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Saturday, September 30, 2023

Welcome to Matt Smith's weekly Sunday School!

Very good friend Matt Smith (no not the Doctor Who actor!) and I go back a few years, all the way to our time together at that very strange television station in Reidsville, North Carolina.  I learned a lot about video and broadcasting from Matt, and I continue to learn much from him since his becoming active with the online realm, sharing his talents and his calling as a minister.

For the past two or three years Matt has been maintaining a weekly series of "Sunday school" lessons.  Every Saturday he posts a new one on YouTube.  I for one have been benefiting from Matt's devotionals and I think that others might will also.  Click on over to Matt's YouTube channel and prepare to be edified, enlightened, and maybe even a little entertained.

Thank you for all that you do my brother!

Monday, September 25, 2023

Elementary school kids in Arkansas produced an AMAZING Indiana Jones fan film and you can watch it now!

This is... THE greatest thing that I have seen in a very long time.  These kids are... wow.  They are amazing!  They were able to pull off what a lot of us thirty and forty years ago were only able to dream of doing.  I know my best friend Chad and I used to plan out our own Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies.  How when we grew up we would be the next Lucas and Spielberg.  I like to think a little of that carried over to when we were making our films fifteen or so years ago.  Still a bit of childhood magic left.

But these kids, the young men and women of Oliver Springs Elementary School in Van Buren, Arkansas were not content to wait that long.  No, they went all out and they did it now.  It took them two years of fundraising and planning and then filming, but they succeeded in their mission: they made a professional-grade Indiana Jones fan film that stands as mighty as any movie ever conceived.

Indiana Jones and the Treasure of the Aztecs finds the globe-trotting archaeologist in the swamps of Arkansas circa 1958.  On the trail of the Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto, Indy runs afoul of rogue Russian agents who are looking for Montezuma's gold.  It seems that there is some mystical quality associated with the treasure: just the sort of thing that Dr. Jones has expertise in.

It runs half an hour but you are going to want more.  These young people have accomplished a film that is incredibly well-shot, smartly composed, exceptionally scored, and astoundingly acted.  These kids are performing their hearts out.  They get the world of Indiana Jones, maybe better than many adults.  And as if a cherry on top, they even got Karen Allen - Marion Ravenwood herself - to make a cameo appearance!

KSFM 5 News has more about the Oliver Springs Music Club and their film, and Arkansas CW Crew has posted a few interviews with some of the movie's cast and crew.

But, you are no doubt wanting to watch this for yourself.  I don't blame you!  There have been precious few Indiana Jones fan film efforts.  In fact the only one that comes readily to mind is the delightful Raiders of the Lost Ark adaptation that was made by Mississippi youngsters in the Eighties.  Well, Indiana Jones and the Treasure of the Aztecs possesses no less soul, and has all the benefits of modern technology and cinematography.

I cannot possibly rave about this enough.  So click on over and watch Indiana Jones and the Treasure of the Aztecs on YouTube.  Or, watch it embedded below.  Hint: click the link instead.  You'll better appreciate the wide aspect ratio these lads and lasses shot their film in.

Young men and women of Oliver Springs Elementary School, this blogger gladly salutes you!

Trailer for Doctor Who sixtieth anniversary specials

Doctor Who needs a hard and fresh return to the franchise that that we know and love, above and away from the mess of the Thirteenth Doctor era (which if we're going to be honest really can't be pinned on Jodie Whittaker, she was just working with some really bad material).

I don't know if that's what is coming in the next few months with the specials commemorating the show's sixtieth anniversary (seems like just yesterday we were celebrating its fiftieth) but the pics and the new trailer that dropped over the weekend have me warefully optimistic.

The last time we saw The Doctor, she (ugh!) had regenerated - clothes and all - into a perfect facscimile of the Tenth Doctor, once again played by David Tennant.  However the showrunners seem to insist that Tennant is playing the Fourteenth Doctor.  Which means this is really Tennant's fourth or fifth character with the Tenth Doctor's face he's portrayed since 2005 (just work with me 'mkay?).

So going into the sixtieth anniversary specials it will be David Tennant as... Doctor Who-ever... and joining him is none other than Donna Noble, again played by the delightful Catherine Tate!  Although one seems to remember that last time we saw The Doctor and Donna together it was made clear that they couldn't see each other again.

Clearly, the BBC is throwing caution to the wind...

Here's the trailer for the specials, which materialized about 48 hours ago:

And at last, the BBC is confirming that Neil Patrick Harris, who had long already been announced as being in the specials, is going to be playing The Toymaker: a villain not seen since the William Hartnell era in 1966.

Is it just me, or does Harris as The Toymaker seem poised to chew up the scenery more than any Who bad guy since Davros?

The big celebration kicks off in November.  And I'm very much hoping we get at least a fleeting cameo of Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor.

Friday, September 22, 2023

So, I lost a teaching job last week

How it transpired is something that a LOT of people have thought I'm making up.  But it really happened.

I was on my first day of substitute teaching.  And I went into that school all shiny and shaved, shirt tail tucked into my khakis, best boots... I was going to make an impression on the students and faculty alike (say, why don't most men seem to tuck their shirt tails in anymore?).

Most of all, I went in bearing in mind all that my own teachers, and substitute teachers especially, had handled us as students when I was in school.  Yes even the subs, many of whom are still burned into my memory.  They knew they only had a day or two to make their mark upon their students' educations, but they were determined to make the most of it.  That's precisely the mindset that I was going to emulate.

The assignment was a high school science class.  Chemistry, to be more specific.  The teacher had left a video for the students to watch, and then afterward they were to set about making 3D models of the atoms of various elements.

The video was about the electrons of an atom, how they orbit the nucleus in different shells.  And how each shell has a maximum number of electrons that can be in them.  We're talking very basic chemistry, per the model that Neils Bohr gave us.

The last example given in the video was about sodium.  The narrator described the nucleus, the first few shells going out, and then the last shell.  Which in sodium has but one electron.  And this lonely particle is what is most responsible for sodium being so drastically reactive.

How reactive?  It didn't touch on that in the video and that's too bad.  Well, when a quantity of sodium comes in contact with water it combusts.  And VERY dramatically at that:



This is something that every high school chemistry textbook going back at least the past eighty years has described (or at least used to).  It's also something that the chemistry teacher at my own high school demonstrated one day.  He had a tripod out on the football field holding aloft a brick of pure sodium.  Below it was a bucket of water.  He let the sodium brick drop and fall into the water.

The explosion was heard over five miles away.  Dad said they even heard it over the sounds of the machinery at the quarry he worked at.

I thought that along with telling them about Neils Bohr also being an Olympic-class football (aka soccer to us yanks) player, the students might find that virtue of sodium to be pretty interesting too.  So I shared it with all three classes that I had that day.

It turned out that the students did indeed appreciate my example of how an element like sodium can react with other substances.  All because of that one electron on its outermost shell and looking for stability.  Some of the students asked if we could do that during our class time.  I had to tell them no. But I like to think the visualized image will stick with them.

The following day I taught at another school.  And after returning home that afternoon I got a phone call.  Telling me that my services had been suspended pending an investigation...

It had gotten around that had I told the chemistry students about sodium's reaction with exposure to water.  The administration at the school considered this to be describing how to create high explosives.

Which was the absolutely LAST thing I would have intended.  It was nothing but describing a very simple interaction between valence electrons, involving one of the most basic elements on the periodic table.

Apparently the word "explosive" has been stricken from the vocabulary of secondary education in the public schools of these United States.  I'm going to assume that the mechanics of the internal combustion engine and the bursting forth of Orville Redenbacher popcorn kernels from their original volume will likewise now be deemed forbidden knowledge from the Dark Ages.

Well, I was invited to write and submit a statement about the incident to those investigating it.  I typed it up, trying to describe everything that had transpired.  I then zapped it out across the ether toward the proper authorities.  And I trusted that they would arrive at the same conclusion I was on: that I had not done anything wrong in teaching the fundamentals of chemistry to high school chemistry students.  I sincerely believed that I would be back in the classroom soon.

That was not to be however.

So, I'm no longer allowed to be a substitute teacher in that particular school system.  But for one glorious day I taught those kids some really neat concepts of science.  Like when one student asked about what neutrons do, I turned that into an explanation of how gas centrifuges enrich uranium into nuclear weapons-grade yellowcake.  And no, the school did not possess a gas centrifuge either (the students asked).

This is ridiculous.  There is no reason whatsoever to be afraid of basic chemistry. Ignoring it and making it a punishable offense to teach about it is certainly NOT going to ever deter real bad guys from using that knowledge.  Science is supposed to be neutral. Objective.  Pure science is on a level playing field and irrespective of agenda.  It simply IS.  It seems officials are now ascribing qualities to science in accordance to their whims and feelings, and not purely of physical principles.

Oh well. I gave it my best.  I don't regret for a moment what I taught those young people.  If it got them to thinking a little differently or deeper about the world around them and its wonders, then my task is complete.

Who knows?  Maybe I'll get to someday return to the classroom.  Just imagine the flames I would set alight if I taught the young people about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights!

But it could have been worse. I could have instead been fired for blowing up that little red schoolhouse...

Thursday, September 14, 2023


 ...at least they didn't fire me for the exploding schoolhouse.

Here is a tip: do not talk anymore about sodium's violent combustibility.

I hope Mr. Springs would be proud of me.  This is the very first time in more than thirty years that I've used the term "valence electrons" in a piece of writing.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Started teaching today. Here's how it went!

For now, I'm being a very active substitute teacher.  Which, well... we'll see what happens from there.  People have been telling me for many years that I would make for a great teacher.  Today was a chance to give it a shot.

So I taught three blocks of high school sophomore honors chemistry class.  The subject of today's lesson was Neils Bohr, who came up with the standard model of atomic theory.  The students thought it was pretty wild that in addition to being a nuclear genius, Bohr was also an Olympic-class soccer player.

I must confess, I am absolutely BLOWN AWAY by the technology in the average classroom today.  Instead of a TV and a videotape player on a cart, each classroom now has this big touch-screen high-definition set.  I had to get one of the kids to explain to me how to make it work.  The teacher had a video about the Bohr model, using various elements' atoms.

The last atom it touched upon was sodium.  I saw a ripe opportunity to broaden the kids' minds in a way they might find pretty fascinating.  After the video I told them that the one lonely electron in sodium's outer shell is determined to chemically bond with ANYTHING.  And from there I shared the story of how my own high school's chemistry teacher once set off an explosion heard for miles around by sending a brick of sodium plunging into a bucket of water.  They did indeed find that pretty awesome.  A few of the male students asked if we could do that, and I said no.

The kids proceeded to make 3D models of their assigned atoms.  Someone asked aloud about neutrons. Like, "what do they do?"

So I used that as the diving block from which to jump into teaching the kids about how neutrons and atomic weight play an important role in using gas centrifuges to enrich uranium into nuclear weapons-grade "yellowcake":

One lad asked if we had a gas centrifuge in the school's lab.  I told him "I doubt it."  But I must give him credit for his curiosity.

(In case you're wondering, I am not joking about any of this.  Who knows, I may have sown a seed or planted a sapling in these kids' minds today.)

So, I'll be doing substitute teaching for the next little while, trying out different ages and subject matters.  The ultimate role reversal is probably going to be me teaching math.  Oh bruddah... WHAT have I gotten myself into??

Friday, September 08, 2023

Another article from the college newspaper. And it's not controversial either!

 See?  I really do know how to write an op-ed piece that doesn't honk off many readers!

This edition of Elon's student newspaper The Pendulum came out right before spring break 1999.  I didn't want to be on the cusp of that and deliver something that would be overly provocative.  There had been an article for Christmas a few months earlier and this new one needed to be on a happy note too.

So here it is, from two months before the premiere of Star Wars Episode I.  Note the special photo we used for the essay: me brandishing a toy lightsaber and wearing the helmet from a Darth Vader mask.  Click on the pic to enlarge and read!