Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Day 54 - 101 Days of Awesome

Today I'm going to mention the three-in-one awesome punch in the face of AMC. A movie only station just a few years ago now has three shows on the air that are three of the best on TV, two of them probably among the best shows of all time.

The first is the Walking Dead. I would not include it as a potential best of all time, but it's entertaining as hell.  I'm not a huge zombie movie guy. My favorite is probably Shawn of the Dead, but that has little to do with the zombies. In this format, however, it allows characters to shine brighter than the zombies (or walkers, skin eaters, or biters - never zombies). You get time to get to know the people. And then they die. With some characters, they become the bad guys. The zombies are really the MacGuffin.

The second is Mad Men. I didn't start watching it at first, and it took me some time to get into. Then once Netflix started streaming it, I watched the first four seasons back to back fairly quickly. There really aren't good guys and bad guys in this. There are even more shades of that than the people in the Walking Dead, and in this case it's more subtle and yet more real. I really enjoy watching the historical events of the 60s play out in the background. I almost with there were some way I could justify giving extra credit to students for watching this, as they would get a pretty good idea of one angle on the 60s.

The third is Breaking Bad. It's another one that I didn't watch at first, but I caught up very quickly. Ever season has gotten better and better than the last. Instead of subtle good guys and bad guys, you have one good guy. And over the course of the series, he becomes a bad guy. You watch that transformation happen. It's a much more graceful, natural swing than Anakin had in the Star Wars prequels. Bryan Cranston is absolutely brilliant. He not has earned each Emmy he has won. It's the best performance TV has ever seen.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Day 53 - 101 Days of Awesome

One of my favorite movies of all time is the Iron Giant. One of the biggest travesties of all time is the marketing for that movie. Not nearly enough people saw it in the theaters.

I have showed it in class several times. It does a great job of showing the Cold War paranoia from the 50s. One thing that has encouraged me is the number of students who had seen it before I show it. That means it got out there a bit. But I don't mean a large number have seen it. I would guess about five per class had seen it previously. Another great sign is that none who have seen it before complain when they find out which movie they will see.

It's a fantastic movie. I always get a tear in my eye when the Giant says "Superman" at the very end, as do many others. Of course, I have to acknowledge that the voice actor is Vin Diesel. It's one of the times in my class when the tears shed are intended and encouraged. No comment on the other times.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Day 52 - 101 Days of Awesome

Patton Oswalt is one of the funniest comedians working today. Unfortunately, most people know him for his character on the King of Queens. Luckily, many people also know his from Ratatouille.

Listen to his "Feelin Kinda Patton" album. The video version is replayed on Comedy Central every now and again, but the audio version is even better. There's some great bits about the Gay Pride Parade, Black Angus, TiVo, Dr. Pepper (not the drink), and Pissdrinkers.  Each one of those is brilliant.

My favorite bit of his reinforced a belief I have in my life. Birthdays. You won't find them on this list because no one cares when it's your birthday. They say they do. They post something on your Facebook wall. But they don't. And they shouldn't. So you didn't die for 365 days. Wow. Neither did almost all of the seven billion people in the world. As Patton put is,

 "I'm 26!"
"Great. Go to work. Who gives a shit?"

Listen to the routine here, and then go away on your 33rd birthday.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Day 51 - 101 Days of Awesome

As I looked over my list, I was surprised to see that I had skipped The Beatles. This was a horrible, horrible oversight. At first, one might say, "The fact that you skipped them means they aren't awesome." Some might also say, "The Beatles are overrated." They would be wrong about the first, right about the second, but right for the wrong reason.

I tend to listen to The Beatles in streaks. When I hear a The Beatles tune, it sticks in my ear. I go home and play that album. And them I play another. And another. Keep repeating. And then I hit the point where I overplay them and relax for awhile. But a few months later, the whole process starts itself over again. That's why I initially skipped them.

The Beatles are the biggest band ever. They are the most influential ever. Those are easy statements to make, and they're probably accurate. So yeah, they are overrated. But compared to what? Their music is amazing. It's fun. It holds up.

So what's my favorite The Beatles song? Today maybe it's And Your Bird Can Sing. No, wait. I'm rather enjoying Things We Said Today. While My Guitar Gently Sleeps is great, too. But how can I like those more than You Won't See Me? And then I might hear A Day in the Life. That will be my favorite. Until I hear another song that I like better that day.

And the main reason why The Beatles are awesome is that you can put The in front of their name to make the sentence sound awkward.  Awesome.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Day 50 - 101 Days of Awesome

Every time I sit down to do some work, I like some background noise. Sometimes its music, but I'll often see if there's anything worth checking out on TV. If Seinfeld is on, it will be on my TV. The only problem is that I end up paying more attention to the TV than I do to my work. There are episodes I've seen over and over again, but I don't tire of them. Episodes that I haven't seen in a while bring even more joy.

Perhaps the one thing that really hasn't held up over time is the laugh track. The best shows these days do without. Curb Your Enthusiasm, which is in a way a next generation of Seinfeld, is better for not haven't it. Since a lot of Seinfeld humor is cringe humor, it tends to take away from some scenes. These guys are assholes, as the final episode proved in court. That means it isn't always something a group should laugh at. I'm an asshole, so I should. But groups shouldn't.

Beyond that, the humor holds up quite nicely.  I find there's always a few really good laughs still in each episode, as well as many quotable lines.  It's always fun now when you hear Larry David's voice pop out of nowhere. It's fun to see Bryan Cranston show up in a few episodes pre-Malcolm in the Middle. Seinfeld makes a quite worthy fiftieth day of awesome.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Day 49 - 101 Days of Awesome

When I bust out my guitar to sing a few tunes, this is the version I prefer to sing.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Day 48 - 101 Days of Awesome

Roger Ebert passed away on April 4. He was criticized a lot by people who didn't really like movies. "He doesn't like any good movies," they would say. "He only likes artsy movies."  No. The truth is, he loved movies. He just loved good movies.

It didn't totally sink in with me until I started watching 30-50 movies a year how jaded you can really get by a boring, lousy, seen-it-all-before movie. And some interested special effects just aren't enough to justify it. Most people go to just a few movies a year. They're going less to see that movie than to escape. I get it. Just don't read what the critics have to say, because they're writing for people who want to see good movies.

Roger Ebert wrote for me. And not just movies - his blogs were also great. I posted in this very blog about something he wrote about evolution that made someone like me, a science novice, understand it even better. But when I saw a movie I didn't especially like but he did, he made me see the merit of the movie. I didn't always agree, but I got it.

People seem to enjoy my year end top ten list. Roger Ebert is gone. I don't have that go to critic anymore I can rely on. My list will certainly suffer for it. Rogert Ebert is awesome.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Day 47 - 101 Days of Awesome

I grew up as a comic book nerd. While I only read stuff occasionally these days, I still hold a vast and useless abundance of knowledge of the comic book world, especially the Marvel world. My favorite comic book was always The Fantastic Four.

If one were to attempt to gain the information that I have of the Marvel Universe, such a holy grail that it is, there's one place to start. You have to go to Fantastic Four #1. After all, it is the beginning of Marvel Comics. All of the cornerstones of what makes that universe start there, and the legend builds as the series continues. You learn the origin of my favorite hero, The Thing, as well as that of the greatest villain, Dr. Doom.

Here's the problem I see. Outsiders to the comic book world would be quick to throw out all of my statements. Comic book insiders might agree or disagree, but I woudn't be tossed to the side so quickly. That's because of the recent movies. While the Spider-Man and X-Men movies had a lot of successes (many being very good) and the Avengers movies were all very good, the two FF movies all out sucked.

Having been to the comic cons before it came out, I knew it. The guy who played Dr. Doom, the horribly cast Julian McMahon, gave all the wrong answers. He talked about liking Herbie the Robot from the old cartoon. No. Wrong. Bad. It was all, pun intended, doomed to fail.

I'm hoping that talks of the reboot go in the right direction. Much like Spider-Man and Batman, the FF has a great rogues gallery, which could create some great movie moments. In the meantime, grab some reprints of those early issues. You're gonna have a good time.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Day 46 - 101 Days of Awesome

Bonus - watch them sing this for Graham Chapman's service. Actually, the whole thing is amazing, if not for the fact that Chapman was dead. Watch John Cleese's eulogy.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Day 45 - 101 Days of Awesome

As I sit here writing (on which is totally day 45 and not some day in the future, because that would mean I didn't finish on time and then went back and did it later), I'm enjoying some delicious chocolate truffles. For breakfast. Yesterday, I enjoyed a chocolate bar donut from Safeway. Again, for breakfast.

Aero = Awesome
The breakfast connection is purely coincidental. It's chocolate that is so damn important. Sure, it's keeping my belly a significant size. But it's so delicious. Some of my best memories of trips to Europe involve stopping in to chocolate shops, grabbing a chocolate ice cream (or gelato) cone, or rest stops on bus tours in which we all load up on junk food, mostly chocolate.

If you really want to condemn Columbus for the diseases he brought to America, that's fine. But you must also acknowledge the fact that he also opened the door for later Spaniards to bring chocolate to Europe and mix it with sugar to make its awesomely goodness.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Friday, April 19, 2013

Day 43 - 101 Days of Awesome

When I went to Italy in 2003, I found myself in one of the most amazing, awesome places on Earth. The Cinque Terra.

 It was more of an accident when I was there the first time. I didn't plan the trip extremely well, and ended up with an extra full day in Sienna with not a whole lot to do. So I decided to do a day trip to Pisa and to the Cinque Terra. I took the train up to Pisa and saw the tower. Yep. It's leaning. Then I headed up to spend an hour or so in the Cinque Terra. When I arrived, there was just one thought in my head. "I didn't plan enough time to be here."

It's one of the most beautiful places on Earth. It feels great. It looks great. The food tastes great. You need to spend some time there.  So when I decided to take the Rick Steves' Best of Europe Tour in 2005, it was only that much sweeter that in included two nights there. I spent that full day taking the amazing hike between all five towns. That physically tough hike gave me some of the most rewarding views ever. 

This summer, I'll be back there. This time I'm spending three night. I can't wait to enjoy two full days there. I'll probably repeat much of the hike this time, though not to all five towns. I'm going to do the most amazing parts again. And then I'll spend a day relaxing, probably on the beach and slowly roaming through the towns and grabbing a nice spot to sit and read.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Day 42 - 101 Days of Awesome

With just about two months left of school, that means just about two months left until summer vacation. In an attempt to be physically ready for my vacation, I started another round of Insanity. This workout is awesome.

This workout is appropriately named. I completed a round last year as the new school year began. It kicked my ass every single day. And I finished it. Physically, going through the full nine weeks was a great accomplishment. Mentally, it was probably more difficult.

And now I'm back to do it again. I'm hoping to lose some pounds and some flab, but mostly I was the cardio fitness. I plan to do a lot of walking in Europe this summer. That means wearing a backpack, lots of hills, and tons of stairs. I want to go every single day without running out of steam.

Insanity is probably overkill, but I know that hiking to the top of a bell tower isn't going to destroy me. I finish on June 14th with my final fit test.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Day 41 - 101 Days of Awesome

I am not a Star Wars prequel hater. I watched all of them in the theaters early and often. Could they be better? Very much so. I wish that Episode I had actually been an Episode zero, then I, II, and III could have been about the Clone Wars and Anakin's turn as an adult. But still, I had a whole lot of fun. And it didn't rape my childhood. The original trilogy is still there, and I still love it.

Image by Deviantart user Ionahipri
And that's why I think that the Disney purchase of the entire Star Wars universe is awesome. More Star Wars stuff is great. Taking it out of Lucas's hands is also great. The worst part of the prequels was his dialogue. His ideas are fantastic. His words are not. Let JJ Abrams create a movie. Let some other people get their hands dirty in remote corners of this world. Let's see a Han Solo Solo. Let's watch Baby Yoda and Baby Chewbacca solve crimes while flying around the galaxy in the Centennial Falcon.Bring it on!

And for those thinking that Disney and Star Wars don't go together clearly have never been on Star Tours. I'm looking forward to a few more rides. How about a Tauntaun-Go-Round?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Day 40 - 101 Days of Awesome

This was funny. When I was in high school. A lot of things were funny when I was in high school. Now it's so not funny that it's awesome. Then the bear leaves.

The Nude House of Wacky People from rae on Vimeo.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Day 39 - 101 Days of Awesome

I'm very actively planning my summer vacation, and I'm going to head back to Italy for a few days. I'm thrilled that I have the luxury to throw a few days of Italy into this vacation, even though that wasn't part of the original plan. So what am I looking forward to most? The Gelato.

If you've been to Italy, you're already nodding your head and probably drooling a bit. That's what afternoons and/or after dinner is all about in any Italian city. You walk around with an amazing cone of some of the best ice cream in the world.

So what's the most awesome flavor? I like a scoop of banana and a scoop of chocolate together. It's a frozen banana.

And by the way, if you've ever been told that Gelato is simply the Italian word for ice cream and that they're the same, someone is a liar or ignorant. Here's a pretty good explanation.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Day 38 - 101 Days of Awesome

Long before There's Something About Mary, I discovered Build Me Up Buttercup. It quickly became one of my favorite songs. In college, it became what I often call my favorite song. Like so many favorite songs, it's smothered with memories of emotions. The first few notes are enough to give me goosebumps when I hear it unexpectedly. Take a listen to the awesomeness.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Day 37 - 101 Days of Awesome

Neil deGrasse Tyson is one of the most awesome people on the planet. And he can probably tell you more about every other planet than anyone else.

Guests on the Daily Show can be hit or miss.Neil is never a miss. He's one of those people who you learn something new from every time you hear them speak. He's not only super brilliant but he can explain his ideas to the layman.

His love of science is infectious. When he speaks, I almost want to study science. I don't, but I read more science after watching or listening to something with Neil on it than I normally would. Just listen to him talk about Sir Isaac Newton.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Day 36 - 101 Days of Awesome

I promised yesterday a couple days of delicious burgers. I hope you weren't expecting In-N-Out. I enjoy an a burger from there every now and then, but the crazy cult following is hyper inflated. I follow up Fuddruckers with a delicious Nation's burger.

Nation's cooks up their burgers diner style right behind the counter. You know that they are cooked up when you order them. I order mine with the grilled onions and sliced pickles.They give you plenty of both of those toppings, as well as the rest.

The biggest complaint I usually hear about it is that they put too much dressing on them. To which I reply two things. First, I like the Miracle Whip dressing. Second, you can order it without or light on the dressing. They'll do that. And then you too can enjoy a tasty Nation's Giant Hamburger.

Are there more awesome burgers than Fuddruckers and Nation's? Yes. But not by a whole lot. And when they're consistently awesome at these two places that are both nearby and farther away, that makes them both awesome.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Day 35 - 101 Days of Awesome

I'm not a huge fan of chain restaurants in general, but that's likely because places like Applebees and the Olive Garden give them a bad name. But when I want an awesome burger, I don't feel like I need to go far. Today and tomorrow I'm going to list a couple chains that actually have awesome burgers.

Today it's Fuddruckers. I used to think that it was just the make-it-yourself style that made it work, though that's definitely part of it. I like having exactly the right amount of pickles on my burger (and that's all the pickles).

But still, the burger itself has to be rather tasty. Their regular beef burger is pretty good. Their exotic burgers are even tastier. If you've ever hesitated to try the elk, buffalo, or ostrich, hesitate no longer. They're also healthier.

And I can't ignore the burger buns. They are light, fluffy, and delicious.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Day 34 - 101 Days of Awesome

The Soup is one of my favorite shows. If you want to feel the pulse of America through one of its crappiest arteries, you need to know and understand some of our crappiest TV shows. Watching the Soup for 30 minutes a week takes care of that for you. As they put it, Joel McHale "watches it all for you."

If it weren't for The Soup, I wouldn't know Greg Kelly.

I wouldn't know the Honey Boo Boo's mom, the Human Thumb.

I wouldn't know Donka Doo Balls.

And if you don't know those people, you don't know 'Murica. Watch The Soup.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Day 33 - 101 Days of Awesome

One of my favorite movies released in the past ten years is Once. But that's not the awesome thing for today (even if it is). Even more awesome than the movie is the soundtrack.

I liked the movie when I first saw it, but didn't absolutely love it. I bought the soundtrack and listened to it on my trip to Eastern Europe soon after. As one of the lead characters was from the Czech Republic, I listened to it a few times while I was there. And continued to listen to it for the rest of the trip. And when I got home. And pretty much ever since. It's always on hand in my car and every mp3 player I have. I have probably listened to that more than any of other full album since then.

Here's the best song, followed by my second favorite.


Monday, April 8, 2013

Day 32 - 101 Days of Awesome

My absolute favorite video game series is the Legend of Zelda. I want to take a few posts to feel the awesomeness of a few of those games.

It's likely that my favorite game is Majora's Mask.This game was presented as a direct sequel to The Ocarina of Time. You get lost in the forest and come out in a different world. Except this world has three days to live. After three days, the moon is going to crash into the world killing everyone.

OK, game on.

You don't make it.

That's the difference. You fail at saving the world.

Luckily for you, you still have your trusty Ocarina of Time. You get to jump back in time three days. That's where the game really starts. You figure out how you can save the world, but it's going to take a lot of work. You need to gather some
Made out of nightmares, not cheese.
stuff in order to actually save the world before the moon can crash into it. You then begin your journey through those three days. Over and over again.

During those three days, you start to learn the actions and patterns of the people. They repeat themselves. You turn into the Link version of Groundhog Day. But here's the thing that takes this game to a new level. These people are living tragic lives. That's in addition to their impending doom at the end of the three days.

So sweet.They're going to die, though.
As you continue through the game, you save lives. You rekindle romances. You make people happy. But then you play the Ocarina and go back to day one. Their problems start all over again. You have to choose to continue your journey of saving the world and ignore their problems. By the time you get to the end of the game and finally do save the world, you had to ignore those other problems in order to do so. And that makes the game tragic and sad.

The music is also amazing - it compounds the tragicness and sadness - but that's for a different post.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Day 31 -101 Days of Awesome

Coming back from Washington, DC and getting a heavy dose of history, the American Dream is pretty awesome. With this, I don't mean the greed and materialism that has come out of it. I mean the concept that our Founding Fathers established and that we've revised. It's the still as-of-yet-unobtained ideal for our nation. The concept that eveyone has a chance. Everyone starts on an even playing field, whether they are born here or come here later in life.

As I mentioned before, it hasn't been obtained. Not everyone has an even playing field. We don't play nice with people who arrive here after they are born. And if you're born the wrong race or gender, it's an uphill battle.

But we've been working on that since our country started. One of the themes that I take through my class is that when America began, it was set up for everyone have certain unalienable rights - provided you were a white, land-owning male. And step by step, we've eliminated those three requirement. Legally, at least, and when it comes to voting. Something I was excited for in teaching this new curriculum, 11th grade US History, is that we actually got to eliminate all three barriers.

The first, land-owning, is eliminated around the time Andrew Jackson become president. The second, white, takes the Civil War. And then we have a bit of a hiccup that takes 100 years to overcome. We didn't quite finish that in the eighth grade class because the course ends soon after the Civil War. We end it with Jim Crow in place and women still without the vote.Since we're (theoretically) going up to the present in the 11th grade curriculum, I get to teach it all.

And yet it isn't finished. Somehow, there are STILL people today trying to limit voting rights. This is yet another reason to teach history. We're going through another civil rights movement in regards to gay rights. Education and job opportunities aren't equal for all communities, and those are usually distinguished by race.

But I know history. And that gives me optimism for the future. These ideals are growing. We can get there. I just hope the American Empire doesn't fall before it happens. But if we can hold on to this country, we stand a chance. In the immortal words of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, "America - Fuck Yeah!"

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Day 30 - 101 Days of Awesome

It's a pretty great memorial. Well done.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Day 29 - 101 Days of Awesome

I ate pretty well in Philadelphia, but we made it to New York today. There's a different energy in New York, and the kids really pick up on it.The first day is usually pretty simple. We hit a bit of 5th Ave (today it was mostly FAO Schwartz), go to dinner, then Top of the Rock. But it still feels like a full day of New York. It's just an awesome city.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Day 28 - 101 Days of Awesome

Philadelphia! I missed out on running the Rocky steps last year, but I was there for the excitement this year. And while that was awesome, it can't compete with the awesomeness of Reading Terminal Market. It's the best place to eat. We ate lunch there today and we'll be back tomorrow.

I enjoy the roast pork sandwich from DiNics (as does everyone else in the world - it's one of the top sandwiches. It is sliced roast pork on a delicious roll with sharp provolone. Then I opted for sweet peppers, though purists prefer the broccoli rab.

Roast Pork sandwich from DiNic's
Also in the RTM is the best cannoli I've ever had. However, it's the only place I've ever eaten a cannoli. Still, it's one of the greatest things in the world. The Amish also sell some baked goods and sweets. The ice cream is amazing. There's tons of other amazing food swarming the place.

Yeah, the history here is incredible. We'll be at Independence Hall tomorrow morning, and we'll see the Liberty Bell and some Benjamin Franklin stuff. But Rocky and great food. That's what it's about right now.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Day 27 - 101 Days of Awesome

I can't remember anyone telling me that the Marine Corp Memorial (Iwo Jima) was their favorite memorial. But I think it just gets overshadowed by the others. People never look up at it then keep walking. Everyone stops to enjoy it. It's pretty awesome.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Day 26 - 101 Days of Awesome

Our morning was filled with a visit to the amazing (and awesome) Arlington National Cemetery. We usually include a wreath laying at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, but we weren't able to schedule one this year. Still, it's a part of DC that is essential for any visit.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Day 25 - 101 Days of Awesome

This is the new MLK Memorial. It wasn't open last time we were here. I thought the pictures of it were ok - it's much more impressive in person.