Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Holiday Movies

Below find TMWA's Very Special Holiday Movie Guide, being a guide to things that I have found on my television during that Holiest of Shopping Seasons. I love the Christmas season. (Yes, I'm an atheist and don't celebrate anything religious. But check out the post "Next you’ll be telling me the 'War on Christmas' is a myth designed to make the religious majority go on a pity trip" by Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon for more.)

I love to sit around eating cookies, drinking hot chocolate or egg nog, and watching festive movies. Seriously. And during this time of year, they can be holiday themed movies.

So here they are, the good, the bad, and the weird:

Arnold's Christmas: I love "Hey, Arnold!", and am forever dissapointed it's gone and never to return. That said, the Christmas episode is good, but not one of their best.

Call Me Claus: Silly made-for-TV movie from a few years back featuring Whoopi Goldberg as a cynical producer who gets tapped to be the next Santa Claus. It's cheesy and it's fun.

A Christmas Carol: The Patrick Stewart version, of course. This is fantastic; my favorite version. It really is true: I just might pay to listen to this man read from a phone book.

Franklin's Magical Christmas: I love Franklin (children's TV show with a turtle as the main character), so I thought I'd like the Christmas special. Unfortunately, in what is normally a very down-to-earth and reality based show (albeit with talking animals), the main plot centered around real flying reindeer who shuttle people back and forth near the end of the show. It left me sort of cold.

How The Grinch Stole Christmas: Classic; you sort of have to love the cartoon, and I get such a hoot (or is that "Who"-t?) out of the new Ron Howard version.

It's a Wonderful Life: I love this movie. You have to feel better about your life when you watch George suffer. Family tradition: Yell contrary advice every time George decides to stay in Bedford Falls. Just recently bought my own copy of this. (Interestingly, I remember the first time I saw the movie, it was a re-make which featured Mary Bailey as the main character, but I haven't seen anything about that in years.) When I saw it in college with friends, I remember when Mary tells Violet "You like all the boys", and Violet responds "What's wrong with that?" all my friends turned at looked at me. Fun fact from the DVD: Did you know that the main street of Bedford Falls is a large set? I always assumed this was an actual street somewhere.

The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus: Up for something weird and haven't seen this before? This is based on a story by L. Frank Baum (who wrote the Oz books), and we all know what freaky stuff he wrote. (If you haven't already actually read some of the original Oz books, you owe it to yourself. It's worth bearing in mind that Opium was still in vogue around the same time.) I've seen two versions of this: a stop-motion and a traditionally animated version. They're similar, and both fun.

Mickey's Once Upon a Christmas: Very cute stories with the Disney characters; I like this a lot. Unfortunately, can't see it this year, as my local cable does not carry Disney channel. I thought about getting the DVD, but despite being a few years old and running on the Disney channel multiple times, they still want $20; so far I've decided not to spring for it.

Mickey's Twice Upon a Christmas: Everything I said for Once Upon a Christmas, except I have trouble getting past the "new" 3D computer animated Mickey and pals.

Miracle on 34th Street: Love this, even though I dislike the premise of "believing things that aren't true is good for you." I like the original much better than the remake. It's sort of an interesting Rorschach test of a movie, too; there's nothing in the movie that actually suggests that Kris really is Santa Claus (even within the confines of the movie), but I've seen reviews that mention he really is Santa Claus, as though that had been established. Just bought my own copy, which includes both the original and the colorized versions in one set.

A Muppet Christmas Carol: Fabulous, and a lot of fun. And hey, here's a review. (If you like the review, it's part of a 40-part series covering every version of A Christmas Carol that the guy could find.)

Olive, the Other Reindeer: How can you not like all the name puns, starting with the title and continuing through "Round John Virgin" and "Richard Stands" (he's in the Pledge of Allegiance)? I'm with Olive on loving Christmas "the best of them all." And for some reason I have a tendency to hum "We're Not so Bad" all the time.

The Polar Express: Finally saw this on TV. A little long, not all that interesting, and kind of weird looking. I'm with the critics who said the North Pole had a creepy fascist vibe, but it's not completely overpowering while you watch it at least. This one gets an office "Meh" rating.

Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and the Island fo Misfit Toys: Watch the dates on these, kiddies! This is a new Rudolph, using the old characters, but done with "3D" computer animation. It's official: Computer animation has gotten cheap enough that anyone can produce off-the-shelf drek on a moment's notice, and this is a case in point. (Not that the original Rankin-Bass works were masterpieces or anything, but I think they were cute.) This is almost painful, and a poorly done rehash of parts of Toy Story II.

The Santa Clause: Very cute. I haven't gotten around to the second one; I would have caught it this year, but it was running opposite the Simpsons, and there are some principles I won't compromise.

Santa Claus: The Movie Seriously, what were they thinking?

A Very Merry Muppet Christmas: Pretty mediocre version of It's a Wonderful Life with Kermit as George Bailey and Whoopi Golberg as God. Doesn't go anywhere. Meh.

Walt Disney World Holidays: Hosted by Samantha Brown. Have you seen Samantha Brown? She did the "Great Hotels" and "Passport to Europe" series for the Travel Channel, and I absolutely love her. She has a great sense of fun and wonder, and you feel like you get to go right along with her. Combine this with Disney World and Christmas and what could be better? (Note: Not to be confused with Holidays at Walt Disney World on the food network hosted by Raven Symone which focuses on the food at Disney World, which is also cool.)

Hmm... now what have I missed?

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Finally Done

Grades are finally filed. From now on, nothing but opscan tests. Or maybe I give up on grades altogether. It takes too much time and all it does is depress me when I find out what my students understand. Did you know that "Maslow's Hierarchy" is one of the problem solving strategies we discussed earlier in the semester? I didn't. Maybe the student was suggesting that they were too sleepy to fully focus on the problem, since it was an eight am final. Well, it was an eight am final except for the student who came a little after 10.

Actually I had an astonishing number of students who came late to finals. Other than the one who came two hours late, they didn't really have an excuse or ask for extra time, they just wandered in anywhere from 5-30 minutes late and started. It obviously doesn't affect me, but why would anyone do that? What if you actually needed that extra 15 minutes? Of course, I'm always amazed by how quickly some students finish. I had one who turned in the exam without doing the last page (worth 30 points). When I looked over the rest of the exam, I wondered why he had bothered to come.

Of course, there are plenty of students who keep coming about whom I wonder "Why?" The very first semester I taught, I had a student who wrote on a start-of-semester survey that he liked to go clubbing. I think he must have done a little too much of it that semester, because he rarely showed up to class. (When he did, he was late.) He turned in few assignments and did very poorly on the tests. I think he had about a 40 average. When the final exam started, I looked around and discovered he wasn't there, which I actually considered reasonably wise; I figured he realized he couldn't pass, and opted to focus on other classes. No, he just opted to come 45 minutes late. I was speechless, and just handed him an exam. He worked on it for about 20 minutes, turned it in, and left. He actually lowered his average; I think he got a 17 on the final.

More interesting to me is the student who had a page that the photocopier had cut off: One problem was missing entirely, and the other had the actual instructions lopped off, but still listed three functions, without any question about them. I didn't find this out until grading, because she apparently didn't think there was anything wrong. I gave her credit for the missing problem, but had no qualms about marking wrong her answers to the other problem. How can you not realize that there is no question?

And as usual, I also noticed that (with some exceptions), the midterm grade is a great predictor of the final grade. What if I just offered everyone their midterm grade if they like it and keep coming? Wait--that would encourage only the failing students to stay. OK, bad idea.

I'm slightly appalled really by the high failure rates in some of our basic sequences. I was having shocked conversations with the other new hires about how poorly some of our classes were doing, until we found out that our rates were about what the department was used to in those classes. The department knows it's a problem and keeps trying to find ways to fix it, but apparently with limited success. We have too many students coming in too weak. We have a lower level remedial course, but in essence, the remedial course is trying to correct a deficit that has been building up for most students for 10 years or more. (Yes, it starts with integers and fractions.) How do you make up for 10 years in a semester? Maybe we should invest resources in a time machine so we can go back and catch these students when they first start having trouble in math. (Of course, what I really want to ask is who let them through fifth grade with this deficit, much less graduate high school.) Thankfully, I have not yet taught the remedial course, so mine have all either passed it or tested out. But even if you have passed the one-semester course which substitutes for 10 years of math classes, how well prepared are you really for algebra?

Oops, sorry; bet you wondered why I stopped typing for a while, right? You say you didn't notice? You're sweet to say so, but it really was a while... I just had someone come by to inspect my furnace. Turns out there is a very small gas leak, but they're going to replace some kind of of hoobie-joobie and make it stop. (On some things I'm not very technical.)

I'll have to catch up more here at some point. It's been a long semester, and I was beginning to wonder if I'd make it.