Friday, May 30, 2014

Book Review: When We Wake

Summer Read #2 - frozen Australian teen girl faces dystopian future but still finds time to fall in love.

Karen Healey's When We Wake is told by the book's main character Tegan, a sixteen year old girl who likes the Beatles. Her tale is often divided into seemingly different vantage points that combine into a singular moment at the book's conclusion. Readers join Tegan as she tries to make sense of a futuristic world.

One day Tegan was a happy teen on her way to a protest rally with friends, when she is shot dead, only to be revived over a hundred years later. While Healey's futuristic world is different it still remains plausible. Sprinklings of scientific terminology allow readers to believe cryogenics could work but it's the same teenager social struggles and uncertainties that draw readers in.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Book Review: The Clockwork Scarab

My first book of the summer was a fun adventure about two teenage girls in a steam punk world. The niece of Sherlock Holmes and Bram Stoker's sister must unite to solve a series of perplexing murders.

Colleen Gleason crafts a compelling nineteenth century London for her characters to explore. Mina Holmes and Evaline Stoker are true to their respective families and display uncanny resemblances to their more famous relatives.

Readers will be drawn in to each girls' struggle to fit into society, understand the advances of bachelors and deal with family pressure. Typical teenage struggles are set against a backdrop of Victorian mores and cultural faux pas. As if that wasn't enough, a time traveling stranger draws the girls dangerously close to our world.

Monday, May 26, 2014

$1 Textbook Find

Picked up the full Go! Office 2007 textbook, with unopened CDs, for only $1 at Goodwill yesterday.

I had the Word, Excel and PowerPoint sample curriculums but never got the Access book. I really like that there are video files with this master book.

Of course it's designed for Office 2007, but I appreciate the organization of the text, the volume of exercises and the videos. These can all be modified and used to supplement almost any office software.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Name Tag Yearbook Theme

The 2014 Crimson Tide yearbook used a name tag theme with the slogan "Hello, my name is." The cover was designed to look like a rugby shirt with black and red horizontal stripes. The school name and year are on the back cover.

The front cover included an image of a typical name badge. As students picked up their book, we had sharpie markers and made them sign their name directly on the cover. This helped with less lost books and everyone had a custom cover.

The theme kicked off on the table of contents page (Introductions) with an image of several iconic students in selected outfits. Name badges are one way of introduction, but we often identify ourselves based on interests and activities. The students were chosen to represent a cross section of the student body.

Student life section included chapel services, the musical and drama performances, senior leadership, homecoming, and work. Signature elements include cutout photos above a copy block made to look like a name badge. Layouts were almost identical with color changes to the name badge that matched elements on the page.

Sports pages carried the name badge look into the copy block without the background color and the subhead used a handwritten font. Instead of each spread focusing on a particular sport, an element of athletics was covered using elements from multiple teams.

Sports page themes included team unity, long hours/dedication, rivalries, coaches and managers, and fans. Each spread included a sidebar featuring an individual who exemplified the theme of the page.

Academic pages were similar to sports by covering different elements instead of particular classes, such as fine arts, electives, labs and presentations, test stress, homework and yearbook. The copy block continued the look from sports but added a solid color block behind the headline and moved to the opposite page. The lower left corner also featured line drawing clip art elements.

The second half of the book was filled with student profiles. Instead of placing all mugshots for a grade on a single spread, every student had a name badge style box. Students who purchased a book have a candid picture in addition to their name, mugshot and bio.

While a fun way to include more coverage of every student, it was a lot of work gathering usable information from everyone. Fortunately we had a dedicated staff who worked hard to see that everyone was fairly represented.

Sprinkled throughout the profiles section were the group shots for all teams and clubs. Any empty slots were filled with un-captioned candid photos. Students were grouped by grade and the color scheme for their name badges matched their class t-shirt colors.

We had fun with the teacher profiles too. Teachers listed their high school, year of graduation and the type of person they were in high school. The teachers were good sports and posed with fun objects representing their interests.

Other elements in the book include an index with a colophon. The title page has sixteen close-up images of objects around the school. "We see them everyday, but sometimes the details are lost in the monotony of routine. How many of these items can you recognize?"

Overall, the book has a good mix of coverage with reasons for readers to spend time on every page. The look is clean and uncluttered.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Beginning or End?

It's all a matter of perspective. So many parents and students choose to focus on the last day of school. But I contend that our attention is often misplaced.

While not diminishing the achievement of completing high school, the ultimate goal is preparing students to excel in the world. The true celebration should focus on each student's embarking on a wonderful new journey.

Many times students have little idea what that journey entails, or where it will take them. That fear can cause us to deny there even is a journey stretching out before them. But if they have been truly prepared, uncertainty need not produce fear.

We celebrate past achievements, because they enable a better tomorrow. Congratulations to the class of 2014, may your future be focused on God as you face life's challenges ahead.

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Big Reveal

Yearbook distribution day is always exciting. Yesterday was our first spring delivery and so far I've heard good things. I think this book carried the theme better than our previous books through a consistent look.

One of the neat features was the name tag on the cover. We made everyone sign their name in permanent marker on the cover of their book. This way everyone had a personalized cover before they left the distribution table.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Robotic Takedown

It's flattering when students think your the best programmer in the world. It's all the more exciting for them when their robot takes the teacher's bot down.

The computer science guys had their Lego Mindstorm NXT Sumo Bot contest today. They had lots of fun and used quite a bit of problem solving skills. I spent most of my time helping them work through bugs in the code, logic errors and figuring out why the robots were not behaving the way they wanted.

My code was the most complex, using two sensors: a light sensor to detect the edge and an ultrasound to sense how close the other bot was. Where I got into trouble was writing a functioning code, but not having a plan to attack.

The next challenge uses the same playing surface, but will have a couple dozen plastic gold practice balls scattered about. We are going to see who can clear the circle of all the golf balls in the shortest amount of time. This is a similar problem for robotic vacuums, lawn mowers and most distribution systems that need to find the most efficient method for covering an area.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Organizing Audio/Video with PowerPoint

PowerPoint can be less about visual presentation and more about organizing the media.

Last night was the school's spring music concert with the theme "Turn Up The Radio." Songs were grouped by style as if they were on different radio stations. There were even DJ's to announce and entertain between selections.

I was given two CD's with ten different audio files, a YouTube video and a slideshow with words to one of the songs. That was a lot of media to juggle, switching between iTunes, Internet and PowerPoint.

The solution was to develop a single slideshow for the entire concert. By keeping the graphics simple, the audience could still focus on the performers and I could manage all the media in one place. Transition scenes had audio files embedded, set to play automatically with the icon hidden.

Each "station" used a different background color, and song slides simply listed the song title and group performing. The one soundtrack that show choir performed with was also embedded on a basic slide. The YouTube video was downloaded into an MP4 file and embedded on the slide, set to play automatically.

The biggest benefit was that the entire show could advance one click at a time, without having to switch between different players and programs. The sound operator left the computer channel up and didn't need to worry about accidental playback at the wrong time.

In this instance, the slideshow became less about visual spectacle and functioned instead as a sequential placeholder system for a variety of media. The benefit was less confusion at the media console, a smoother show and I was able to enjoy my kids' performance while still helping out.