Archive for April, 2013

Jack Strong Takes a Stand by Tommy Greenwald

April 30th, 2013

I’m really liking the amount of humorous, realistic fiction that has come out recently. It takes a lot of skill to write characters that are believable and yet live in big enough experiences to keep the narrative interesting. Tommy Greenwald succeeds in doing that with Jack Strong Takes a Stand.

Jack is an overscheduled middle-schooler who decides to stage a sit-in on his family’s couch until his schedule frees up. It reminded me a little bit of Avi’s Nothing but the Truth as one tiny action escalates into a media storm. Newspapers, web sites, and a TV show all run Jack’s story – but not the full version of it. All have their own agenda, whether they support the parents or think that Jack’s parents are the worst people ever. What I love is that Jack doesn’t hate his parents. Even when outsiders criticize his family, Jack is quick to try to defend them. His dad has a legitimate reason for wanting to overschedule his son’s life. Greenwald made sure that the dad wasn’t a two-dimensional antagonist (although the two-dimensional illustrations are pretty fun) and we see that it’s done because the father cares about his son.

Fans of Charlie Joe Jackson (a book on the GCRA list, might I remind you) will enjoy the similar style. There’s a fun reference to Charlie in the book, placing the events in the same world as Charlie Joe. I especially enjoyed the characterization of Jack Strong. Yes, he’s overscheduled. Yes, he’s taking a stand. And yes, he sometimes is taking for granted opportunities that others do not have. If the story was just about us sympathizing with a busy teen, it wouldn’t be as compelling. It’s more realistic that some characters agree with Jack’s choice but still think that he’s spoiled.

Jack’s grandmother is a stand-out character in the book and it’s interesting to note that she shares the same last name as Ellen Kellerman, the woman that the book is dedicated to. What a great memorial. I know that the illustrations may remind people of Wimpy Kid, but I would say this is more of a Gordon Korman-style book (and yet with the very unique voice that Greenwald expertly wields). Make sure to grab a copy this fall.

How much does a video weigh?

April 29th, 2013

Check out Michael Stevens’s TED talk on hooking audience members through curiosity. It’s a great framework for instructional design. The video also has links to other educational video channels.

Voice-to-text may be just as dangerous as visual texting

April 23rd, 2013

A recent study at Texas A & M suggests that using voice commands to dictate a text message while driving may be just as dangerous as looking at the phone to do it. There are two factors involved. First, the driver’s brain is still distracted, especially if the voice recognition software is not recognizing voice. Second, drivers sometimes have more of a false sense of security when they use voice-to-text, leading them to not be as cautious.

I’ll be curious to see how Google Glass impacts this. (Another factor then would be distracted pedestrians in crosswalks.)

A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix

April 15th, 2013

Throw Dune, Ender’s Game, Star Trek, Dr. Who, and Hunger Games into a blender and you get A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; I like all of those stories. There’s centuries of intergalactic scheming. There’s a battle school. There’s even an arena where tributes run to the weapons to get the upper hand in combat. (Okay, so the arena scene was kinda meh because I kept picturing Katniss in the background trying to get to the cornucopia.)

Princes are superhumans that travel the galaxy and do whatever they want – or at least that’s what Prince Khemri thinks as he is connected to the Imperial Mind. When he’s connected to the Imperial Mind, he doesn’t have to fear death. He can be reborn as long as the Imperial Mind finds him worthy. It’s when Khemri is stripped of his connection to the Imperial Mind that we start to worry about him as a character. He becomes a regular mortal – a la Superman II when the Man of Steel just wants to be Clark Kent. While he’s mortal, he starts to relate to the humans that he once thought were subservient. He is engrossed in a tiny conflict in one small solar system, but is willing to risk it all to help his newfound friends and realizes that one tiny system may play a bigger role in the Empire.

The worldbuilding is great. The Tek is well-defined (this device is biological, this one is mechanical) and consistent. Part of it felt like a video game power system, and that may very well be because the game was released before the book as an advertisement. I liked P.J. Haarsma’s Rings of Orbis better as a pioneer in book-related gaming, though.

It is a standalone book, not a series, which is quite the shocker in today’s YA speculative fiction market. I liked it and wouldn’t mind seeing more stories from different Princes.

Wendell, Custodian of the Galaxy

April 9th, 2013

I’m really excited that one of my short stories is in Penumbra Magazine’s March issue. It was space opera. I mean, I had to write a story for that.

You have to pay for a copy of the magazine, but it’s a great issue (I think I may be a tad biased). You can also check out the guest post that I wrote for Penumbra about T-Rexes, tea parties, and time travel. Leave a comment on their site. I’m interested to hear what you think about missed opportunities.

You can find a listing of some of my other published works here.

Seeing Google as a BBS is making me nostalgic

April 8th, 2013

Yes, Google was after the BBS era, but it’s still fun hearing that modem successfully connect. The image search with an ASCII preview is even funnier.

Now to play a MUD…

Fidel Castro advises AGAINST nuclear war

April 5th, 2013

It’s interesting that, as we’re studying the Cuban Missile Crisis in Social Studies classes, the news headlines are full of North Korea-related threats of a nuclear attack.

One person that seems to have learned from it all is Fidel Castro – the Cuban leader who once wrote a letter to convince Khruschev to launch nuclear weapons at the United States. It seems that as he’s reaching the end of his life, he’s realizing that a nuclear attack would impact a large part of the world.

Thomas Friedman on Teaching Innovation

April 2nd, 2013

Thomas Friedman, journalist and author of a number of social change books, is advocating for more innovation instruction in the K-12 and college school system in the United States. He makes an interesting point when he says that most information can be found online now on a handheld device, so we can’t just be about knowledge acquisition. (The librarian side of me interjects that we need to teach students how to decipher which sources to trust on those handheld devices.)

I agree and add to the discussion that in many disciplines there are great discoveries happening daily through easier collaboration with colleagues around the world. I mean, we’re trying to bring back sabertooth tigers, after all. With such advances, we need to teach the foundation information but must also train students on how to think critically. I know that we’ve been saying it as a school for a long time now, but I think that with some of the team efforts that we’ve seen locally and abroad, we’re getting more and more successful ideas of what that looks like.

You can read Friedman’s article by clicking here.