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Thursday, October 27, 2005

The Regrettable Review

Dear Blog Reader,

As you hopefully have not heard, the twelfth installment in Lemony Snicket’s dreadful chronicle of the miserable lives of the Baudelaire orphans, entitled A Series of Unfortunate Events, has recently been published, as has its title, making an alarming total of 18, count them, 18 depressing books:

The Bad Beginning, Book the First

The Reptile Room, Book the Second

The Wide Window, Book the Third

The Miserable Mill, Book the Fourth

The Austere Academy, Book the Fifth

The Ersatz Elevator, Book the Sixth

The Vile Village, Book the Seventh

The Hostile Hospital, Book the Eighth

Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography

The Carnivorous Carnival, Book the Ninth

The Slippery Slope, Book the Tenth

The Blank Book

The Grim Grotto, Book the Eleventh

Behind the Scenes with Count Olaf

The Puzzling Puzzles: Bothersome Games Which Will Bother Some People

The Ponderous Postcards

The Pessimistic Posters

The Penultimate Peril, Book the Twelfth

You should stay far away from all of these, especially this latest one, as it contains such distressing things as a very loud clock, stolen bank money, the Dewey Decimal System, a jeweled turban, two enormous spatulas, several familiar faces, 1,001 thimble-sized bells, and the poetry of John Godfrey Saxe. But misfortune-filled books are not the only things you need to watch out for, as Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events is also a gloomy game for PC, Xbox, PlayStation 2, GameCube, and Game Boy Advance, as well as a melancholy movie on DVD, VHS, and, starting November 15, UMD for PlayStation Portable.

With all due respect,

Jesse Exum


Photos by Jesse Exum

Try and guess what these are close-up photos of! Answers next week.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Guide Dogs

by Phil Vigil
Guide Dogs for the Blind Incorporated is an organization that gives visually challenged people a chance to get free guide dogs. People of any age can train a guide dog puppy. All it takes is lots of patience. We keep the puppies for about 16 months before Guide Dogs, Inc. takes them back for further training.
All you will need to do is train the puppy the basics. Potty-training is probably the hardest. I have raised three dogs and they have had many accidents in the house. If you want a dog that is already potty-trained, then you can get a transfer dog. This means it is transferred from another person that already potty-trained it. Socializing your dog is the most important part of raising a guide dog. That means taking the dog everywhere with you--to school, to work, to restaurants, and movies etc... The dog is only allowed into these places if he is wearing the approved puppy coat with the Guide Dogs, Inc. logo. It takes good training and a good dog to graduate as a guide dog.
Fairfield, a black labrador, was my first dog. He was the most hyper and obnoxious dog I have ever raised. He also was not approved to be a guide dog because of aggressive behavior. My second dog named Dell, a yellow lab, was my best dog, but he had his moments. He graduated from Guide Dogs Incorporated in San Rafael. I got to go to the graduation ceremony and meet the visually challenged woman accepting my dog. Chandler, my third dog, was okay. He was sort of a mix between Fairfield and Dell. He did not graduate though. I soon will be getting my fourth dog. I am pretty sure his name will be Yale.
So check back for updates!

Home Schooling

By Paul Wilson

I have never set foot in a public school for education purposes in my life. Does that mean I’m completely illiterate? No, I’ve been home schooled my whole life. My older brother and sister were also home schooled, and when I was young I felt I was behind them. So, I asked if I could start kindergarten. I was about three and my mom was planning on starting me in kindergarten when I was 4. I didn’t want to wait that long, so, I decided that I would teach myself. I proceeded to do so, and I taught myself some things right and some things completely wrong. My mom realized that I would probably continue to teach myself wrong, so she gave me some basic phonics and the alphabet to learn. Essentially, I ended up doing kindergarten twice, both that year and the next.

Because I’ve never attended a public school, I don’t know what is required for the different grades. For my schooling to be officially recognized, we register as a private school, but we are not connected with the public school system in any way. To get a high school diploma, I am going to take the California High School Proficiency Exam. People in public high school can take this exam to test out of the later years of high school. A good example of how different my schooling is from public school would be my P.E. It is quite a bit different than a public school’s program. My friends say that I’m lucky that I get to ride my bike in the skate park as my P.E. I have to agree with them.

I also have the advantage of being able to do my schoolwork whenever I want. For example, if I want to do something during the afternoon, I can get up early and finish my schoolwork before I leave. Also, because my schedule is essentially governed by me, my mom and my dad, I normally start my school year sometime in mid-to-late September, and end it in early May. I still do the same amount of schoolwork that other kids do, but we don’t take as much vacation time during the school year, giving me a longer summer vacation.

Normally I spend much of my summer working, most of the time with my dad, who is a painting contractor. I have also worked at a custom cabinet shop. I got that job because I was working there one day a week during the school year as part of my Work Experience. They liked the quality of my work, so, after I finished the school year, I was hired to work full-time during the summer. The job was a good bit better than the standard job of mowing lawns and raking most teenagers do for a job. Lots of the cabinet jobs we did cost more then 5 digits. Some even cost several hundred thousand dollars. Working in a shop like that was a lot more fun then mowing a lawn, in my opinion. I doubt I would have gotten the job at the cabinet shop if I hadn’t been home schooled, because fitting in a full day of Work Experience would have been hard if I attended public school.

Jesse's Jokes 3 plus Special (OK, it's the same kind of thing as last time) Bonus!

by Jesse Exum

How did the street feel after a drain system was installed in it?

What do you call a beef-eating cow?
~A cannibull.

What do you call a Japanese wrestler who doesn’t check things first?

What do you call picnic pests who don’t pay attention?

What kind of phone service did the comedian have?
~A one-liner.

The Special (OK, it's the same kind of thing as last time) Bonus!
Twisted Twisters by Jesse Exum

"Nate gaped at taped grape paper"

"The scream team gleaned screens"

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Jesse's Jokes 2 plus Special Bonus!

By Jesse Exum

How do criminals prepare food?

With a crookbook.

What do you call an underwater teeter-totter?
A sea-saw.

What do you call the second-in-command of an inventors' club?

What kind of wizard makes condiments?
A saucerer.

What martial art do bakers know?
Tae Kwon Dough.

Why did the new homeowners put a "Please do not wipe feet" sign on their front door?
They didn't want to wear out their "Welcome."

The Special Bonus!
Another "Twisted Twister!"
(Also by Jesse Exum)

"Invariably nuclear facsimile bump"

Racing the Kamikaze

By Paul Wilson

On September, 17-20, 2005 the United States Mountain Bike National Championships were held in Mammoth, California. I went to race the Kamikaze Downhill, a classic event that started downhill mountain bike racing. This course is basically an access road to the top of Mammoth, which stands at 11,053 feet. The run ends at 9,000 feet, and is five miles of non-technical, high-speed descent.

The key to going fast in this event is holding your momentum through the turns, because this course is too fast for your pedaling to make up speed if you lose too much in the corner. On Thursday, I only got in one practice run, but it was a start for familiarizing myself with the course. Right away, I noticed that, because more than just the downhill riders had been using the course, long sections of braking bumps had formed. (When a bike’s brakes are jammed on before a turn, the tires pull the dirt up into sections of washboard-like bumps.) In some places, they were 30 feet in advance of the corner and six inches deep.

(“Well, that will make things more fun. One mistake, and I’ll slow down far enough to lose several seconds trying to get back up to speed.”)

I didn’t know how right I was….

On Friday, I get in five practice runs, clocking a 5:52:60 on the next-to-last run of the day. Each of my runs has progressively gotten faster, so, I am pleased with my times. After I finish my two hours of practice runs, I go back up to the top of the mountain because I need to get back to the condo where we are staying, which is on the other side of the mountain. I start riding down a trail that ends up right above where the condo is. The trail is called Skid Marks. So, I am happily coming down Skid Marks, which I rode the day before after practice, but I am a little more tired today. A long straight section of trail comes up. I execute the last turn before the straight and barrel into it. The straight section goes through a bunch of basketball-size rocks, and there is a 24- inch- wide path that is lined with these rocks. Apparently, a rider before me lost it a little and knocked a couple of rocks into the trail. I go to avoid the rocks and hit a loose section of trail. (Mammoth is a volcanic mountain, and is very, very loose everywhere.) Suddenly, my front tire "washes out," (slides out of line with the back tire) and I tag one of the boulders with my back tire. The parabola described by my body (and bike) lands, alas, not so gracefully on quite a few of the basketball- sized rocks. I skip and bounce, and my bike goes thunk!!

I pick myself up, examine my hands, (“I tore my glove, man, those were new gloves, too!”), walk back to my bike, (“Cool, everything seems fine.”), and the pain hits. (“ Owwww, my left hand doesn't even want to close and my left shoulder isn't feeling so great either. Why does my chin hurt?”) I put my hand up to my face, feel my chin and take my glove away. (“Gross, my glove is covered in blood. I wonder what I did?”) I look down at the ground and realize I have left my signature…blood is dripping onto the rocks. Thankfully it isn't dripping very fast. (“Man, that was a good crash....Alright, me, okay condition, bike.......Oh. Hm, this will make things interesting.”) I have bent the derailleur hanger, which holds the derailleur, which keeps the chain on the gear I have selected. Bending the hanger potentially could make shifting and pedaling, and thus moving, impossible. (“Okay, good, at least the chain stays on in the higher gears. Just makes pedaling a little harder. Speaking of pedaling, my right knee hurts.”) I pull down my knee guard, and see a bruise forming. (“Must have hit it on a rock.”) I go to pedal down the trail, and realize my hand still doesn't want to close, which makes holding onto the handlebars a little hard. I pull off my glove. (“Yep, a bruise there too.”) I stretch and work my hand, and it starts to feel a little better. More importantly, I can curl it around the handlebars.

I start off down the trail. After I reach the condo, I pull off all my gear, and check out what happened to me. First, on my knee, a pretty good bruise and scrape. Then I check my hand. It's a little bloody, so I go to the sink to wash it, look in the mirror. (“My chin's covered in blood, I forgot about that.”) I look like I got in a sword fight. I have a diagonal gash about a quarter-inch deep in my chin. (“Well, at least it's at an angle, so I can just pull the flap of skin over it with a band-aid, pack it with anti-bacterial ointment, and it should be fine.”) I do so, then I pull my shirt off to check my shoulder. (“ I scratched up my whole left side. No wonder my shoulder hurts, it’s another big bruise.”) I patch myself up, put ice and heat on my hand and a few hours later, I'm feeling way better.

On race day, my hand, shoulder, side and knee all feel good enough to ride, but I still ice my hand once more before heading up to the gondolas to race. I suit up with all my gear at the car, check my bike. I had replaced the bent derailleur hanger with a spare I had. (“Good, everything looks fine”). I’m good to go, so I pedal over to the gondolas, get in line to load up and, finally, I’m on my way. I’m in a gondola with a cool guy from Boston, and we talk about downhilling, bikes, and how the pros always make it look easy, even on the hardest trail. We reach the top way ahead of our start times, so we stay inside because it’s 20 degrees outside, and the wind is picking up. It was around 10 or 15 mph this morning, but now at 10:15 it’s about 30 mph.

At my start time I check the weather conditions board, and it says the wind is 40 mph. (“That could definitely have an effect on my run time.”) I get on the starting box, beep, beep, beep, beep, beep, BEEEEEP, and I’m off. Pedaling to get my speed up, I come down the first part of the trail. Rounding the second corner, the wind really hits me, and I know I’m going way slower then I would like. The wind is pushing me around on the trail, and I can’t hold momentum as easily as the day before. All the way down the trail, I can feel the wind fighting me. I try to give with the gusts, figuring that resisting too much will slow me down even more. On one corner, I am headed right into the wind, and it feels like I slow down almost all the way. (“Not good, I need that momentum!”) I pedal, but I know this run is going to be slower than I would like. After I cross the finish line, and I’m watching other racers come down behind me, I can see they aren’t too happy with the way their runs felt either. When the results come up, I got SIXTH!!! I’m pretty happy with that, seeing as how my run time is 6:23:80. (“Cool, sixth isn’t too bad, but my practice runs were way faster. Well, maybe next year it won’t be so windy.”) I congratulate the winner of my class, and after play- riding on some wooden structures next to the race course, my family and I leave to get lunch. I was pretty happy with my placing, with the factor of the wind, but next year……….Watch out!! I want first!

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