Saturday, February 21, 2015

Make the internet a better place...

Okay, I admit it. I'm on the internet a lot. Sometimes it's for work--uploading students' grades, searching for images to improve my powerpoints, updating Robyn James Trio records, etc. But it's usually for fun--reading about friends on Facebook, taking stupid quizzes, and reading BuzzFeed lists. I'm making a concerted effort to change my experience when using the internet.

Some of you have probably read about the person who stopped liking things on Facebook. There's also an article about a person who started liking things on Facebook. To each his/her own. Hopefully most of you know that many websites (including Facebook) track your web activity and then cater their ads to places you visit. Also, Facebook monitors everything you like and follow, and then suggests other pages based on that info. The person who stopped liking everything did so in order to see if his/her Facebook experience changed.

I don't remember that person's results, but I can tell you from personal experience that it gets better when you stop liking everything. Facebook can still tailor their ads to my shopping preferences, but it doesn't know what pages to suggest to me anymore. My feed used to be plastered with ads from some stupid boot store. Thankfully, those ads tell you which of your friends like the mentioned store. Once I stopped liking those friends' posts, the boot ads disappeared.

So the first goal of this post is to make sure my readers are informed. The second is to explain to my Facebook friends why I've been using a lot more emoji (Facebook calls them "stickers") lately. Instead of clicking "Like" on every post I find amusing, informative, or inspirational, I take the time to give a more detailed response by commenting. If I have something specific to say, I'll type that. But other times I just want to convey an emotion that the post elicited. So far I've found something to cover almost every reaction. Hopefully you now understand why there are so many monkeys, Snoopy faces, and other cartoonish characters all over your feed...

Also, it's just fun to make use of all the emoji out there. How can you not resist these?

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

TN Science Bowl 2014

Wanna feel old? Volunteer to help out with a grade school competition. Wanna feel old and stupid? Volunteer to help out with a grade school competition in a subject you never mastered.

I always did well in science, but it was not my favorite subject. For four years now, I've volunteered to help out with the TN Science Bowl (#TSB to the cool kids). I got involved through Pellissippi (where I work); every semester they send out emails asking for volunteers. I decided to respond one year, and the rest is history.

For those of you who don't know what a competition like this entails, it's basically like this: Teams from different high schools around the state gather and go head to head, answering questions in the topics of biology, chemistry, physics, math, earth science, general science, and astronomy. The teams have a very short amount of time to answer the toss-ups--as an observer, it seems like you blink and the timekeeper says "time." If a team correctly answers the toss-up, they get to answer a bonus question and are given more time for that. Whichever team has the most points at the end of two rounds advances to the next round. Eventually there is only one team left. The top three teams win money, as well as the winner of the Civility Award (which I'll explain later).

There are different roles that a volunteer can fill:

  • Moderator
  • Science Judge
  • Rules Judge
  • Scorekeeper
  • Timekeeper
  • Runner
  • Crowd Control
  • Civility Award Judge
  • Registration
I've volunteered to be a Civility Award Judge all four years, though one year I was drafted to be Scorekeeper when one didn't show up. That was a stressful day, because I hadn't trained for the role of Scorekeeper! There were lots of rules to keep up with. A competing student actually had to correct me at one point because I had incorrectly awarded points to someone! #yikes

This is the first year since I started that I wasn't able to volunteer, so I thought I'd share some of the highlights of last year's Science Bowl, from a volunteer's point of view. All the Civility Award Judges met at 6:45 am (ugh) to register and go over the rules for evaluating the teams. Basically we observe the students interacting with each other and with all the adults, rate them on several aspects, and then tally our results to figure out the winner. Each judge is assigned several teams, and no team is observed twice. Most of these kids are very well-behaved, so it's really about looking for those who go above and beyond with their behavior/attitude.

In addition to adults who volunteered to be runners, there were also Boy Scouts who helped out. In the first room where I observed, this adorable Scout was serving as a runner. We both sat at a table in the back of the classroom, out of the way. Seriously, this kid was one of the sweetest kids I've ever met. Before the competition began, I chatted with him about what it's like to be a Boy Scout. Once the competition began, we sat there quietly playing with a puzzle that was given to all of the volunteers. It's called a Rubik's Snake or Twist and it's WAY too much fun. The Scout and I kept comparing shapes while the teams were hard at work answering questions. Here are a couple of my creations:

It's the letter "R." Can you see it? :)

I don't know what this one is. A train? A house?

I had a major #geek moment when one of the questions dealt with the second law of thermodynamics. For those of you who don't know, my favorite band's most recent album is entitled The 2nd Law. The overall theme of the album is energy use, entropy, and all that. I'm glad I was sitting at the back of the room so that no one could see me having a fangirl moment. #squee

The teams rang in using buzzers that were connected to a large box in front of the Science Judge. These buzzers were apparently very old because every year there's at least one malfunction. But last year, it was absolutely ridiculous. They wouldn't buzz when students pressed them, and then they buzzed when no one had touched them. It was funny at first but it got old pretty quickly. I wish someone would donate a new buzzer system! We blamed the malfunctions on the Ghost of Science Bowls Past...

Despite all the equipment errors and whatnot, it was a good day overall. There was even a kid dressed in a banana suit. I unfortunately didn't see him, but I'll bet it was hilarious! I'll bet he did it to psych out the other teams. Or just confuse them so they couldn't answer any questions?

Every year I ask myself, "Why do you get up before the sun to volunteer for something?" Then I watch all these talented kids compete and I remember. It's so rewarding to see them get excited about science. Oh, and the goodie bags and free doughnuts don't hurt either.

Got any favorite volunteer experiences to share?

Changing Priorities

I know it's been forever since I blogged and I'm sorry! I have a ton of dreams to share with you all. I just haven't had time to sit down and transfer them from the scrawled notes on my phone into readable blog narratives. So I'm not here to share a dream just yet. As my frequent readers know, I usually remember my dreams in great detail. And since it's currently 2:00 in the morning, I'm here to share a shorter message.

I don't make new year's resolutions. When I want to better myself I make the decision to do it right then, no matter what day of the year it is. Today (well, yesterday really) I decided not to waste my time when it comes to reading things on the internet. I send so many articles to my Kindle to read later (I do this so I don't have to stare at the computer screen for too long) that I'm way behind in my reading. To give you an idea: It's February and I'm still reading digests that I sent to myself in November.

The subject matter of the articles I save varies widely--anything from album reviews to social and political commentary to celebrity interviews to Wikipedia entries. I'm also not ashamed to admit that many of them are BuzzFeed lists. BuzzFeed is a great way to escape for a moment from grading papers and writing tests. But I get so caught up in reading "50 Things That Remind You Of Your Childhood" that I miss more important content like "How To Flip Your Classroom" or "How To Get Your Students To Practice."

So I've decided that if I see a BuzzFeed list or some kind of tell-all article about who Matt Bellamy is or isn't dating, I will read it at that moment or forget about it. I will no longer bookmark them or email them to myself. The articles with more important subject matter will be sent to my Kindle (via Instapaper, a great site).

My time is precious and my brain can only hold so much information, so why waste valuable space in my noggin (and hours of my long days) on reading about what stupid thing Kanye West did at the most recent award show?

What about you? Do you need to give up something in order to make space for things that really matter?

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Muse dream with a Mozart ending (Warning: adult language)

I was sleeping in my dorm room. I awakened to the sound of someone getting in bed next to me. I could've pretended to stay asleep, but I wanted to know who was here and why. I turned and saw that it was Beth, one of my best friends from college. She and my senior year college roommate, Jennifer, were coming back from some kind of gathering. Then I remembered--it was Jennifer's birthday and I'd missed her party. But I was sick and hadn't been feeling well, hence my being in bed. It was dark outside and I tried to read the alarm clock. I think it said it was 5:30 in the morning. They had been partying hard, and they weren't done yet. Apparently they were just taking a break, and were returning shortly to play some kind of game. I was feeling better (and also feeling left out) and wanted to help celebrate Jennifer's birthday. So I asked what kind of game they were playing. They explained, and I decided to join them.

The game was being played in a large symphony hall with the usual slanted floors that went lower as you got to the stage. It involved using controllers that looked and felt just like real guitars. Apparently the game was kind of like Guitar Hero but with an actual band and orchestra on stage. The band on stage was Muse, much to my delight. A lot of my friends were there, including Julia, another best friend. Most of the players were in the audience (or maybe they were just spectators?) but for some reason I was on stage in front of the orchestra, stage right. I was being silly and dancing around like some rock guitarists do. It caught the attention of Matt (Muse's guitarist) and he smiled at me. This made me happy to no end, and I gyrated more with my guitar controller.

At one point, Matt and Dom (Muse's drummer; but if you know me at all, you already knew that) were yelling out something about someone named "Grace." They were doing it in time to the music and it was pretty funny. Julia, who is a relatively new Muse fan, asked me "Who's Grace?" She was pretty far away from me so I mouthed to her "She's a fan of the band." She couldn't understand me, so I mouthed it again. I didn't want to actually yell it because the music was very loud.

When the game was over, I didn't want to leave. I also wanted an excuse to get near the band and ask them where they were hanging out after they were done with this (apparently they were rehearsing with the orchestra for something). Morgan, the guy the band hires to play with them when they tour, was stage right (which is odd because in real life, he's always stage left), sitting at an upright piano (what, no grand?!). I noticed someone's guitar controller on the floor and saw my chance. I picked up the white guitar with black control knobs and looked for a stage hand to give it to. I found one, and mentioned that I found it and thought I should turn it in. The guy took it, and now was my chance because I was only a few steps away from Morgan. I screwed up my courage, and just then the conductor of the orchestra spotted me.

The conductor stopped the rehearsal and called me out. He yelled at me, saying that I was disrupting the rehearsal and bothering the band members. He humiliated me in front of my peers in the audience, the orchestra (which included colleagues of mine), and my favorite band on the planet. I turned to see Morgan looking right at me, a mix of anger and pity on his face.

I'd had it. The conductor was completely out of line and blew things way out of proportion. I stormed to the front of the stage, turned to the conductor, and yelled at the top of my lungs "You...are an asshole!" The audience met my outburst with rousing applause. I bowed graciously, then exited stage right. They continued applauding as I walked up the center aisle of the auditorium. Once I got to the top (the entrance to the hall), I had a wonderful idea. I swung open the doors, leaned over, and stuck my butt out toward the direction of everyone on stage, a la Mozart in the film Amadeus. I think I also shook my butt a bit for good measure. I was met with more applause as I left the hall.

Once outside the hall, I saw people seated around the area. I told several groups of them what had happened as I walked by and they all met me with smiles and pats on the back. I felt vindicated, and it felt good.

The End.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Kids, The Best Audience

My friend Lori asked me if I would visit the school where she teaches and tell the kids about what I do. They had several visitors throughout the month and each person did something to help the community. Lori wanted to include someone who wasn't exactly a policeman or fireman or doctor, but who still helped the community. I thought it was a great idea and I was free during the times that they wanted visitors, so I made my way to Ridge View Elementary School one Tuesday morning.

First things first: I am not a morning person. Add to that the fact that, on Tuesdays, I don't have anywhere to be until 2:00. So it was kind of a big deal that I was getting up early enough to be somewhere 45 minutes away at 9:30 am. It's good for me to get out in the community and spread the joy of music, so it was worth it. Also, the kids were super adorable so that helped make it worthwhile, too.

The drive was a pleasant one, and I found the school easily. I was buzzed in. I checked in on the computer, stuck my badge (sticker) on my shirt, and then followed Lori to the classroom. I would be talking to mostly kindergartners but also a 4th grade music class.

I told them that I teach college, perform around the community, and teach privately. I played lots of tunes for them. It was so cute because, when it was time for questions, most kids who raised their hands didn't have a question--they wanted to request a song. Also, some of them just wanted to tell me random facts about their lives.  A couple of the kids told me that they played guitar. I just kind of went "...all right...that's great! Any other questions?"

Some of the requested tunes: the Alphabet Song, Twinkle Twinkle, Baa Baa Black Sheep (and yes, all three of those use the same tune), several songs I didn't know including What Does the Fox Say (*groan*), Wagner's Bridal Chorus (since I play weddings), Mary Had a Little Lamb, Jingle Bells, and the Twelve Days of Christmas. I agreed to play Jingle Bells but I put my foot down when the Twelve Days came up. It's freakin' February, people!

The kids were well-behaved at the beginning but I think they got a little restless toward the end. Still, they were pretty much as attentive as I would expect kindergartners to be. And they sang along with several of the songs I played, including Rocky Top (you know I had to play that one).

After several requests for things I'd already played, Lori intervened and said "Okay, only raise your hand if you have a question to ask Miss Robyn." Some of the questions were good, like why was I wearing all black (I wore my concert black), when did I start playing, and why was the viola bigger than the violin. The cutest part is that some of them would raise their hand, wait patiently to be called on, and then just stare at me in silence when I actually called on them. Oh, and I got a good chuckle when I called on a boy by saying "Yes, in the purple shirt" and he looked down to see if he was indeed wearing a purple shirt.

All in all it was a fun time. They clapped enthusiastically after every tune I played (I wish all my audiences were like that) and one kid even shouted out "Bravo! Bravo!" a few times. It was great when the kids sang along, and I'm hoping that some of them go home and ask their parents/guardians if they can start violin or viola lessons.

Do you remember any of the visitors that came to your school when you were little? Who was your favorite?

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Dream: Aliens take over, but at least they like Eminem.

I was typing up this dream recollection as a status update on Facebook. But I kept remembering more and more details, and it was getting way too long. So here you go.

I dreamt that the world was taken over by an oppressive alien force. We were herded like cattle into a large meeting hall. On the floor, I found a couple of large coins. I thought they were silver dollars, but there were actually too big. There was the image of some alien ruler on one side, and some worshipful sayings were engraved on both side. I noticed that part of the coin was hollow and transparent. The large hall was decorated with sayings and more images of (what I guess were) alien leaders. I held up the transparent part of the coin and looked through it at an empty space on one of the walls inbetween some sayings and leaders' images. That's when I discovered that there were hidden messages on the walls. I found two separate ones, and I guessed that they were messages from a previously oppressed people on how to survive and/or overthrow the new government.

I'm not sure how we got the message but we were all instructed to wear tall boots to the meeting hall. A lot of people either didn't get the message or couldn't/wouldn't comply. I followed the instructions and put some knee-high leather boots on. Everyone was lined up and we stood and waited to go through some kind of processing center. While we waited, a bunch of ducks came into the room and starting nipping at our heels and biting people. That's when I realized why we were instructed to wear the boots. While other people were attacked and mangled, I was simply annoyed.

When my turn came up to enter the processing center, I was a little confused as to which window to go to. Someone was calling the name "Annabelle" and I wasn't sure if that was my name or not--I had found some credentials at some point and was carrying the papers with me. Either I was instructed to take on this new identity or I had decided to on my own. So I scrambled to find the papers as the alien (who, if I remember correctly, was humanoid and didn't look too other-worldly) continued to call out for Annabelle and looked at me questioningly. The name on the papers was something like "Abbe Abhe." I decided that perhaps "Abbe" was short for Annabelle and I walked up to the window. I explained to the alien that I was used to being called "Abbe" and was confused when I heard "Annabelle." Next I was at an empty window, looking at some large, paper-towel-roll-looking things at an alien desk. I picked up one of the rolls and there was some cool sound effect as a coffee pot was revealed to me. I suddenly realized that I shouldn't be messing with the aliens' stuff so I quickly put the roll back. Next we were informed about our new lives: clothing, curfew, and whatnot. Then we were taken to our new homes (men were to live on one side of town, women on the other) in large vans.

Before we got into the vans, we were standing outside, enjoying what we thought might be our last moments of freedom. I walked up some steps, barefoot in the snow (they took my boots for some reason, and I think some of my clothes, too). The snow wasn't as cold as I was expecting it to be. There was music playing, though I'm not sure where it was coming from. It was Eminem, and the musical sample that was played over and over was taken from a video game I play called My Singing Monsters. I was bouncing up and down and dancing with this guy as we ascended the stairs to the street. "At least we still have music," I noted.

In the vans there were cartoon instructional videos playing on small TV screens. The first scene was about how to treat a paper cut. It showed the scenario and then asked how we should handle it. The narrator asked "What would you do if, after a few days, the cut was worse?" and "What would you do if, after one day, the cut was the same?" The dark-haired cartoon woman was shown peeling off her bandaid to reveal a worse cut, and then a cut that was the same. One of the choices for how to treat the cut was "Bite it and die." The woman was seated in a bathroom. She removed the bandage from her knee (who gets a paper cut on their knee?), bent over, and began to feast on the wound.

The next thing I remember is being in a dormitory which also had classrooms. I knew there had been exams going on earlier that day. I was poking my head in the classrooms, seeing what they looked like post-exams. There were mannequins in the seats (or perhaps they were eerie, petrified students?) and they each had sheets of paper in front of them with problems scribbled from the board. I looked at one student's sheet and was deciding if their answer was correct or not.

Next I was in my dorm room. It was a small, square room with plain white walls and no decorations. I don't think there was any furniture either. For some reason all of the clothes I'd been wearing had been taken. It was early in the morning (I knew this because it was still dark outside, but I'd apparently been asleep for a while). I wondered if the classroom across the hall from me was empty. I don't know why I wanted to get in it, but for some reason I did. I guessed that, because of the hour, the room would be abandoned and no one would see me in my birthday suit. Also of note: I didn't have my glasses on and I'm very nearsighted. So I tiptoed across the hall. I gently opened the door and squinted as I looked around, trying to see what was in there. Then I noticed light coming from a lamp to my right and a blurry figure that might have been a person. I gasped softly and made my way back out as quickly but quietly as I could.

Later on in my dorm room, which was suddenly the size of a decent apartment, I was with my friend Kady and we were talking about something. We were both clothed, thankfully! Kady tried to open the blinds by turning some kind of knob on the wall near the top of the window. I went "Are you trying to do this?" and grabbed the stick you use to open and close blinds. As I turned it, the vertical blinds in the middle opened (there were also some horizontal blinds on the sides) and she went "Yes!"


I couldn't make this stuff up, y'all. I'm a decent writer but I'm not that creative! What's the weirdest dream you've ever had?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Perfect Timing

So, I've had a standing date with Wil Wheaton every Wednesday for a couple of months. No, not the real Wil Wheaton (I wish!). But his voice. I have a 90-minute commute on Wednesday nights for work (90 minutes there and 90 minutes back, 4 hours later) and although I have plenty of CDs I could listen to, I figured music would get old after a while. So I decided I'd listen to audiobooks. Now, which ones to listen to? I went through my iTunes folders and found a couple of Wil Wheaton audiobooks. I purchased them a while ago but then my iPod bit the dust and I kind of forgot about them. Anyway, I absolutely adore Wil (he was my first celeb crush EVAR), so it made perfect sense to start my weekly treks (har har) with his books before moving on to other items on my to-read list (the Harry Potter series is next).

I started with the audiobook for Just A Geek, which is the first of Wil's books I ever owned (thanks to my beloved brother for buying it for me all those years ago!). It took several weeks to get through the whole thing, as I expected. I had to stop and start it many times, and backtrack in some places. Like the time I had Winamp on shuffle for some reason and it jumped from like, chapter 3 to chapter 9.

I'd been worried that I'd finish the book mid-trip and not be able to switch to something else. I was listening via my tablet, which I'd plugged into the AUX port in my Jetta, so changing to another book while driving wasn't as easy as grabbing a new CD and switching it out for the current one. Thankfully I didn't have to worry about this at all. After listening to the FAQs and the interviews and the bloopers, the last track ended just as I pulled into the parking lot of my apartment complex. It was the perfect end to a wonderful journey (Journey's End, BAM! Didn't even plan that one!). Sometimes it's the little things in life, like an audiobook synching up perfectly with my trip home, that make me smile. :)

What's made you smile this week?