Tag Archives: college

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y=mx+b or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Maths

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Categories: Essays, Geek Stuff, Randomness, Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Like many, I’ve long held the belief I’m “bad at math,” but as the spring semester at Rock Valley College winds down, I’ve learned this isn’t true.

In 5th grade, I tested into the gifted program in the Rockford Public School District. I jumped from standard 4th grade classes to advanced 5th grade classes. Given the shoddy state of Rockford’s standard curriculum in the late Eighties/ early Nineties, it’s no surprise I struggled, especially in mathematics. My gifted program teachers taught as though I had been in the program from kindergarten (as most of the students had been). My troubles at home, which manifested as poor behavior at school, didn’t motivate my teachers to give me extra help, I’m sure. After a rough 5th grade, I returned to standard classes in 6th grade. The result of this ping-ponging between curricula was a severe deficiency in basic arithmetic skills.

Fast-forward three years, when I was enrolled in the Academy, RPS’s gifted program for high schoolers. Still behind in math, I failed my college algebra course the first time around and barely passed geometry. My senior year, I dropped out of my advanced math class (trigonometry, if I recall) rather than face another two semesters of brutality. I hated math.

In 1999, when I took the entrance exams at Rock Valley, I scored less than 50% on the math portion (shocked, I’m sure you are), earning me the privilege of several remedial courses, including geometry. This semester, I’m completing a “super course,” which tackles all of those remedial classes in one semester, save geometry. I have a 91% in the class right now, and finals are in two weeks. On a lark, I retook the geometry portion of the placement test, and scored an 80%: enough to skip the required remedial class. I have one college-level math class to take – scheduled for next semester – before I graduate with my A.A.

What I have learned in this semester at RVC is that I’m not bad at math; I’m bad at arithmetic. I have little difficulty understanding algebraic concepts. Where I struggle is with simple multiplication and division, managing fractions, and the like. My difficulties stem almost entirely from the learning I missed back in 5th and 6th grades. From these deficiencies flow frustration with myself and feelings of stupidity. But I can’t help also feeling proud I’ve been able to overcome some of my limitations (thanks to help from Texas Instruments) and score an A in a class I was convinced I would barely pass, if at all.

It’s perhaps a bit strong to say I “love the maths,” but I do have a new-found appreciation for them, especially algebra. There are theories in math to be sure: ideas unproven because we can’t test every possible case, but for the most part, algebra is fundamental, truthful. Race, religion, political affiliation: these don’t matter to algebra.  y does, in fact, equal mx+b.

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Neil Gaiman Told Me Not To Do NaNoWriMo

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Categories: Gaming, Writing, Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

For those who don’t know, NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month. It takes place every November, with the goal of inducing authors to produce a 50,000-word novel (from scratch) in thirty days. While I agree with NaNo’s underlying idea of promoting writing and authorship, I will not be participating this year. Why? Neil Gaiman told me not to.

Specifically, I’m referring to Neil’s advice in the Guardian newspaper. “Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.” Neil advises. I have tremendous esteem for Neil Gaiman. He’s very much the kind of writer I want to be: not bound by genre or format, writing comic books, screenplays, novels, poetry, etc. His admonishment speaks directly to one of my greatest struggles as a writer. I have close to a dozen works-in-progress, all in various stages of completion. But none are complete.

Several months ago, I resolved (based on Neil’s advice) to finish a project I’ve been working on for years. It’s a gaming project, so it’s not writing in the strictest sense, but I chose it as my first “finish at all costs” project because I think the gaming community will enjoy it. It will be free to the world once I’m done. The first part of the project will be available by year’s end.

With my full-time work schedule, brutal commute, full college course load, and a family, any time I would dedicate to NaNoWriMo would have to come out of the meagre time I’m spending on this gaming project. I’m not prepared to make that sacrifice. I’ve committed to finishing Phase One of Super-Secret Gaming Project A by the end of 2010. It will happen. In order to make it happen, I must stay focused. So no NaNo.

I don’t begrudge any of my writerly friends who are participating; quite the contrary, I wish you all the best of luck. I won’t be joining you, because Neil Gaiman told me not to.

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New Essay: “For Those About To Roll…”

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Categories: Essays, Gaming, Geek Stuff, RPG, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

This essay is an edited version of my first required essay this semester in my Composition 1 class at Rock Valley College. It is the first essay I’m making available online. I hope to add more as coursework and time allows.

Some of my real-world friends may recognize themselves in the essay. Be advised, I’ve fictionalized you where needed. Names have been changed to protect the innocent (or guilty). Enjoy!
 

For Those About To Roll, We Salute You

Eli walked down the stairs into the basement. His hands were full: a case of Coca-Cola in his left hand, a grocery bag full of snacks in his right. On his back, a burgeoning, grey knapsack threatened to burst its seams. As he made his way down the stairs, the small, gold crucifix around his neck bounced out from under his T-shirt. The shirt itself was black, a gaming-inspired riff on a classic rock band design: an isosahedron (the twenty-sided die ubiquitous in fantasy role-playing games) appeared with the phrase “AC/HP” in a heavy-metal font.

Upon reaching the bottom of the stairs, Eli set down the soda and tossed the bag of chips on the octagonal, faux-wood table dominating the room. Eli took his seat at the table after unloading his backpack. Though the sack was heavy with books, pencils, and dice, Eli seemed happy to haul it. An easy smile came to his boyish face as he considered his cohorts in turn: Rob, Josh, Jenny, TJ, Carlton, John, and Tom.

Rob leaned back in his chair. His shaved head glistened under the track lighting in the basement. Tan skin belied Rob’s mixed Haitian and Mexican heritage. Rob flipped through some pages in a legal pad, the handwritten notes printed in meticulous, all-capital letters.

Josh was a tall, broad man with a booming laugh. His hands were as large as oven mitts, dwarfing the mechanical pencil he held. On his finger, a size 15 ring emblazoned with a pentacle proclaimed his pagan spirituality. Josh reached over to turn the volume down on his laptop. A Megadeth song had been playing.

Jenny was the picture of soccer-mom suburbia. Her brunette hair hung to her shoulders, and she dressed in casually conservative style with jeans and a sweater. A tasteful diamond ring shimmered on her left hand. Her pale, blue eyes flitted to and fro, following whomever was speaking like a hawk tracking prey in the underbrush.

TJ was pure gothic-punk. Two rings intersected her lip, and countless hoops and studs lined her ears. The lacy, black tank top she wore revealed no fewer than a dozen tattoos decorating her arms and shoulders. A purple, velvet skirt covered TJ’s snow white legs.

Carlton (like Josh) was tall, but his frame was loose and lanky. His ebony skin stretched over ripcord muscles. Unlike his fellow males, Carlton did not wear jeans. Instead, he had on neatly pressed khakis. A proper broadcloth shirt completed his simple – yet classy – ensemble.

John, a slight man of Korean descent, was quiet and unassuming. His soft voice and gentle laugh made his small body seem even smaller. A faint odor patchouli (or something else?) clung closely to John’s skin. The Fu Manchu mustache he kept was, perhaps, the only thing about him designed to draw attention.

Conversely, Tom went out of his way to get attention, at least from the fairer sex. His hands worked the keys on his cell phone as though possessed. When not absorbed in texting, tweeting, and Facebooking, Tom’s gaze bounced between Jenny and TJ (and not exactly their faces, either). He barely acknowledged Eli’s entrance.

After greetings and pleasantries were exchanged; snacks and sodas situated; books and dice readied; Rob brought the game to order: “You find yourselves in a dark and dank dungeon…”

In the 1970s, when the first fantasy role-playing games appeared, gamers were almost without exception white, teenage males. This homogenous group was perceived as isolated, insular, and immature. Poor hygiene and poor social skills went hand-in-hand with those early gamers. As the hobby has grown, however, the base of players has likewise expanded and old trends no longer apply. Just as the games have changed, so too have the players.

Contemporary gamers are a diverse bunch. Blacks and whites, Asians and Hispanics, males and females all engage in the benign escapism that is role-playing. Catholics join forces with pagans in vanquishing dragons. Democrats and Republicans plot together to overthrow the evil sorcerer-king. High school dropouts ponder ancient glyphs with graduate students.

Most gamers now are adults: parents and workers. They have active lives outside of the hubby. They own cars and homes, with the bills that accompany them. They have real-world responsibilities. Gaming provides these adult players with a safe, inexpensive way to escape the stresses of daily life. Many other role-players are young: middle- and high school students. These younger gamers have new ideas to challenge older players. The only factor common to modern gamers is that they are gamers. Shared love of the hobby binds these disparate people into a common clan.

Diversity is crucial to the continued health and vibrancy of the hobby. Without new and flesh perspectives, the stories told in role-playing games will become as stagnant and cloying as the musty basements many gamers still congregate in.

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À Tous Mes Amis Francophones

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Categories: Randomness, Tags: , , , , , ,

Bonjour! It’s been a long time since I had any semblance of regular practice at speaking, reading, or writing French. I have lost much of my previous proficiency with the language. This saddens me deeply.

In high school, I earned an award from the American Association of Teachers of French when I participated in Le Grand Concours. I tested into a French Lit (taught in French, all assignments to be completed in French) class in college after only two years of study in high school. My point is, I used to kick ass at French. I don’t anymore.

I would like to regain some of what I have lost, but I need help to do it. So, dear readers, I’m begging you: if you can read/ write/ speak français, drop me a line. I need practice to gain back my skills. Send me an email, tweet, or Facebook message en français, s’il te plait. Merci!