Chinese in Rigby: Short Documentary

[Trailer coming after it finishes uploading. Check back in the morning. This message brought to you by awful internet, which is what I have. Seriously, this apartment complex could use a major upgrade.]

Why would a little elementary school in a small town in the middle of Southeast Idaho be teaching their students Chinese? How would that even work? Well, they are and it does. At South Fork Elementary in Rigby, Idaho (population of the entire county: about 25,000) some of the Kindergartners and First Graders are not just learning their ABCs: their learning an entirely different language.

The long-term goal of the immersion program in the Jefferson (County) School District is to have the students learn the language all the way through high school, achieving a high fluency level by the time they graduate from high school. South Fork Elementary in particular chose the Chinese language to give the students an advantage in the business world in 15-20 years when they graduate from college.

In this short documentary, I tried to capture a little slice of what the classroom environment is like, while providing a little basic information on the program. I cannot say enough nice things about the staff at South Fork. They have been nothing but helpful and kind in their assistance making this film. The teachers are wonderful, the administration has been so cooperative, and, most importantly, the program is great. While it’s clear the students don’t understand everything the teachers are saying, it’s amazing to watch them pick up on and understand the contextual clues surrounding these new words they’re learning. They can already count at least up to twenty in Chinese. They generally have a good idea what the teachers are asking them to do. They’re little information sponges, which makes them the perfect candidates to learn a new language, even while they’re still trying to get a grasp on their native language.

Special thanks go out to Mr. Howard, the Principal of South Fork for keeping in good contact (even if I didn’t always do a good job at that), the school secretaries for helping me out (and saving me hours of work digitizing all the legal release forms), Yu Jin and Li Li for putting up with me distracting the students (though I tried not to, the kids will always be distracted by a camera), and anyone else I might have forgotten. I’ve had a lot of great support, and I’m very appreciative of that.

A Chinese immersion program in Rigby, Idaho?

It seems odd that there would be a Chinese language immersion program for kindergarten and first grade at an elementary school in tiny Rigby, Idaho. Why would they need to, or even want to, learn Chinese in a town surrounded by fields and farms?

It’s true though. I’m currently creating a short documentary about this program. South Fork Elementary started it this fall with two teachers: one for kindergarten and one for first grade. The majority of the class is taught in Chinese, including and encompassing every other subject the students would learn. They speak Chinese all through the school day, every school day.
In my documentary I’ll be showing a typical day in the classroom, with interviews with the teachers, school administrators, and parents discussing the merits and challenges of the program.
I would have some stills and a trailer, but I actually haven’t filmed it yet! The biggest challenge with this documentary has been getting the legal and privacy aspects taken care of. You have to be extra careful when you’re dealing with an elementary school! Those are all worked out now, and I’ll be going to the school on Tuesday and filming all day!

Getting Started HTML

Time for a senior project! I’m synthesizing all my interests together by creating “Getting Started HTML,” a guide to learning the very basics of HTML and CSS for people who aren’t even aware what HTML or CSS are.

This arises out of my campus job from the last several semesters. I tutor for a class called “Creating Online Media,” which is a class to teach HTML and CSS to communication majors. These are people who are more familiar with Photoshop than a text editor. HTML may seem relatively simple to those of us with a background in technology, but it’s extremely hard to get into the correct mindset when you have never had to use anything but WYSIWYG tools. HTML and CSS are pretty abstract ways to create things: you’re turning text into design.

Basically, I want to make these things easier to understand. That will not be an easy task, but you can help if you want. I’ll be building text and video content over the next two months. I would love feedback along the way. Particularly, the written content is available online as I write it. So get in there and give me feedback!

Internet & Age

I’ve been a DreamHost customer for almost 3 years now. They’ve been around for a lot longer than that though: this is their 16th anniversary. I’ll get back to that in a couple of paragraphs, but I want to start with my own history with creating web pages. I think my family got its first dial-up internet connection around that same time. I’ve been interested in creating websites for just about as long as I’ve had an internet connection. We had a program called Print Shop Pro and as part of its suite there was a page to make websites. I shudder to imagine what the coding of those pages looked like. (Memo to self: break out that old hard drive and see if anything’s still there.) The sites were also pretty ugly: the templates definitely were part of the 90s, and that was a dark period for web design.

That led me to eventually learn how to code myself though. I downloaded a little tutorial program that guided you through the basics. Of course, most of that knowledge I gained doesn’t apply today. It tought me to make text bold by using the <b> tag. CSS wasn’t common back then. Even though I had learned to use basic HTML code, it still felt intimidating. I primarily used Netscape Composer (and its successors) to create web pages, even until around mid-2007 (the year I graduated high school). From there I moved onto WordPress, really getting serious about it in late-2010 (though I had messed around with it since about late-2006, even before WordPress.com launched!). These days, I’ve started getting more serious about learning to handwrite HTML and CSS. Last fall I took a class about HTML, CSS, and PHP. Now I tutor for that class and use it on a regular basis. In fact, my latest website project is a series of tutorial articles about HTML and CSS. It’s written using Jekell on Github Pages, so it’s mostly hand coded, with Markdown making things a little faster.

That leads me to web hosting. I remember our family getting junk mail back in the late 1990s urging us to get a domain name. Yes, we got snail mail to get real domains. While I don’t remember too well, it seems like those domains were very expensive. I don’t know if they included hosting or not, but the point is that getting online cost a lot of money back then. (I think part of why we got that mail is that we got film developed and printed through an online company, and even got the photos back in digital form! That made us progressive, I think, and probably made us more likely to want a website.) Whether it actually cost a lot of money or not, it felt like there was a much higher barrier to creating websites in the early days of the internet.

Since that time, we’ve seen a serious democratization on the internet. In the early days we had tools like Geocities. Personally, my first website accessible on the internet was created using Tripod.com (hey look at that, it’s still around), based on an article I saw in Boys’ Life magazine (edit: I found the article! I think my first site on Tripod was about Pokémon or something.). Of course, those tools were restrictive. I’ve never liked restrictions. As I got more serious, I started to look for free web hosts. I don’t remember the names of any of those, and I doubt they’re around anymore (at least in any recognizable form). I also had a little web server on my home computer with a free domain redirect pointed to the IP address during senior year of high school. I had a small WordPress installation there (and a little proxy script to get around blocks at school). I knew that wouldn’t cut it for critical uses though.  In fact, in 2007 for an e-commerce competition for the Washington State FBLA I got a charitable person to give me some space on their SSL secured server for me to make my entry site because I needed it to be secure and stable. Now there’s great blog tools like Blogger and WordPress.com that are easy for just about anyone to use. Social media and easy blog tools (that can be adapted to make easy websites) make it so anyone can have a voice. (Side note: I hate it when people call Blogger “Blogspot.” Small pet peeve of mine. Thank goodness the BYU-Idaho Department of Communication is pushing WordPress on us. Of course, now people get confused about WordPress.com vs. WordPress.org. Exchange one problem for another I guess.)

After my LDS mission, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to do an on-my-computer web server if I wanted a website. So I set about looking for a domain name and web host. There’s a lot of choices, and I wish I had done more research (finding a web host is something that you should research out but I didn’t have much patience for that), but I knew I wanted one that would work with WordPress. I wanted to use that for a blog, and I was planning on using Joomla or Drupal for my main website (though I eventually switched everything over to WordPress). I figured a good place to start was with WordPress’s own site. Fortunately, they had a page with some recommended hosts! I ended up choosing DreamHost. For one, their web panel is very different from the others, but in a good way. I’m fairly tech savvy, but I was new to many hosting concepts, but DreamHost’s web panel lays things out very simply. It’s intuitive and provides all the tools you need easy access to. Their one-click installs have WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal: all the things I was wanting. And the price was competitive, while offering unlimited everything: great for someone who likes to tinker with stuff (I’ve tried out a lot of web software on various subdomains). One of the most reassuring factors though was their age. They were 13 years old when I signed up with them. That’s basically ancient in internet years. They’re still going strong today.

Have they been perfect? Of course not. There have been some spots of downtime, even some extended ones, but every host has that at some point. It’s technology: it will always fail at some point. I’ve been pretty happy with them overall. They make things easy for newbies, but they’ve got the power for experienced users as well. It would be nice if, one day, my site just grows so large I have to go find some crazy expensive hosting from some specialized provider, but for the foreseeable future, DreamHost has everything I need. There are tons of great hosting companies out there, but DreamHost is up there in the top tier, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them.

Full disclosure: I am writing this post to enter a contest to get a free year of hosting from DreamHost. If you are a current DreamHost customer, you can enter to win too until midnight tonight. Keep an eye on that page though: there’s a different deal or giveaway every day, some for new customers, some for current customers, and some for anyone! The first link in this article is an affiliate link: I get some cash if you use that link. Thought you should know.

New(-to-me) Games Week!

It’s only about a week before I go back to school, but I still have a massive Steam library of games that I haven’t played yet (though that’s been true of my Steam library the entire time I’ve had a Steam account!).

That’s why, every day this week, I’ll be playing a game I haven’t played before every single day! I’ll be trying to include genres that I don’t usually play either because I want to branch out a bit. And just to make sure I give each game a fair shot, I’ll be playing each game for a minimum of 2 hours.

I’ll be streaming at 11am Pacific each weekday this week. You can watch at twitch.tv/lazyrivr or at my gaming blog lazyrivr.com.

Here’s the (tentative) schedule for the week:

Monday

Avadon: The Black Fortress

Perhaps best described as an old-school RPG, this is a game I’m hoping will surprise me. I’m not a huge RPG fan, especially the old-school kind. They’re awfully slow, and I tend to want to overthink when playing an RPG with all those stats and equipment slots. This is mainly why I’ve got the two hour minimum.

Tuesday

Penny Arcade’s On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3

Here’s another RPG, but with a little more modern twist. It aims to be old-school, but it’s got a funny slant, instead of being all “steeped in mythology.” So I think I’ll enjoy this one a little more.

Wednesday

Jurassic Park (Telltale Games)

I first sat down and watched Jurassic Park (the movie) all the way through a few months ago while it was in its theatrical 3D re-release. It sold me. Great movie (short on plot, but big on fun). I’ve heard some… not-so-nice things about Telltale Games’ adventure game based on the franchise. I haven’t played it, so I guess I’ll find out if it’s as boring as people say it is.

Thursday

Alan Wake (subject to my computer’s awfulness)

Alan Wake looks like it’s pretty awesome. Moody and atmospheric, I’m just hoping my computer will be up to the task of playing it and streaming it at the same time (spoiler alert: the graphics setting will be on “really really low”).

Friday

Retro City Rampage

Friday is a time to just shoot things up. And that’s what I’m going to do. Mayhem! 80s references that will go above my head because I was born in ’89! Stopping the evil good guys! I hoping this one will be a blast!

 

Each day after I’m done playing, I’ll try to pull out a few highlights and write up some thoughts about the game.

Here’s to making that Steam library more worth the money!

An Introduction to PHP

One of my jobs is tutoring for COMM 310 at BYU-Idaho. The course is called “Creating Online Media,” and in it we learn HTML, CSS, and a little PHP. PHP is one of the biggest stumbling blocks in the class. I had a couple tutoring appointments earlier today on the subject, and in preparation for those appointments I made this presentation. I’m posting it here for two reasons: to possibly help other people, and to get feedback. Let me know if it helps you, or if you would make any changes!

[gdoc link=”https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1Vx5mGveY5kABJcOsPESzmTdvBlx0JiWSAAIlvfMhnTQ/pub?start=false&loop=false&delayms=3000″]

It’s the Little Things

A couple of weeks ago I got to do a full day of video shooting for my internship. I wasn’t so happy about it the next day though. We spent all morning outside. It was a beautiful spring day. The sun was shining, there was barely a cloud in the sky, and the wind mostly stayed away so it didn’t mess with our audio too badly. Best of all, it wasn’t incredibly hot. It felt just right outside.

Maybe that’s why I forgot sunscreen. It’s not one of those things you immediately think of, but it sure is a great idea. I go pretty much straight from “super white” to “lobster.” I don’t really tan. By the end of the morning my arms were incredibly red. So was the rest of me, but my arms were the worst. A couple of days later I was about to drive to the office to start editing the videos when it happened. My left arm itched. It was about the worst itching I’d ever experienced. Of course, I didn’t want to scratch too hard or I’d just tear my skin up and make things worse.

So I drove to the grocery store, got some aloe lotion and some diphenahydramine (you may know it as Benadryl), and proceeded to have a miserable day. My arms were sticky from the lotion and I was fighting to stay awake from the medicine (you may also know diphenahydramine as Unisom, a sleep aid). Of course, none of this would have happened if I had worn sunscreen that morning.

Sometimes it’s the little things you bring on shoots that make all the difference.

It Was Arrested Development… Again

It’s hard to describe Arrested Development’s 4th season. It’s even harder to describe it without an abundance of spoilers. Here’s my best effort:

Arrested Development has become a different show in the seven (7!) years it’s been off the air. Some of this is from the story, and some of this is from the harsh realities of Arrested Development having launched several cast members’ careers, making scheduling for this fourth season a nightmare.Without wading too far into spoiler territory, after the events of the original series finale, the Bluth family has fallen apart. While their paths cross often, everybody’s off living their own lives. This forces a completely different storytelling structure. Gone are the manic, laugh-a-minute interactions between the Bluths. In its place, we have a vastly different way of telling the story of this family, and it’s a little off-putting at first. Each episode largely follows one character, with little deviation from their path through the episode. We start with Michael, and return to him several times in the course of the series.

This relative isolation reduces the frequency of laughs significantly, but in its place we get something that was largely absent from the original series: character growth. Yes, the Bluths are largely still lying, scheming people who will do anything to get their own way by the end of Season 4. But they’re learning things about themselves, and their mistakes catch up to them. They each have to learn to fend for themselves and, in doing so, they (and we) learn about themselves in a much deeper way than has ever been on display before.

Don’t get me wrong. There are still laughs in there, but you won’t be laughing out loud as often as you did during seasons 1-3. Ultimately, this new season feels less like a comedy than it does a tragedy. Their lives have turned to shambles in the last seven years, and we see that play out on-screen. This makes season four far more quiet and introspective: the characters are starting to reflect on their mistakes and are actually seeing the consequences of their decisions. Another factor that contributes to this slower feeling is the new running time. Unshackled from the restraints of network television, the show has more room to work with in its running times. Each of the 15 episodes varies in length, ranging from 28 minutes (about 6 minutes longer than the old series’ episodes) to 37 minutes long (about 5 minutes shy of an hour-long network TV show with the commercials removed).

I think there will be a number of fans disappointed with season four, but I think it serves as the perfect example of how to take advantage of the new format opportunities that services like Netflix provide. Season four was created for Netflix, not just in a money sense, but in a format sense too. This season begs to be watched more than once. Throughout the course of the episodes, we see several scenes repeated with almost every character’s perspective, gaining additional insights into what really happened. It’s only after watching the entire season that you know what really happened during those repeated scenes. This is the kind of stuff that just wouldn’t work on normal broadcast/cable television, but it can work perfectly on Netflix. And if we get nothing more out of season four than seeing a new format work, I’d be happy.

The bottom line: watch season four of Arrested Development. It may not be what you were hoping for, and it certainly won’t be what you were expecting, but it’s what the show needed.

From here on out, I’ll give some additional thoughts with SPOILERS. BEWARE THE SPOILERS: THERE’S SOME SURPRISING STUFF IN SEASON FOUR YOU DON’T WANT TO BE SPOILED FOR!

Want to comment? Leave spoiler-free comments on my Facebook post (click that to go there), and leave spoiler-filled comments below!

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48 Hour Video? Piece of Cake!

For one of my classes we had a little video project. Except it was a pretty big video project: we had to create a 60-second commercial in 48 hours.

Technically we had a little more than 48 hours to work on it. We could come up with ideas ahead of time, but my group didn’t get together to meet until about half an hour before we had to present our idea to the instructor for approval. That’s when things got good. I don’t know exactly how we came upon the idea, but we managed to think of an idea for a Pepto Bismol ad. We all were leaning in a comedic slant the entire time trying to come up with ideas, so this one ended up being pretty good.

The premise of the ad is that an actor is auditioning for a bunch of parts in one day. As the day goes on, the food items he’s auditioning for get more disgusting: it starts with some greasy tacos with “atomic sauce,” and progresses up to the most greasy pizza imaginable (achieved by slathering some vegetable oil on a slice of pepperoni pizza). By the end of the day he just collapses on his couch. At least until you hear his stomach make some pretty upset noises and he practically flies off the couch to get to his bathroom as fast as possible. Cue Pepto Bismol logo and a slogan.

We had the basic idea down in about 10 minutes, presented it to our instructor, and then spend another hour or so in pre-production. We needed to come up with shot ideas, an actor, and some lines. We got those down.

That’s when my knowledge of what happened gets iffy. Simply put: I had work and wasn’t able to help with any of the shooting. Yikes. I know, but I had already expended all of my favors getting others to cover my shift so I could go to my grandfather’s funeral over the weekend. Sometimes that’s just how it goes I guess.

We met up as a group to talk about how we wanted the edited piece to turn out, and to review the footage we got. One shot was blurry, so that had to be re-shot later.

To be honest, the editing didn’t really take that long. There weren’t a lot of shots total, and we already had a clear idea of what we wanted the finished project to look like. The only hard part was getting the timing of the bites right.

Anyway, we got that finished up and presented it to the teacher. He suggested a few minor edits and we ended up with this as our final product:

Of course, he had to throw us a curveball: we now had to edit the video down into a thirty second version.

We met briefly as a group to discuss what parts to trim up or cut out, and I got back to editing it. We cut the intro down quite a bit, reduced the amount of time it took for each bite, and then compressed the audio montage at the end a bit. Voila! Thirty second version! Again, the editing didn’t take too long because of our planning and exceptional teamwork. We ended up with this:

We actually like this 30 second version better than the original 60 second version we made! I think the project ended up being rather successful, and we got a good grade on it!

Special thanks to the awesome partners for this project. I’ll update this post as soon as I track down social media links for them or whatever.

Lyric Video!

For one of my classes, we’ve been learning After Effects, and our final project was to do a motion typography video.

Here’s mine: 30 seconds of Madeon’s “The City!” (Be sure to watch in HD!)

Let me know what you think in the comments below!