Monthly Archives: August 2008

When I was in college I bought my first color printer. I’d done all the research and determined that the best deal was easily an Epson that was out at the time. About the same time, my roommate Hubert got an HP. I scoffed. He’d paid more for a printer with a lower DPI. The fool! Despite the lower DPI, though, his prints came out consistently better than mine. I went from scoffing to envious. He said that though HP was cheaper, it was a better brand name so he knew that he couldn’t go wrong with it.

As I worked more and more with computers, I realized that he was absolutely right. Sometimes the specs matter a lot less than the manufacturer. The brand. I was still too much of a cheapskate to get an HP printer, but I did get HP products where they were price-competitive for products such as scanners. Since then (though not necessarily because of that specific experience) I’ve become big into brand name.

A couple years after that I was the solo IT department for Wildcat, an engineering and manufacturing company in Colosse. When one of our office printers died, it was up to me to find a replacement. I immediately searched for an HP printer. Yeah, it was more expensive, but as Hubert had pointed out, you couldn’t go wrong buying it. They didn’t make bad printers. Risk-aversion is a powerful force when you’re the IT guy, so I made the order and received it not long after.

It was a piece of junk. The plastic broke even as it came out of the box. The colors didn’t align creating fuzzy prints. One of the print cartridges leaked. The drivers didn’t work right (taking up 100% of the resources whenever anything was printing). There was an additional series of events about trying to get updated drivers (they wanted money), but that’s a customer service problem so I won’t go into it here. From there I had an unofficial and inconsistent boycott against HP with any product that I wasn’t convinced would be good and that I couldn’t download the drivers for before it was even shipped to me.

For some reason, our laser printer didn’t seem to make it from Estacado to Cascadia. It may be boxed up somewhere mislabeled, but we’ve looked in just about every box that’s the right shape for it. In any case, Clancy and I each having our own printers would be a good thing, my (HP) scanner busted, we’ve spent obscene amounts of money at Kinko’s in lieu of having our printer, and it would be useful to have a color printer (the laser is B&W). So we decided to purchase an all-in-one scanner.

So I was knocking around Newegg looking at printers. I decided to bite the bullet and look at HPs, though I’d keep an eye on customer reviews to make sure that I was getting the best product I could. Even when I bought my crappy one, HP has always made some printers that were good, so I’d just have to pick the right one.

The problem is that since HP has started selling crappy printers in addition tot he good ones, it’s so difficult to tell which is which. In the customer reviews on Newegg, there are always some cranks that just go around trashing products as well as the dissatisfied customer that happened to get a hold of a lemon. So I take negative reviews with a grain of salt unless I see some consistently what aspects of the component the people are complaining about.

Most of the reviews on the HP printers I’m looking at are pretty positive (50-70% give it four of five stars out of five), but there are just enough to give me pause. It used to be that the brand name alone was enough to assuage my doubts, as with Western Digital, ThinkPad, and a host of other companies that I consistently buy parts from. The problem is that even if these are great printers and the people giving it low marks are just cranks, I have no way to know that for sure. In their attempts to compete for the bargain-shopper market, they lost something very valuable. They’re just another Epson at this point.

Canon printers, on the other hand, have almost universally high marks. Their printers are more expensive across the board, of course, but even their low-end machines get good marks. Even though Clancy and I want a fax machine (in the medical community you can’t always just scan and send it in email the way you can in IT). A Canon without a fax machine costs about the same as an HP with one and if I want a Canon that has fax capabilities then I’m going to have to shell out considerably more. However, just to avoid getting an HP printer that may be good or may be crappy, it might be worth losing some functionality (at this point, we can’t afford to shell out the extra money).

It’s unfortunate that a brand that was once so reliable is now cause for trepidation.

Category: Server Room

There is a story in Colosse about a man going around and impersonating a police officer. He hasn’t done anything awful yet, but whatever his motives are they are assumed not to be good. The police are “reminding” everybody that any time you’re pulled over if you have doubts over the authenticity of the officer to find a well-lit and/or well-populated place to pull over. It’s considered a rule that as long as a person doesn’t make an attempt to flee, they should be given latitude as to where or when to pull over.

The problem with this is that when you’re being pulled over, you don’t know if the officer in the car behind you knows and understands this rule. Further, you don’t know that even if the rules should cut in your favor, whether you are doing yourself considerable harm by invoking them. It’s sort of like how you legally can’t be asked various questions on job interviews such as what your wife does but if you ever invoke this it’ll hurt you all the same (I had a post a while back on how my employers keep asking me what my wife does and they’re not supposed to do that, but I can’t find the post).

The first time I was ever pulled over I was sixteen and scared out of my mind. I was in the left hand lane and I didn’t know whether I was supposed to find some place on the left to pull over or to pull over to the right. We hadn’t gone two blocks before the officer was blaring “Pull over to the right or you will be arrested!” I got my answer, got pulled over, got a lecture and ultimately didn’t end up getting a ticket (I think that he thought I was a drunk driver which of course I proved not to be).

Of course, that pales in comparison to the case of Dibor Roberts. She was on a rural desert road when she was caught by an officer going 65 in a 50. She didn’t want to stop in a dark area and so slowed down and continued to drive. The officer ended up pulling in front of her and stopping (which is against protocol, apparently), busted threw her window, and allegedly got into an altercation with her that resulted in his foot getting run over and her getting arrested, tried, and convicted of assorted crimes. The officer says that he did what he did to “get control of the situation” and that it was her fault for not successfully communicating to the officer that did intent to stop at the next available, well-lit opportunity.

Noteworthy here is that the authorities in Colosse and indeed the website of the Arizona jurisdiction where Dibor was pulled over don’t actually say anything about having to communicate your intention to stop in order to avoid getting your window smashed out and going to jail. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good idea to signal or turn on your hazards and it may be common sense to do so, but common sense slips one’s mind in high stress situations. And if it’s so obvious, of course, it should be mentioned as part of the whole schpiel about waiting to pull over every single time.

Granted, generally speaking when cops talk about this they’re talking about unmarked cars. It’s extremely rare that impersonators will actually mark their car up. However, when we’re talking about a “well-lit” place, we’re assuming darkness. Whenever I’m pulled over at night I can’t read the markings on the side of the car. I can’t in the daytime, either, though I recognize police cars by the bumper on their grill, other equipment and the full-class sedans they usually ride in. Of course, I should note here that sometimes they go out of their way to make it harder to tell.

I am getting worried that between Web and I this site is becoming anti-cop. I certainly don’t intend it to. Though I think sometimes things get out of hand I think that cops are in general a good group of people. My wife’s cousin, who hosted our rehearsel dinner years ago, is a state trooper. When I was dating Julie, I got to know a lot of Phillippi cops because her father was a volunteer fireman and there was a lot of overlap. Tracey’s Dad was a cop. Until I realized how temperamentally unsuited for it I was, I considered going into police work. I don’t envy them or their job. I just get a little annoyed sometimes when they sometimes say “You need to trust us” (in this case not to go berzerk if you don’t pull over right away) and then pull stunts like the Roberts case and line up in support of officers that do.

Category: Courthouse

As with a lot of adolescents and early post-adolescents, I defined myself in many ways by who I wasn’t. My sister-in-law grew up deciding that she was first and foremost not her father. Most seem to define themselves by not being some authority figure or another. Some, though, define themselves against mainstream society as a whole. They’re not a conformist or a preppie or whatever else.

That’s more the category that I fell into. I had minimal beef with my parents (as far as such things go when you’re that age, of course), but I hated everyone around me. I hated the rich snobs at my high school. More than that, I hated high school culture itself. Though there was always a special emphasis on the connection between money and popularity, though naturally it extended to the conformity required. Deep down, of course, a lot of it had to do with the certainty that I could conform and do everything they asked of me and still be an outcast. Meanwhile, I had a group outside my school that accepted and even celebrated my presence. Who needed those snobs?

Up through my junior year, I never went to a high school dance. That was mostly because I could never ask a girl to one. I declared the grapes on the tree sour and turned my failure to participate in any extracurricular activities into some bizarre badge of honor. The senior prom, though, was different. I was willing to put the badge on the shelf to avoid a certain other mark — the mark of someone that couldn’t get a date.

Back when I was a junior, I had a friend that I didn’t care very much that spent prom night watching movies with his parents. I decided right then and there that one way or another I would go to the prom if only so people wouldn’t think of me the way that we thought of him. That superceded the Badge of Nonparticipation.

I decided, though, that if I was going to do the whole prom thing that I was going to do it on my own terms. I was not going to spend the outrageous amounts of money that the other kids were spending. There would be no limousine. No beach house in Surfenberg. Not even fine dining. I was going to do this thing for under $20 (excluding gas).

My mother was horrified. She told me that Julie was going to dump me if I did this to her. I pointed out that it wasn’t her prom and besides she was on board with the whole idea. She went to a working class high school where things like limousines and the like weren’t done anyway. Besides, just because I was going to be cheap doesn’t mean that I was going to be lazy. Mom told me that she would take care of the corsage because a friend that made them owed her a favor anyway. She begged and pleaded me to allow her to buy our dinner at a nice restaurant, but I refused.

Instead I drove all the way down the interstate looking for some sort of park that had some covering. Then I found the nearest Wendy’s, which was the establishment that she and I had eaten at on our first official date.

I picked up Julie at her house on prom night. That meant going in the wrong direction, but it still seemed like the thing to do on prom night. We stopped by the Wendy’s nearby and ordered two salads, two burgers, shared fries, a shared drink, and a shared desert. A three course picnic in a little canopy in the wind and rain. That she had a good time was one of the things that I really loved about her.

The prom was the prom. Neither Julie and I are dancers, so we only danced on a couple of songs. There had been an election for what the official prom song would have been. Ironically, the song in question was never played until the very end, where it had to be cut short because our time was up. We had our picture taken (those cost money, of course, but I didn’t count that because that wasn’t on prom night), I had my pictures taken with my best friends Clint and Dave. On the whole it was… kinda boring, actually.

Things picked up afterwards when Julie and I somehow hooked up with my classmate (and reluctant friend) Scott Sanders and Marianne Silbet. The four of us went to the beach together and considering that Scott was by far one of the least fun people to be around, we enjoyed ourselves walking on the pier in our bare feet. Talking about the prom, high school, and all that. That replaced the picnic as the high point of the evening.

Unlike a lot of people, there wasn’t any sex on prom night. By the time we drove home I was beyond sleepy. I told Julie that we’d need to pull over so that she could drive. She asked why and I told her that all of the lane changing I’d been doing (and I’d been doing a lot) had not been intentional. She quickly pointed out the first exit afterwards. She took the wheel, we drove to her house, and I slept on the couch in my tux.

That I was able to go to the prom spending so little money was a source of pride for me for a long time afterwards, though in the last couple years my perspective on it has changed. The biggest factor in that, I think, is the realization that my decision to be different on such inconsequential things as that was a bigger barrier to my social life than anything else. And with the exception of the popular people and the select few people that didn’t like me for one reason or another, it wasn’t because they were snotty and hated my individuality or anything like that, but rather it was because it cost me opportunities to get to know people.

Looking back, I wish that I had gone to the prom with Clint and Dave in their limo or whatever it was that they had. Or if their limo was full, I’m sure I could have found someone to go with. I didn’t even like being around Scott Sanders and yet sharing the experience with him was one of my favorite parts of the evening. Even going with him would have been more fun. Though, come to think of it, he may have been hip to the whole $20 prom thing because he was tightwad.

Instead, I let my conception of the way that things should be get in the way of having as good a time as I might have otherwise had.

Unfortunately, I did that sort of thing a lot.

Category: Ghostland, School

One of my hard drives died yesterday. Fortunately, very little data was actually lost due to backups. So it was just the drive, which was still under warranty and will be replaced soon.

Nonetheless, I am devastated.

Not for the hard drive itself but because it’s death means the end of a project that has cost not-inconsiderable money and hundreds of hours of troubleshooting. A couple years ago I had this idea. I won’t go into details, but it involved throwing together a whole lot of hard drives on a single computer. The number was originally 3 hard drives, then became 5, then 7, 8, and eventually 11 and a DVDRW.

A number of people told me that I couldn’t do it, but no one was quite able to explain why. Power supplies could be improved, PCI-IDE slots added, a new case purchased. So what would be holding me back?

I still don’t even know the answer, which is perhaps the most frustrating part of it. Once I got up to 11 hard drives, the system just started cratering. It cratered before, but that was fixed with a stronger power supply. This time it was different. If 8 drives can work on a 500W drive, then surely 12 can work on 1000W. But no, it couldn’t. Maybe the computer just couldn’t manage and distribute enough power. Maybe it couldn’t juggle so much at once. I don’t know. I managed to eliminate every possibility as a possibility. There was no reason for it not to work. It just didn’t.

If you’re not technically inclined, you can skip the next paragraph and start on the one after.

What would typically happen is one or two of the hard drives cut in and out from the system. I’d get those working and then another would start doing the same thing. For those of you that don’t know, when an internal hard drives goes offline while the computer is up and running, Windows pretty much won’t work anymore whether you’re using that drive or not. To the extent that you can get it to (by not mapping the drive), it makes actually using the drives rather inconvenient. Anyway, I finally got it narrowed down to one drive that was the problem. I tried swapping ports to see whether the problem was with the HD itself or the port. Suddenly both drives worked, and a whole ‘nother drive just died. Kapoot. Never to house data again.

Anyway, after mulling it over a couple days the hard drive doesn’t bother me (like I said, backed up with a warranty)… and maybe it’s not even that I can’t do what it was that I was wanting to do. It’s that I set out on a very ambitious computer project and ultimately came up short. The nay-sayers that I’d talked to were right. Worse, I spend hundreds of hours of my life that I’m never going to get back. All because I was too stubborn to accept the defeat that has been so clearly thrust upon me.

Boo hiss.

Category: Server Room

The New York Times’s AO Scott doesn’t seem to particularly care for superhero movies and think that they’ve reached their peak:

Still, I have a hunch, and perhaps a hope, that “Iron Man,” “Hancock” and “Dark Knight” together represent a peak, by which I mean not only a previously unattained level of quality and interest, but also the beginning of a decline. In their very different ways, these films discover the limits built into the superhero genre as it currently exists.

But to paraphrase something the Joker says to Batman, “The Dark Knight” has rules, and they are the conventions that no movie of this kind can escape. The climax must be a fight with the villain, during which the symbiosis of good guy and bad guy, implicit throughout, must be articulated. The end must point forward to a sequel, and an aura of moral consequence must be sustained even as the killings, explosions and chases multiply. The allegorical stakes in a superhero are raised — it’s not just good guys fighting bad guys, but Righteousness against Evil, Order against Chaos — precisely to authorize a more intense level of violence. Of course every movie genre is governed by conventions, and every decent genre movie explores the zones of freedom within those iron parameters. Thus “Iron Man” loosens the reins of its plot to give Mr. Downey room to explore the kinks and idiosyncrasies of Tony Stark, the playboy billionaire engineering genius who finally grows up and builds himself a metal suit. And “Hancock” takes the conceit of a dissipated, semi-competent hero — more menace than protector — and turns it into the occasion for some sharp satirical riffing on race, celebrity and the supposedly universal likability of its star, Will Smith.

I don’t actually disagree with Scott’s main point, that we may be at the high point of superhero movies, though I have to quibble on a few things. One of the things that I thought both of the Batman movies did quite well was buck the “Big Fight At The End” trend, at least somewhat. The big showdown at the end was actually shorter and less wham-bam-boom than earlier fights in the movie. The pivotal moment in the movie wasn’t even a fight scene and didn’t involve The Joker. The ways that it bucked this trend was actually the source of some complaints from people that thought that the Two-Face subplot sidetracked the movie when they should have focused on Batman vs. The Joker (such a focus would certainly have brought TDK closer to superhero/action movie conventions.

The other thing to point out is that many of the conventions that he refers to aren’t superhero conventions so much as action movie conventions. It’s probably quite true that Scott and his ilk are likely to give a Steven Segal movie with the same plot an eye-roll, but the issue with the certain conventions that he sees (as they appear to me at any rate) are the idea that superhero movies are generally bundled in form and function (though not aesthetics) with action movies. One could create a movie with The Question or the original Sandman that’s essentially a detective story. Or a movie about a guy that used to date a superhero. The latter movie, of course, has been made, but it’s considered a comedy and not a superhero movie. So it strikes me as a bit of a dodge to say “superhero movies only follow these conventions” when a superhero movie is defined primarily by it following said conventions.

He’s nonetheless on to something, though. The superhero movies that he sees and reviews fit a particular category which up to this point defines most of the superhero movies made but doesn’t necessarily: Superheroes based on existing properties. The Dark Knight wasn’t limited by the fact that it was a superhero movie, it was limited by the fact that it was a Batman movie. the extensive history of the character is of course a long, wide well from which to draw great material, but it also limits the movie somewhat. You have a set cast of characters, a protagonist that you can’t kill and that generally has to act a certain way. It’s what the higher-ups at Warner Bros. demand and it’s also based on what the audience is expecting.

They could, of course, play around with these expectations. Tim Burton’s Batman was a murderer. You could have Superman put on a dark costume and become all gritty. I half expect the upcoming Captain America movie to be used as a platform with which to indict the US (as the comic book came in Steve Rogers’ last days). As such you could avoid a lot of the conventions… but then you get a whole new series of complaints about how they betrayed the character. They could do it and maybe it would make a good movie, but it wouldn’t make a movie that people that aren’t professional critics would like. So while I think that Scott is right about the limitations of the genre, I think that it’s about as useful as wondering why cartoon rabbits don’t typically kill one another.

The movie to watch for has had previews running on The Dark Knight nation-wide, The Watchmen. I don’t say that people should watch for because it’s necessarily going to be a great movie. It could be terrible, I don’t know. What The Watchmen may represent, though, is a superhero movie that bucks the conventions that Scott dislikes. There will be no sequel. They may put a big fight scene at the end, though the source material doesn’t call for it and it may be hard to do that with one of the combatants (and none of the others) having the powers of a god. Characters will probably die.

What’s important about this movie isn’t just whether it’s good or whether critics like it (though for the movie to be useful it does need to be good), but whether people go and see it. I personally think that it’s going to bomb and while I’m excited that Warner Bros put all of this money into it I think that it was a pretty big mistake. If the movie is good and the people don’t flock to see it, it’ll be a pretty sure indicator that fans like their superhero stories to follow the big superhero action conventions. But if the movie does well it could demonstrate that audiences are prepared to watch superhero movies that people have never heard of that test the limits of the genre as it currently exists.

Iron Man demonstrated that audiences don’t need a first-rate hero to be willing to watch a good movie. Will The Watchmen demonstrate that they don’t need the conventions? My guess remains that audiences will look at it and say “That’s not the kind of superhero story I want to see”, but we’ll see.

If it works out, though, there will probably be a spate of movies that Scott may like (unless his problem can simply be reduced to the costumes and the irreality of it all). They may make a movie based on The Authority, a superhero team that staged a coup against the US Government. Maybe Powers, a comic book about a cop that investigates superhero murders. Possibly Marshal Law, a guy that hunts rogue heroes. There could well be superheroes created solely for the silver screen in order to deconstruct the genre.

Rather than being at the end, as Scott thinks we are, we could be at the beginning. Time will tell.

Category: Theater

Ross Douthat made a rather curious comment in regards to the Batman movies:

I say something very similar in my own review, forthcoming in the next NR, which takes the possibly daft point of view that over the long haul, Tim Burton’s interpretation of the Batman saga – especially Batman Returns – will hold up somewhat better than Nolan’s mega-grossing effort. (And the box-office numbers are stunning: Watch your back, Titanic.) This is not to say that The Dark Knight isn’t a remarkable achievement in certain ways. But I think you can feel the strain as Nolan labors, sometimes successfully but more often not, to transcend the genre he’s working in, whereas Burton was content to have fun within the lines, making the most of his material’s essential two-dimensionality rather than struggling against it. His Batman movies don’t kinda-sorta want to be The Godfather; they just want to be Batman movies. And I think they’re slightly better for it.

There are, I suppose, arguments to be made that Tim Burton’s Batman movies, Batman (1989) and Batman Returns, were better than Nolan’s current efforts are. But the notion that Burton’s has staying power while Nolan’s won’t is betrayed by the fact (or I guess the perception on my part) that Burton’s really didn’t have staying power at all. Yeah, the first one launched three sequels, but the last two in that series pretty much undid everything that Burton did. Further, I find the notion that Burton was comfortable making a Batman movie while Nolan wasn’t to be equally strange. Nolan knew Batman while Burton mostly re-invented him in his own imagery.

I used to say of the Burton/Schumacher movies:
Batman was a good presentation of a good concept. Batman Returns was a bad presentation on a good concept. Batman Forever was a good presentation of a bad concept. Batman & Robin was a terrible presentation on a terrible concept.

It’s funny what time does to movies sometimes. It used to be common wisdom that Batman was a great movie and Batman Returns fell short of its mark. As time has passed, though, it’s actually the latter that has more staying power (on that part Douthat is right) while the 1989 original has lost its luster. In both cases, however, Burton’s shortcomings have been exposed. Joel Schumacher and Adam West made him look great in comparison, but the animated movie chinked the armor and Nolan’s first movie dealt a fatal blow by making a movie wherein Batman doesn’t even appear until the second half more interesting and exciting than a movie where he appears in the first scene.

Once you get beyond the compelling visuals of Burton’s films, what’s left? More in Batman Returns than in Batman, which is why the latter has fared better both in my mind and in the minds of more than a couple people that I’ve talked to (a lot do stick to their original assessment, though). In both cases, though, you’re left with Jack Nicholson playing Jack Nicholson in make-up and a purple suit dancing to Prince with a boom box on his shoulder. The Joker is reduced to a common mobster. Then in the second movie you have the twice-evil Max Shreck.

None of this is to say that both movies aren’t good. They are. The concept is good. The visuals are fantastic. Michael Keaton and his portrayal of Batman and Bruce Wayne are surprisingly good. Catwoman and The Penguin are interesting characters. Unfortunately, on repeat viewings, the first movie is incredibly slow and the second movie seems kind of aimless. If I were asked to watch a pre-Nolan Batman movie, I’d be as likely to choose Batman Forever as either of Burton’s. It’s inferior in so many ways, but it never gets as tiring or difficult to watch as does Burton’s movies.

Much more strange to me than Douthat’s assessment of the longevity of Burton vs Nolan is his rationale. Batman was comfortable being a comic book movie? Nolan wasn’t? I’m not sure I agree with either assessment.

Another superhero movie that didn’t stand the test of time (with me, anyway) was X-Men. The main reason for that is that X-Men never seemed comfortable in its own skin. On one hand, it was trying not to be a superhero movie even going so far as ditching Wolverine’s distinctive costume. Instead it wanted to Make a Statement or somesuch about tolerance and understanding (which, it should be noted, the comics accomplished even with costumes). Yet at the end they were reduced to a plot with a death ray emanating from the Statue of Liberty. I’ve heard the sequels are better, though I’ve never gotten around to seeing them.

So I’m somewhat sensitive to Douthat’s comment about the perils of a movie trying to be more than it is. Iron Man was such a success largely by trying to be the best movie that it could be for what it was. The first Hulk movie allegedly tried a bit too much but the newer one allegedly got it right (I’ve not seen either). I appreciate it when a superhero movie realizes that it’s a superhero movie and works its way from there.

Unlike Douthat, I thought that’s exactly what Nolan did. Burton, not so much. Burton essentially made a Tim Burton movie with Batman in it. Those aspects of Batman that he was less than thrilled with he simply threw out. Catwoman and Penguin were completely revamped away from being supervillains in any classical sense. The Joker was a common thug-turn-mobster with makeup and a scarred face. He essentially took the style and the essentials of the backstory (only the essentials) and made something that he thought would be interesting and gripping. And for the most part I quite liked it. But it’s not what I would considering being comfortable being just a superhero story.

I don’t think that Nolan ran away from Batman and comic books in quite the same manner. It’s possible that he pushed to make it more than just superhero movies, but he stayed firmly in the context of the subject-matter. He used the superhero genre as an engine to explore some questions about duty and the self-deceptions of modern society, but the questions as they were presented lost most of their bite when taken out of the context of superheroism. The questions and points remain, but by and large the questions were most interesting to me as they pertained to superheroes and the Batman Mythos. That’s where I part company with boosters that argue that The Dark Knight was thoughtful on its own merits. I’m not sure it was and I don’t think that it was meant to be.

It was, I think, as it was intended to be: A Batman story.

Category: Theater

I don’t know what possessed me to, but when I was in the eighth grade I took a shop class. Maybe I thought it was an easy grade or maybe I just had some space to fill. I don’t know what I expected, but I didn’t expect what we got. Neither, did it turn out, did Mr Meeker, fresh out of college and ready to educate young minds.

Meeker had his lesson plan ready. We’d learn all about slide rules and then lessons and tutorials on the equipment. If all went well, somewhere around the halfway point we’d actually be working on said equipment. I don’t know what exactly my classmates were expecting, but it wasn’t Mr Meeker’s lesson plan.

If you’d had a sign up on the room asking for the most unruly, disrespectful, and disruptive students, it surely would have said “Shop Class”. I remember the first day looking all around me and being quite shocked at the high concentration of lowlifes, bullies, and ne’er-do-wells. If a single person from that class actually graduated with me five years later, I couldn’t tell you who they were. Sure, sometimes people move away or whatever, but I would be surprised in half the people in that class graduated at all and I suspect of those that did graduate far more than not did so from the alternative high school.

I heard that as far as the shop classes went, we were not even the worst.

Adding flame to the fire was Meeker’s lesson plan, which gave these unruly kids no outlet for all of their energy. One would expect that they were there to use saws and flames and all manner of exciting tools. They were not there to take pop quizzes on measurement conversions.

Most of the first six weeks of that class was a blur. I went to middle school in a lower-middle class school who’d had most of the wealthier kids plucked out and taken to the new school and by that point most of the smart (and thus well-behaved) kids were in honors classes. On top of that, we were all aged 12-14 or so. So I was used to crazy. I was used to the Lord of the Flies and all that.

This was something different. This was kids bringing bug spray to school and then creating a virtual flamethrower with the flametorch. This was kids brazenly hitting other kids with plywood. Kids karate-chopping wood. Slapping the desk with a ruler just to see how loud they could make it. Kids’ lighting other kids’ schoolbags on fire.

At first Meeker tried to control the madness. He would tell the class to quiet down and sit down. He said “Don’t make me say it again” fifteen times one class period (plus two or three times before I actually started my count). After a couple weeks he ditched the lesson plan and decided to show people how exactly to use the grinder that Marc Eldridge was using on Kerry Fenwick’s math book… but when he’d take over the grinder for a demonstration, people just walked away moved on to the flametorch.

After a couple of weeks, Meeker just locked himself in his office and let the madness reign. Somewhere around the fifth week he was absent. Rumor was that he checked himself into a mental health clinic. The sixth week (or so) he came back. Three days later he quit.

After that we were stuck in an unused classroom with a different substitute teacher each day. At first the subs went off a lesson plan, but it was really kind of pointless because most of the textbooks had been burned to char or grounded up to bits. The only reason I still had mine was that I refused to actually bring books to that class anymore after I had to spend a whole period simply trying to protect my bag from the nuclear incinerator or whatever else they wanted to do with it.

The rumors about the shop class spread and the new subs started coming in wearing their full protective gear. Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but they stopped trying to teach. Then they stopped actually showing up. After only a few weeks, Vice Principal Davis himself was having to teach the class. After a couple days, he stopped trying to teach it, too. He made a deal with us that we could do whatever we wanted as long as we stayed in our seats. Kids made a point of bringing large objects with which to swat and poke one another. Davis just sad there and worked on his paperwork.

Finally at about the twelve-week point, he’d managed to find us a new teacher, Mr Kohl. The first day of class he said that he was going to appoint a Class Leader from our ranks and that whoever the best and best behaved student was would get the honor. From the second he mentioned, I knew that giant target was going to end up painted on my back.

Once again, though, things didn’t turn out quite as expected. Kohl was a former military man and he had apparently been fully briefed on the class. In just a couple of days he did what Meeker, Davis, and countless substitutes could never do. He got everyone in line. The first person that cracked a joke got shut in one of the walk-in-closet-sized rooms on the side of the lab. One kid made a physically threatening gesture and was literally pushed onto his ass. The kid complained, but Kohl simply said that the students had thrown out all the rules out so they couldn’t hide behind them now.

I don’t know how Kohl got away with it. Maybe most of the trouble-makers came from families that were too broken to care. Maybe the VP Davis and the Principal simply ignored parental complaints since they knew the score. Whatever the case, in the last six weeks or so of that class, we actually had class.

Category: Ghostland, School

I realized earlier today how lousy I have been about responding to comments, something on which I generally pride myself. So I went through the front page and got caught up. Here are the posts I’ve commented on tonight:

Serial and Bulk Viewing (in response to Barry and Abel)
2008: In Case of a Tie (in response to Abel, Willard, and Peter)
The Suzie Brigade’s Blockade (in response to Peter and Barry)
Trumwill, Counterfeit Gamer (in response to Linus, Willard, Web, and Beth)
Cleaning Up The Desktop (in response to Bob)
From the Ground Up (in response to Brandon and Kirk)

Category: Server Room