormally high percentage of learning disabilities, but even an IEP and a study skills teacher don't help if the student won't do any work.)

It was made rather worse by the fact that I had to give a multiple choice final exam.  In English class.  I don't normally do this--English exams should be long answer and essay.  However, this year the district doubled the required number of essays we have to assign per card marking.  I had just finished grading the latest set, and this had sucked away all my planning time.  In other words, I hadn't given a bit of thought to lesson plans for second semester--and this year the entire curriculum was brand new.  I couldn't rely on anything I'd used last year.  So this year I had to take the time I normally put into grading final exams and assign it to planning lessons.

This meant giving a multiple choice exam.  The trouble with this is that students hear "multiple choice" and say, "Oh!  I don't need to study!  I'll see the answer on the page and it'll job my memory, no prob."  Except then they run into questions like:

In the sentence, "The snow was white feathers falling from the sky," the main literary device is:
A. a simile
B. a metaphor
C. hyperbole
D. an oxymoron

And if you don't know what those four devices are, you're dead in the water.  Or this:

From what point of view is OF MICE AND MEN told?
A. first person
B. third person omniscient
C. third person limited
D. fly-on-the-wall

A lot of my students (the ones who didn't go back and study their notes) answered C to that one.  So yeah--multiple choice is problematic.  But we forge on.

Once those were done, it was on to lesson planning.  And that was an interesting bit unto itself. . . .



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