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Monday, April 29, 2013

Warning: Virgins Bathing Ahead

            The Greek gods are kind of funny, and by that I’m not talking comedians. They do like jokes, but most of them tend to be the one-sided kind of funny where one thinks it’s funny, but the others are mightily ticked. When it’s between gods, not a whole lot happens. One might go complaining to Zeus, who never seems to spend much time on Olympus. If it was your job to settle disputes between the gods you might choose to be out of the office, too. Of course, what Zeus spends his time doing out of the office is a story for another time.
            When it comes to mortals, the jokes gods play are very seldom funny. Worse than that, the gods have a funny sense about pride. The absolute worst thing you can do to the Greek gods is to wound their pride. They take that personally. Worse, they won’t kill you. They’re fond of turning people into other things whether it be plants, animals, or insects. When you wound a god’s pride, expect to undergo a metamorphosis. There’s actually an entire collection of myth stories by the Roman poet Ovid called The Metamorphoses detailing these stories.


Friday, April 26, 2013

F3 Red 2

            They thought she was done. She was out of the woods, and Grandmother had moved far away. But now she’s back, and out for blood. Wolf blood. She doesn’t need the Woodsman to save her this time. Red Riding Hood is back, and her basket of goodies includes grenades, napalm, and one hell of a bad attitude. Coming this summer, Red 2.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Diagnosing Essays

            I’ve been watching a lot of House, M.D. of late. An entire marathon of all 8 seasons, actually. And one of the things that I love about the show is how integrated everything is. Certain diseases (and yes I’m aware that not all of the medicine is 100% accurate) that are explored on the show are not responsible for all the symptoms a particular patient has. The disease will cause the failure of a certain organ or system, and then that failing organ or system causes other problems, so it’s important to know that not all of the symptoms have a single cause.
            Essays are somewhat like this. Everything in an essay affects everything else. Very rarely is there only one thing wrong with an essay. I have yet to encounter an essay that has excellent support, but no claims. Nor is there one with excellent argumentation, but bad organization. There cannot be an essay with excellent argumentation and indecipherable grammar, either. So many components of an essay are integrated into a whole system that if one thing fails completely, the rest of it will fail as well. The failure of one organ affects another, and so on.
            This is one of the difficulties with teaching essay writing. It’s all connected like the human body, but one failure causes multiple failures. Only when all the components are working well does the essay work.
            Of course, getting there is trickier than it seems, and there’s no one way to teach students how to get there.
            And of course, because everything is connected, diagnosing the true problem is often difficult. Problems in logic hide behind organization. Problems with grammar can mask problems with argumentation. Lack of support can be caused by lack of logic. And so on.
            Unfortunately, much like House, a lot of what I do is experiment and test until I hit upon what a particular student’s condition is, then try and apply the correct prescription.
            It was a lot more fun on House.

Monday, April 22, 2013

(One of) The Thing(s) I Hate about Rubrics

            Rubrics are becoming an increased presence when it comes to college grading. There are rubric engines, software integrated into learning management systems, and instructors swapping rubrics like candy and Powerpoints.
            But they’re not for me. There are lots of reasons why, but I discovered another one. The various gradations in a category, say argument, for example, are too similar. They read like bad paraphrases of one another where one or two adjectives are swapped out. If one of my students gave me a paraphrase with only two adjectives changed for slight synonyms plucked from a thesaurus, the student would technically be guilty of plagiarism.
            More to the point, such changes ultimately convey nothing to the students. There’s no perceptible difference between a “well-developed claim” and a “fairly developed claim.” The descriptive phrases ultimately convey less than the raw point value associated with it, so why bother with the description.
            I think these descriptions make instructors feel better by giving them something to point to as justification for what ultimately is a gut instinct. Instead of simply saying that a given argument is 8/10, the rubric’s description gives cover or what is a teacher’s learned reaction and evaluation. Half of essay grading is instinctive, something that comes with practice, and ends up more art than science.
A skilled chef can take a slight taste of a dish, and know to add a whole range of ingredients in measurements that seem arbitrary until the finished dish is tasted. The chef had no way to articulate knowing how or why it needed X amount of an ingredient, just that it did. So many recipes actually have the insruction “season to taste,” based on experience and instinct.
I feel my time is much more wisely spent giving personal feedback to my students that apply directly to their work, hopefully giving them the experience and instinct needed to understand the grade I assign to them, rather than the generic comments associated with rubrics.

Friday, April 19, 2013

F3 Addiction

            “Go on, give it to me,” Nikki licked her very red lips.
            I kept my cool, tugging my hat a little lower over one eye.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Lost Cause?

            When does something become a lost cause? When do you pack it in after all the failures? When is it simply too much? I’m not even talking about writing, though I’ve had my share of failures. I’m talking about teaching. Over the last few semesters there’s been a change in students. What worked a few semesters ago no longer works. But then, nothing seems to work. Trying to get reactions (or actions) out of the students is more difficult than ever. I look over my gradebooks at the number of students who don’t bother to turn in assignments, and have no idea how to get through to them.
            It’s not me, either. Every teacher I talk with, even on up to my brother the Ph.D. at a university, is reporting difficulties with students. They need hand-holding. They need ultra-specific directions, so that the instructions are actually longer than the essay assignment they’re supposed to write.
            I am at a loss. I don’t want to give up. Giving up feels wrong, especially when it comes to students, but I’m running out of ideas.

Monday, April 15, 2013

It's in the Duds

            A long-time saying states that “Clothes make the man,” but it’s one of those things that may be more literally true for some more than others. I’ve been thinking it over, and found a pattern when it comes to clothes in crime fiction. Detective characters stand out in the crowd. Usually their manner, curious, attention to detail, driven, and intelligent sets them apart, but there’s more than that. The way they dress is actually quite conspicuous.


Friday, April 12, 2013

F3 The New Ship

            “Captain on deck!” the lieutenant bellowed in her best imitation of a command voice.
            Flynn stepped up to the podium before the assembled crew. It wasn’t the entire crew, obviously, as some were needed to monitor ship’s systems, but it was enough of them. The rest would hear over the ship’s comms.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


            I’ve always been creative. My mind has conjured strange new worlds since before I reached an age in double-digits. I continue to travel to them even now, and with age those worlds have just become more vivid, more complex, and more fun to visit.
            So it’s hard for me to relate to people who aren’t creative. It’s hard for me to understand how someone is not creative. It’s hard for me to know how to get people to engage that part of their brain because it came so naturally for me.
            I have the same problem when it comes to spelling. I was a great natural speller, so I don’t understand people who don’t know how to spell. It’s a foreign concept to me. But then I always wanted to be a good speller. It was a game to me, and I got good at it.
            Creativity was a game for me, too. I imagined the world. I made the rules. I got to do what I wanted.
            So maybe that’s the key. Use games to stimulate creativity. Employ strict guidelines at first, but then paring off the rules until they feel comfortable in their creativity, and then they will want to take initiative.
            Or maybe throw them into a game on day one to see what happens.

Monday, April 8, 2013


            I come from a long history of RPG games such as D&D, so when I think initiative, I automatically think of rolling dice. It’s important to win initiative because you get to set the pace. You get to be in control of the situation. You act instead of react.
            Along with the loss of creativity, which I posted about last week, there’s a lack of initiative in students (and writers). The norm is to let someone else take over and guide the situation.
            I think these are related. When creativity diminishes, there’s an increased desire to let someone else take the initiative, to guide what’s going on. Often this is relegated to instructors who are bombarded by messages of “I don’t know what to write.” In order to get students to produce anything, we often have to take students by the hand and move them forward.
            I hate doing that as I know with increasing instructions, with more and more guidelines, creativity becomes limited. It’s impossible to have highly detailed instructions without curtailing creativity in some way.
            I think I need to tackle the creativity problem in order to get rid of the hand-holding.

Friday, April 5, 2013

F3 Night on the Town

            It was movie night. The run-down arthouse theater in Meriville was running a truly awful vampire movie. Nosferatu in Black Garters played at midnight, and I dressed for the occasion. My best—and only—suit looked good. I further dressed it up with a striped silver and black tie. Cufflinks and a tie bar helped accent the whole thing. A white scarf and my black fedora completed the look.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Creativity in the Classroom

            There’s a growing resistance to creative approaches within the classroom. Administration is of course reluctant to embrace such ideas because they’re new and unproven, but what concerns me the most is the resistance coming from the students.
            I frequently come up with odd ideas in terms of presenting lessons and projects for the students to do that stretch them creatively as well as academically. I think that these are related and must both be stretched in order for true growth to occur. It is the creative mind that posits the impossible as something achievable, and is responsible for so many of the wonders we have today.
            So I have growing concerns over an increasing population of the students I teach that want nothing to do with creative projects. They would rather someone tell them, step-by-step, what must be done, what they must think, and simply do that.
            I don’t know yet how to overcome this problem.
            But I am still working on it. That’s why I’m so creative.

Monday, April 1, 2013


            That guy on the cereal box isn’t the real deal. You know the one I mean: Green suit, jaunty green hat, gigantic clover sticking out of it. He carries a magic wand and fairy dust follows him around whenever he flies—does he have wings? How does he fly, exactly? Anyway, that’s not a real leprechaun. No doubt real leprechauns want to perpetuate this as their image because people will leave them alone, but I’m here to set the record straight.
            Leprechauns are faerie. The spelling’s important. We’re not talking Tinkerbell’s kind of fairy—though maybe the cereal box guy is related to her. We’re talking an entire race of enchanted folk belonging to Celtic mythology. All kinds of people belonging to the race of faerie—some people call them elves, dwarves, goblins, etc—can be found throughout Ireland and the rest of the British Isles, particularly in Faerie mounds.

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