Tag Archives: Books

The First 2018 Update

I know it’s been a while since I updated the blog.  I am still alive, no worries!  I realize though that sometimes I don’t use the blog as a blog – look at these entries, they’re like little articles!  That’s all well and good, but sometimes I don’t have a topic that I want to harp on but I still need to write to get my thoughts in order, so I’ll put something out like this that just gives a little update.

Podcast

I’ve made a pledge to get the Podcast out on time, and I intend to keep it.  All 7 of you that listen, hear me now!   I will get the Podcast out on time!  I’ve received compliments from everyone who has listened… but honestly, that could just be because they like me.  I’ll be looking for ways to connect with my audience in the future.  That’s a win-win, because if it’s other people I’ll get to network and discuss fun stuff, and if it’s just people I know then I’ll just be keeping in touch with them – which is nice to do if they’re showing me love by listening to my Podcast.

(… why am I capitalizing Podcast everywhere?  I’m not sure.  Maybe because I keep having to make it part of a title.  It reminds me of how I used to spell “receive” wrong.  I would stubbornly put the i before the e.)

I recently had some new equipment roll in, and the most recent episode is using my condenser microphone from back in my college days.  I’ve also bought theme music, and I am enormously satisfied.  The instructions involved the words “catchy bass line,” which… tell me that’s not catchy!

Some of my students discovered my Podcast and listened to it in lieu of music during their work time.  It was a somewhat strange situation; my students were listening to me talk in front of me doing work for my class, occasionally chuckling and sharing something I said with me as if we were talking about a YouTuber we both watched.  I appreciated the love.

Weirdo kids, haha.

Positive Reinforcement

I’ve started an experiment regarding teacher interaction.  I noticed that students were extremely defensive when beginning an interaction; in particular, the standard acknowledgment of being addressed was “What?!” or “Huh?”  The first one was a sign of being on guard, the second one to buy time while they figured out if they were in trouble.  I decided that I wanted an interaction that was guaranteed to be positive, one in which they wouldn’t have to wonder if what I said to them was going to be positive or negative.  No guessing games.

So, I decided that every Friday, I would acknowledge a student in each period that I judge to be “killing it” and acknowledge their success, along with a small boon of candy.  The reaction so far has been very positive, with students applauding their peers enthusiastically.  I rather like the idea of looking for reasons to reward students instead of looking for reasons to take points away.

Reading

I’ve gotten back into reading recreationally in a big way (and the worn case on my Kindle is starting to show it)!  After reading the new Stormlight Archive book, I decided that I might do some blog entries that are character studies of the characters I really liked in the series, which hopefully would attract the attention of fellow enthusiasts and stir discussion up about them.  Yeah, either that or people will read the books – or, barring that, they’ll just read what I have to say about them and find the insights interesting.

In order to do that, I decided to reread the first two books – a monstrous task, but one I’m really enjoying.  I’m about 70% of the way through the 2nd book, and I think I started with the first book about – what, early January?  I’m not 100% sure.  I’m 20% sure that I was 40% of the way through 56% of the series so far after about three-fourths of the month had –

I’m trolling.  Don’t try to follow those numbers.  Suffice it to say with a disturbingly visual figure of speech that I’ve been devouring the books despite it being a reread.

I also started looking at doing some writing on Medium, but only after I get the flow down for this blog and the Podcast.  Don’t want to take on too much and just suck at all of it!

I promise to update with stuff about the Napa Google Summit and Dragon Ball FighterZ thoughts soon.  This weekend is going to be STUFFED!

I plan to release something fun musically soon as well.

Until next time!

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To People Who Don’t Read

A lot of young people like to make the excuse that they “don’t read.”

Word?

Reading books and writing are among brain-stimulating activities shown to slow down cognitive decline in old age, with people who participated in more mentally stimulating activities over their lifetimes having a slower rate of decline in memory and other mental capacities.

Translation: How do you not read? It’s literally the other way to communicate.

“No, no, I don’t read for fun.”

That’s like saying I’m bad at math because I don’t spend my evenings graphing parabolas.  Like mathematicians are at home begging, “Mom, after dinner can I recite the quadratic formula? I love the way that everything divides by 2a!”

Even so, if you know that not reading is the reason you’re awful, then doesn’t it make sense to start now?

Here’s the thing; there’s some guff on the internet that says something about how “you don’t even use what you learn in school, anyway” or something like that.  That’s complete malarkey – a successful person will figure out how to use most of what they learn in high school to some degree.  But even if you accept that flawed premise, here’s a stone cold truth: Reading and writing are NOT on the list of things you won’t need.

I tell this story to everyone who tells me they won’t need reading and writing skills.  In my first job at a bowling alley, I worked with a coworker/supervisor (I’m not telling which because that’s too specific for creepy internet stalkers) who wanted to advertise a special deal: Pepperoni pizza for $1.00 a slice.  He had the bright idea of making this special appear on the score screens of all 32 lanes in large letters that would march across the screen.

“Peperroni Piza, $1.OO per slise – munday thru thirsday!!!”

Not only is every word except “per” and “thru,” (an acceptable abbreviation) misspelled, but he even had a typo on the part with “$1.00,” because he used O’s instead of zeroes.  Yes – dude misspelled a number.  I was mortified and had to fix it immediately, and of course, anyone who saw it was probably similarly mortified.

I’m not stopping the story here, though, as a cautionary tale where all listeners go “Well, I’m not THAT bad!”

The reason I tell that story is to deliver a message: If you write without capitalizing, it’s exactly as noticeable as this situation.  If you can’t write three sentences without showing why you didn’t get a diploma, it will look exactly the same as if you had written that pizza sign.  If you can’t read in the work world, it will be noticed and seen in exactly the same way as I, and now you, look at this guy.  There is no way to reveal a lack of reading and writing skill that isn’t embarrassing, except in school.

In my head, I feel like even youths caught up in gang activity might even be like “I’m gonna trust you to have my back?  I’m gonna trust you with a gun?  You didn’t even pass English 1, man.”  After all, if you can’t sit still long enough to learn how to read with people paid to help you, how are you going to fend for your life in this world?

I’m not saying people not good at these things have no value; I’m saying that there’s no way to hide it or ignore it.  It’s not like a scar you can conceal.  In most cases, within minutes of knowing you and hearing you talk, reading your texts, or viewing your Snapchat, employers, friends, enemies, and everyone else will know whether you would sell “piza” or “pizza.”

Here’s the kicker: Even people with similarly bad or worse spelling and grammar can tell when someone can’t write.

“I never read when I was young, Mr. Phan, so it’s too late for me.”

A lot of people seem to think that if you don’t start reading at a young age, then you’ll never become good at it. And I see why they might think that.

According to studies done by the University of Oxford, “Young brains do tend to be able to absorb new information better than old ones, although not necessarily to integrate it as well with what has been learned previously.”

That’s why little kids can’t take over the world. Little kids can learn faster, but older people use what they learn better.

That’s why I’m better at arguing than you are.

However, learning how to read at an earlier age doesn’t mean a rooster’s crow.

“Being taught to read at an early age (such as five years old) does not ultimately result in better reading skills, and if it replaces more developmentally appropriate activities, then it may cause other harms.”

Studies conducted in 2015 indicate that

“there is no evidence to support a widespread belief in the United States that children must read in prekindergarten or kindergarten to become strong readers and achieve academic success.”

You can start NOW!  So what if it’s harder for your mind to absorb?  You’re also older – perhaps more mature now, and better able to suck it up and do the work.  It’s never too late to improve your reading skill.  Gorillas are doing sign language, man!

“Mr. Phan, I don’t have any books!”

Get a library card, homey!  Plus, I’ve got some more tips and tricks for you:

1: Borrow books from people.

The reason you want to do this is because, for many people, reading isn’t attractive because it’s a solitary activity, and we like to be social. If you borrow a book from someone, you instantly have someone else who also read the book, so you can talk about that one epic scene where the warrior slapped the king in the face. For bonus points, ask teachers! They’ll probably let you borrow some stuff!  You also will make more friends who also read, a really important thing that can help if you need to be surrounded by a positive atmosphere.

2. Read your interests.

Don’t be afraid to re-tread some of your old interests. See a movie recently? Read the book. Reading a book of a story you already know lets you not stress out about understanding the plot and instead can let you focus on other things – like the differences between the two.  Find the sequels.  Find other books by authors of books you already read.

3. Watch all of your movies with subtitles.

Even if you think you’re ignoring them, your brain will actually do a lot of work without you knowing. Also when you don’t hear something, you’ll instinctively look at the subtitles before bothering anybody with questions. Lastly, hearing the words being used will help expand your vocabulary and also help you recognize difficult words. That’s right, you can watch Terminator 2 and still increase your reading level.  Arnold definitely taught some people how to say “cybernetic organism.”  Netflix offers captions for almost everything.  This is great for rewatching movies that you’ve already seen.

4. Pronounce long words.

Sound that stuff out! I can’t stand it when someone’s reading in my class and they get to a word longer than two syllables and stop dead.  Everyone in my class now knows what I want them to do: Be brave. Sound it out, say it the best you can. If you say it wrong, say it wrong forever until someone teaches you the right way. You gotta keep a growth mindset. You’re not going to learn how letters work in the awful, complicated world of English unless you’re wrong first.

This will also help you if you learned to read by sight (memorizing words) vs phonetically (sounding them out.)  Reading by sight with memorized words leads to students being stopped in their tracks at even the most rudimentary words.  It’s like teaching someone to skate and then expecting them to be able to dance – and then finding out they never learned to walk.  Sound out the words.  Do that old-fashioned thing in Sesame Street where they combine two signs into one word.

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5. Google stuff.

Google is a verb here, but it works as an adjective too.  Ask Google what stuff means.  Most devices will allow you to do this in seconds.  “Okay Google, define equilibrium.”  It’s over.  There was a time when if you had questions about something you read, it meant consulting this:

IMG_20170320_113330_054
This is a real photo from the place in which I grew up.

Those days are gone.  In seconds you’ll know that equilibrium means “a state in which opposing forces or influences are balanced,” AND is also an underrated action movie with Christian Bale and Sean Bean about a dystopian world that destroys books and drugs people into happy submission.  How can encyclopedias compete?  The only possible answer is: by looking so wonderfully photogenic.

It’s never too late to learn to read skillfully… until you embarrass yourself.  Blogs are a great start.  So I suppose, while you’re increasing your reading level, enjoy your stay, and feel free to click around!

“N-Naruto…-” Get Real.

All heroes have their admirers.  Naruto is of course constantly after Sakura, as she is the heroine that he hangs out with constantly – plus he knows that she’s in love with his rival, Sasuke, which only makes her more attractive to Naruto as a challenge to overcome.  As Naruto’s arc develops, so too does Naruto himself develop in maturity.  His relationship with Sakura also develops too.

So naturally, this means that Naruto eventually winds up with Hinata.

… Wait, what?  Is this some kind of joke? How does a writer as brilliant as Kishimoto – the man who wrote Naruto’s inspiring speeches, developed lovable ensemble characters like Shikamaru and Choji, and cultivated long-standing relationships such as Naruto’s bond with Kurama – know absolutely nothing about writing a proper romance?  Hinata is the worst choice of character for our hero, and there are plenty of reasons why.

A Bad Example

Hinata is an awful role model for girls.  Her entire existence – spanning decades if we’re going to consider her little scarf debacle in the last movie to be canon – has been about Naruto’s approval.  She’s the heir of a wealthy clan, born with a biological advantage (the Byakugan), and apparently a very capable ninja and a master of the Hyuga clan’s signature Gentle Fist style.

I guess you can’t have too many skills in one basket, because she also seems to have some kind of crippling personality disorder.  She never speaks up for herself, never goes for what she wants, and has very stalker-like tendencies when it comes to our hero.  She even deals in creepy stalker absolutes; “I want to stand by your side – forever!” she rehearses at one point.  WHOA.  Forever, girl?  How about you go out for noodles first, then see whether you even like the same things, because I can’t think of someone more different from our hero than you.

restraining_order_anti_nh_by_sakura97_sama

Her dialogue is literally “N-Naruto…!” whenever he does something to vaguely acknowledge her – positively or negatively.  She wilts and blossoms at his syllables.  What this teaches is that girls should be meek little flowers that wait until the object of their affection’s whims lean in their direction.  

Some may say that Naruto is an anime series, not a fable, and that it has no responsibility to teach anything.  If that’s true, why create such an inspirational character as Naruto?  He’s a brat that stays fixated on one goal – stubbornly refusing to be shaken from the morals he grew up with, even when it seems that all above him are ready to do so.  He wins not only the approval but the admiration of his teachers and peers alike because of this.  When it’s time for him to decide his Ninja Way, it’s that he’ll never give up on something once he’s decided to do it.  Naruto is not the best ninja there.  He isn’t the most powerful or the most experienced.  He’s not the first person they call for  an emergency.  He isn’t Goku, the all-powerful hero.  He’s a flawed child with a personality to be infectiously good despite his rough manners, boisterous personality, and tactless rhetoric.  Why go to the trouble to create such a role model for kids – such that they realize they don’t have to be perfect in order to be good people – if you’re going to not teach lessons through what he does?

gaaranaruto
Naruto gains the lifelong respect of former adversaries – like Gaara – due to his persistence and strength of character.

Below His Character

While there are plenty of reasons to admire Naruto for the many things he has done for his village and the world – as well as for his winning optimism and eagerness to be the best shinobi his village has ever seen – there are not many reasons for Naruto to see anything to admire in Hinata.  When watching the movie The Last: Naruto the Movie, it became apparent that the biggest factor for Naruto’s reciprocation of her affections was… it was a sure thing.

Ew.  What a seedy way to portray the character that worked so hard to win my respect.  The excuse commonly given for Naruto’s ignorance of Hinata’s love is that he “hasn’t had anyone to express it to him before.”  First of all, lies!  Second of all, he expresses his own affection for Sakura constantly, such that he would definitely understand if Hinata were to talk to him like a human being instead of stuttering his name all the time.

naruhina

Naruto: “Wow, Hinata, you sure did a good job eating all that ramen.”

Hinata: [shocked that she was noticed at all] “N-Naruto…!”

Naruto: “I’ll bet that’s how you bulk up to get so strong!”

Hinata: [shocked at being complimented] “N-naruto…”

Naruto: “Well, I’m going to go talk to people that actually talk back.”

Hinata: [sad that their interaction is over] “Naruto…” [Her eyes swell with tears, partly with happiness at the overall tone of their conversation, partly because of the welling of emotion that she feels for him.]

badge-i-can-t-stand-it-peanuts-charlie-brown

What is there to admire?!  All of the paragons of awesomeness that Naruto worships are people with real skills, real admirable traits!  He appreciates Kakashi for what he learned about being there for your comrades.  He learns some really neat skills from Jiraiya.  He respects Might Guy for the way he bolsters Lee’s confidence.  He admires Sakura for being a strong person.  He admires Sasuke’s drive to achieve one goal, with the possibility that this might have even been the inspiration for his ninja way.  Sure, Hinata is powerful, and Naruto can respect that, but she shows no initiative in using it.  It might as well have been a secret!  Naruto starts using sickening language like “I’ve been in love with you.”  Do you know what “been” means, kid?  It means that it was an ongoing thing.  You expressed no such thing in the past – not to the audience, not to your own internal monologues, and certainly not to anybody else.

The disappointment I feel in such a poorly written relationship for such a well-written series AND main character is tantamount to what would happen if Luke Skywalker had been killed by Jar Jar Binks seconds before entering Jabba’s Palace.  It’s like if Goku’s death to defeat Raditz had been his exit from the series.  It’s like if the Clone Wars replaced the EU’s Mandalorian warrior race with a race of peace-loving… wait, that one was real.

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One of the saddest retcons in Star Wars history.

Anyway, Naruto’s sudden decision to reciprocate in such a way (“I’ve always loved you, Hinata!”) cheapens Naruto as a character and worse, advocates behavior like this.  Better that he stay single than do this.  There’s no risk here.  There’s no character that puts their feelings on the line for the other – Hinata never even has to admit how she feels.  Naruto ends up reading her mind (via magic water and of course in true Naruto and Naruto Shippuden style: a series of flashbacks), so he knows it’s a sure thing.  There’s no risk at all for him to express his affection, and worse, because it’s the first time he’s ever expressed this affection, it looks manufactured.

Things Matter

This is why even fillers should be vetted carefully by those familiar with the main storyline.  These Hinata fillers are the reason why Hinata is getting such a nasty portrayal.  They’re still canon!  Character development always matters!  Handle your characters with care, or else you might just cheapen the character you worked so hard to create.

Why Ender’s Film Could Never Work

Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game didn’t need to be made into a movie, one could argue.  It was one of those books with a jillion sequels, but you only really remember the first one (unless you’re me).  I read this book as a child and marveled at how such a book could be published in 1985.

In this book, there are laptops in every school.  Children posing as adults on the Internet.  At the center of it all was a six-year-old boy who had to be dangerous enough to be powerful, but gentle enough to not want power.  I read this book as the oldest of four siblings, and the first scene with Peter was one of the scariest things I could imagine.

From Chapter 2:

“Lie flat, bugger. We’re gonna vivisect you, bugger. At long last we’ve got one of you alive, and we’re going to see how you work.”

“Peter, stop it,” Ender said.

“Peter, stop it. Very good. So you buggers can guess our names. You can make yourselves sound like pathetic, cute little children so we’ll love you and be nice to you. But it doesn’t work. I can see you for what you really are. They meant you to be human, little Third, but you’re really a bugger, and now it shows.”

He lifted his foot, took a step, and then knelt on Ender, his knee pressing into Ender’s belly just below the breastbone. He put more and more of his weight on Ender. It became hard to breathe.

“I could kill you like this,” Peter whispered. “Just press and press until you’re dead. And I could say that I didn’t know it would hurt you, that we were just playing, and they’d believe me, and everything would be fine. And you’d be dead. Everything would be fine.”

Ender could not speak; the breath was being forced from his lungs. Peter might mean it. Probably didn’t mean it, but then he might.

“I do mean it,” Peter said. “Whatever you think. I mean it. They only authorized you because I was so promising. But I didn’t pan out. You did better. They think you’re better. But I don’t want a better little brother, Ender. I don’t want a Third.”

“I’ll tell,” Valentine said.

“No one would believe you.”

“They’d believe me.”

“Then you’re dead, too, sweet little sister.”

This scene made me feel for Ender, quickly and uncontrollably.  It was the first time I was subjected to the abrupt method of OSC’s characterization; when you meet an OSC character, you form an opinion right away.  There is no “getting-to-know-you” period.  Or rather, there is, but it doesn’t matter because you’ve already decided what you think about him.  From that moment on, Peter was my enemy, and Ender Wiggin was my friend, Val his savior.  This is the moment that made the rest of the story have meaning – not the Battle Room, not the inventions of a fascinating future, but really the only thing that has a chance of pulling anyone into science fiction that doesn’t want to have to be subjected to whole universes of learning curves to read a simple book – a human story.  Ender was a six-year-old, his sister was 8, and his brother was 10.  Then the brother had an arc; he apologized to Ender, which scared Ender even more – because either his brother secretly loved him and had no self-control, or he was still at it – still manipulating him.

This essay isn’t about whether Ender’s Game was a good movie – at least compared to the book.  There are countless sources out there that will tell you it failed in that respect.  I argue that this cannot be made into a movie, no more than you can make a movie out of a book like The Things They Carried.

No Control of Time

A book gets into the mind in a way a movie never can – and this pains me, because I love movies so much.  Ender’s Game is no longer even close to the best thing I’ve read anymore.  But it’s proof that a book can have something that a movie can’t.  In the movie, the scene with Peter lasts seconds.  There is no time for anything but fear.  There is no moment to consider Peter’s character.  Peter’s apology is also gone, but I don’t blame them.  If it had been there it would have confused viewers to death!  Movies are supposed to be clear about their characters, or at least let you have something concrete to hate; to have a moment of cruelty then sympathy in the span of a few minutes in a movie isn’t something a movie viewer will trust.

No Trust

This is something that is hard even for books to do.  Ender’s Game is trying very hard to tell a story without being interrupted.  My wife hates this book, and frankly I can see why.  While I may see here an allegory for the human race’s need to communicate with itself and how mankind’s hope resides in the adaptability and kindness of its children for the future, she sees something that her heart and mind will not let her get past: images of children hurting and even killing each other, being mentally manipulated to do so by adults who supposedly are saving the world.  When I read this book as a child, I gave it my trust, letting my walls drop to take in the story.  An older reader with developed morals – like my wife – sees the cruelty and slaps it from her presence.

Compare it to a conversation.  “This government is like Hitler’s” someone might say to begin. (Granted, if he was slightly socially unaware…)

There are two responses that I believe are the most likely.  There’s the very understandable “You’re crazy, get out of my face.” that we learn to protect ourselves.  It ends the conversation.  Then there’s the “Really?  I think you’re wrong, but tell me why.”  My wife’s conversation with this book ends the first way – because some people don’t want to be convinced that this cruelty can be part of entertainment – and why should she?  “I’m going to enjoy this book about a six-year-old being abused into saving the world?”  It’s a small wonder that many adults hearing of this story for the first time balk at its premise.

If a book couldn’t gain trust, how could a movie possibly do so when it assumes the trust is already there?  It has no chance.  In possible anticipation of this, the movie changed the ages to be about 6 years older.

Nice, now you have Space Harry Potter.

Behind the Events

When OSC speaks of the creation in the definitive edition of Ender’s Game, he mentions it as something he wrote simply to set things up for Speaker for the Dead.  I often wonder if that would have made the movie more palatable as well; what if they had made a movie called Speaker for the Dead and then after the movie marketed a prequel about the main character’s childhood?  It worked for Star Wars.  I feel like the movie lacked any kind of answer to the question of “Why?”  Why are we seeing Ender’s story?  Why do we see so little of the Earth we wanted to save?

Perhaps even a fusion of Ender’s Shadow with Ender’s Game might have made TV as a science fiction drama.  At least then it would have more control of time, more chances to earn trust, and more opportunities to explain origins behind characters and events.  Without these luxuries, a complex series like this is better left on the page.