The Road To Graduation, Part II

Midterm madness is finally over. My sleeping pattern is returning to normal. The extra weight from eating food at odd hours of the night is burning off at the gym. What brought me back to normalcy was reading “One L: The Turbulent True Story of a First Year at Harvard Law School” by Scott Turow, his semi-autobiographical story of being a first year law student at Harvard Law School, which was more insane than my accumulated ten years of college (1990-1995 / 2002-2007). Admissions & Records accepted my graduation petition after the initial paper chase a few months ago, and, if I successfully pass my programming classes this semester, I can pick up my diploma in late August.

My programming instructor returned a 3.5″ floppy disk that I submitted to him in my first programming class in Spring 2002. Now that’s spooky. None of my computers today have a floppy drive installed. I still have a few floppy drive units in storage and a USB floppy drive for those rare occasions where I need access to a floppy. Five years ago I turned in my source code and executable files on floppies. Today I print out the source and/or email the files in a zipped archive. For a directed study class, I turned in the completed project with source code, executable, sample data, and documentation files on a CD.

The Data Structures (CIS 055) class is getting hard. I’ve always relied on the instructor’s lesson and reading the source code to understand the material without reading the textbook. The assigned textbook for this class dribbles out the source code in bits and pieces, and then buries the completed source code in overwritten comments that makes a bad science fiction novel enjoyable. My superficial understanding of the C++ language doesn’t help either. Cruising through my final semester isn’t an option.

I got my midterm worksheet back in Ceramics I (Arts 46A) with an “A” and a comment from the instructor that I have excellent focus and control of my work. That’s being put to the test with the larger-than-life self-portrait bust that will probably weigh 30 pounds in clay when I get done. Mine is the biggest piece in class as I have the biggest head. This week I’ll be carving in the details, getting back a glazed statuette and the other statuette will be ready for glazing.

Project four is stacking three or four separate pieces into one object. My design is a tall Japanese water vase that I saw in a ceramics book. The bottom bowl, sprout and collar will start on the kick wheel, coil building for the middle to combine all the pieces, and using nylon rope to impress a spiral design on the outside. After working in the studio for six hours straight, I come home to collapse in bed as I’m exhausted from all that focus and control.

The Movies of Spring Break 2007

As young man going to college in the early 1990’s, and as a working adult now going back to college for a career change, I never had a traditional spring break of heading for the beach to ride the waves, drink the booze and enjoy the girls. If only haven’t become a Christian during my second year of college. Anyway, since I work during the week off from school, my spring break for this year was watching the three hottest movies in the theater.


“300” retells the Battle of Thermopylae when the Spartan city-state sends 300 soldiers and their king to stand against the 300,000 strong Persian army while their queen rallies the other Grecian city-states to arms. The Spartans lost the battle after inflicting heavy casualties on the Persians. Based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller, who served as executive producer, the movie reproduces the graphic novel almost on a frame-by-frame basis for this stylized battle to the death. The overall story was interesting but historically inaccurate since the Spartans left their breastplates at home.


“The Reaping” has a former missionary (Hillary Swank) who leaves the church after her family got killed in Africa and goes around the world disproving miraculous events with scientific explanations. When the ten plagues of the Old Testament gets unleashed on a southern backwater town, the town folks blames a little girl living in the swamp. Unable to find a scientific basis for the mysterious events, she has to rely on her faith in God and the little girl as the final plague unleashes a battle between good and evil.


The third film was “Grindhouse,” homage to the 1970’s exploitation double feature with “Planet Terror” by Robert Rodriguez and “Death Proof” by Quentin Tarantino.

The movies within the movies had fake trailers. “Machete,” a Mexican revenge flick on the Texas border, reminding me of the original trailer for “Death Wish” with Charles Bronson. The other trailers included “Werewolf Women of the SS” and “Thanksgiving,” spoofing the horror movies that became prevalent in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.

“Planet Terror” is the most funny, over-the-top zombie movie since “Shaun of the Dead” came out a few years ago. As is typical of zombie movies, you have a group of misfits forced together for whatever reason while a zombie invasion is underway, realizes what is going on, and escapes to a tropical paradise. Rose McGowan plays a woman who loses a leg during a zombie attack, gets a chair leg to walk around on until she dispatches a military guard (Tarantino) with it, and replaces the chair leg with an assault rifle to kill zombies.

“Death Proof” is the story of two groups of women being stalked by Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) in his “death proof” muscle car. He kills the first group of women with relative ease, leaving behind the bodies in “accidents” that the local authorities can’t prove otherwise because the women were under the influence of pot and booze. But the second group of women is a more difficult challenge, being professional stuntwomen willing to take him on and unafraid to inflict great bodily harm. How they took care of him in the end made the audience cheer when “The End” flashes on the screen.

As for the nudity and heavy sexual action, it’s not there as there are some “missing reels” and you’re have to wait until the unrated DVD comes out. Twenty seconds got cut from the movie to avoid a NC-17 rating, which is the kiss of death in mainstream theaters and even some art house theaters. Something that exploitation films in the past didn’t have to deal with as most went unrated.

This Week’s Weird Snail Mail

I got a chain letter and a circular item in a square envelope in the snail mail this week.

This was the first time I ever got a chain letter in the mail. (I’ve gotten chain letters in email from people who clicked on the naughty bits and got a spyware infection on their computer.) This chain letter stated that you too can make $800,000 USD per week, as seen on the “Oprah!”, if you send a dollar bill to the following five people and add your name to the list. Yeah, right. Straight to the recycle bin. Although it’s bad luck to break a chain letter, I’m still working off all the bad luck from all the mirrors I accidentally broke as a teenager. The emails from a former Nigerian minister wanting my bank account info to smuggle a huge fortune out of his country are more entertaining than this.

The circular item in the square envelope was smaller than an LP record, larger than an 45 record, and too padded for a CD or DVD disc. The mysterious object was a mouse pad for subscribing to The New York Review of Books. Whoopee-a-do. The funny thing is that I don’t recognize a single literary author from the pencil drawings on the mouse pad. Although I took many literature courses during my first tour through college in the early 1990’s, I guess I missed the course on early 20th-century literary giants. You would think that the NYRB could update their pencil drawings to include latter 20th-century literary giants like, say, Stephen King.

Something About That Beard

I was coming home on the bus after working out at the gym and shopping at the grocery store. The bus trip takes about five minutes. Unfortunately, this particular bus trip was the longest five minutes in my life. A mostly bald gentleman with wispy sideburns and long hair at the base of his neck mentioned that I look like a rabbi with my long beard. That’s a strange comparison. Most people say I either look like a merchant marine or a Middle Eastern terrorist. This is the first time someone told me that I look like a rabbi.

I’m surprised that no one has ever said that I look like a Greek philosopher—or as Mel Brooks describes it, a professional BS artist—since I wear the beard without the mustache. A style I adopted during my first tour through college in the early 1990’s, which suited my facial features better as I started working at the gym and trimming down five years ago.

With the passing of 9/11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, some people—mostly members of a Christian non-denominational church I belonged to until a few years ago—would come up to me to say that I looked like a terrorist and asked if I was planning to blow something up. They were joking around. I gave them a serious response that made some run away screaming: “No, but if I do, you will be the first to know.”

The gentleman on the bus may have been a professional BS artist himself as he expounded on how rabbis maintain their beards in Old Testament and New Testament times, how beards never go out of style, and, of course, women always love bearded men. When I got up to get off at my bus stop, he encouraged me to read a few pages of the Old Testament every day. An odd conversation. It never occurred to me until later that he might be Jewish. Most American Christians tend to forget that Jesus was a Jewish carpenter.

I think I learned more than I wanted to know about beards in those five minutes. Since I’m the only student in my ceramics class with a beard, I’d created a small statuette of a human face with a beard in the classical style. This is in preparation for the larger-than-life self-portrait bust that I’ll be completing for the class final.

Arts 046A – First Week Activity

During the first week of Beginning Ceramics (Arts 46A) at San Jose City College, the class created two simple clay objects using the pinch bowl method.

The first object was a hollowed out sphere. Mine became an egg-shaped sphere and I flattened out the bottom to stand on. Some students added handles and legs to make decorative vases. I used a clear glaze to show off the marble of brown and porcelain clay. The egg is a bookend for my paperbacks.

The second object was a cup using porcelain clay. Using the same technique as before but with two different size bowls facing out and joined together to form a cup. I used a bright blue glaze for the exterior surface and metallic black glaze on the interior surface. This one ended up being a birthday present for my father.

Painting Tablet 1

I’ve been getting personal counseling at school for the last seven months to talk about my mother passing away from breast cancer in 2004, my traumatic childhood and my crazier adulthood. After hours of conversation, it boiled down to doing the three things I wasn’t fully able to do as a child that I can now do as an adult: writing, ceramics and painting.

I’ve written 13 short stories that are circulating for publication, working on a 100-page novella, have several more ideas on the back burner, and planning to write a novel this summer. I’m taking an all-day Saturday ceramics class this semester and probably for the next two semesters after I graduate with my computer programming degree. I got a Reeves acrylic paint set, a 9 x 12 watercolor tablet, and some paint brushes to learn how to paint without numbers. Of the three artistic pursuits, painting is perhaps the most intoxicating in terms of creative pleasure.

I’ve done numerous paint-by-numbers as a child and did a few after my mother passed away, but I never learned how to paint on my own before. This tablet shows my learning progress: painting directly on the paper, applying a white wash over the sketch before painting, masking tape to sharply define the borders, and painting from pictures that I took with my digital camera or book covers that presented an interesting challenge. Each one shows a new technique being applied and a glaring set of errors to avoid next time.