Sunday, October 20, 2013

Book Review: Last Man on Earth Club


Book Description:

Six people are gathered for a therapy group deep in the countryside. Six people who share a unique and terrible trauma: each one is the last survivor of an apocalypse.

My initial plan was to do a review of book 2 of the Medair Duology before any others but I tend to get distracted in my reading. I'm in the process of re-reading that series and I wanted to finish that before I did a follow up review. Before I get around to that I decided to do a quick review of one of my new favorite books. The Last Man on Earth Club.

From the description:

Six people are gathered for a therapy group deep in the countryside. Six people who share a unique and terrible trauma: each one is the last survivor of an apocalypse.

Each of them was rescued from a parallel universe where humanity was wiped out. They’ve survived nuclear war, machine uprisings, mass suicide, the reanimated dead, and more. They’ve been given sanctuary on the homeworld of the Interversal Union and placed with Dr. Asha Singh, a therapist who works with survivors of doomed worlds.

To help them, she’ll have to figure out what they’ve been through, what they’ve suffered, and the secrets they’re hiding. She can’t cure them of being the last man or woman on Earth. But she can help them learn to live with the horrors they survived.

The basic premise is that instead of developing faster than light travel and exploring the galaxy humans develop the means to explore multiple dimensions. In each is a variation of Earth and the Human race. From time to time however an Earth is discovered that is in danger of destruction. To this end counselors are kept on hand by a sort of Interdimensional UN to counsel survivors. The characters in this story are in the unique position of being the sole survivors of their "earth".

I have to admit up front that I love this book. I'm on my third read through as we speak. Each character comes from a unique world. Minor spoilers, I've listed each character below and their own apocalypse.

Olivia- survivor of a zombie apocalypse.

Katie- survivor of a human/machine war.

Pew- last of a race that was hunted to extinction.

Iokan- survivor of mass suicide.

Kwame- survivor of a nuclear war and possible instigator.

Liss- survivor of a world filled with superheroes. A world where everyone submultaneously turned to ash.

Fair warning, this book is almost entirely character driven. If you are looking for over the top action and explosions then this isn't the place. I do know several that meet that description however. Don't mistake slower for boring however. I was hooked from the first page.

If you like your science fiction to make you think then this is the book for you. It is available everywhere ebooks are sold or just click the link at the bottom. PTSD will never seem the same to you again.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Beer Review: Abita Satsuma

For my birthday my wife surprised me with two juicy sirloins. Since the weather was absolutely perfect we moved out onto the patio and fired up the grill. Now, my wife will tell you that I like to sip on a beer while I grill. Rummaging in the fridge I found this little baby left over from our sample pack. 

 Here is Abita's description. 

Abita Satsuma Harvest Wit is brewed with pilsner, wheat malts and oats. It is made with real Louisiana satsumas and spiced with coriander and orange peel. This unfiltered brew has a slightly cloudy appearance with a subtle citrus flavor and aroma.

Abita Satsuma Harvest Wit is very versatile and can complement a number of dishes. This brew pairs well with salads, fish, shrimp and lobster, as long as the dishes are not too spicy. Thai dishes, which often have citric notes in their flavor profile, also complement the orange flavors in Abita Satsuma Harvest Wit.

Suggested temperature: 44°
Suggested glassware: pintflutesnifter or tulip

Of course I didn't worry about ideal temps or glassware. It was straight from the fridge and I simply popped the top. First thoughts? Different. A little hoppy.

It grew on me quickly though. By the time I finished the bottle, right around the time the steaks reached medium rare, I had really grown to like it. I couldn't see myself making this my go to brew but it was a nice change of pace. 

Would I recommend it? Absolutely. I think fans of Blue Moon would really appreciate it. Forewarning though the taste of citrus is strong. Next time it's in season I say give it a try. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Small Band Tip 4: Starting High School Players

I'm going to write about something a little different today. Instead of writing about performance aspects of a small band I'd like to write about beginning band. Specifically beginning students at the high school level. 

At my school I have an unusual situation. I teach junior high and high school band, which in and of itself is not that unusual. However, what makes my situation different is the fact that the high school is on a 4x4 block schedule while the junior high is on an eight period schedule. To further muddy up the waters there isn't a seperate band class for junior high. Instead they pull them out of PE. 

So, what is the result of this jumble? Well, the result winds up being 7th and 8th grade crammed into one class. Did I mention that there is a new sixth grade only school that I don't get kids from?

Now, I'm not complaining, just painting a picture. It's tricky building a program with a shaky feeder. So, how do we work around this? We start most of our kids in high school. 

This is where the block schedule comes in handy. I was able to convince my guidance counselor to make me a first block beginning band class. Usually the class runs between 5-10 students. That doesn't seem overly large but we'll see that you can build a program very quickly this way. 

On a 4x4 block a student takes the same four classes for an hour and a half each day for a semester. We are on a 9 week schedule. How do I use that to my advantage? A student enters beginning band one semester and the next semester we move them to the performing band class. 

I prefer to use Ed Sueta's Premier Performance for my method book. It's fairly no frills and straight ahead which is what I need with such a time crunch. The first nine weeks I aim to finish book 1, the blue book, which we are easily on track to do this year. 

Now, I don't follow the book straight through, but really who does? As a general rule I cycle through the book three times. I go through it the first time focusing on technique exercises and unison pieces. I skip all duets and full band pieces for the time being. That typically takes 6 or 7 weeks with high schoolers. Next we cycle back through and play all of the duets that we skipped. That takes about a week at the most. Then we usually take a week to play full band stuff to get their feet wet so to speak. 

I said that I focus on technique. I mean religiously. Every day I strive to finish at least one page a day. That's an easy pace to maintain and focus on technique. For our warm up every day, for the first several weeks at least, we play through any and all previously learned technique lines. That gets monotonous fast but it really reinforces solid playing. When we reach our first scale we switch to using a Rhythm of the Day and scales as our warm up. 

After we have worked through the blue book we move on to book 2 or the green book. Book 2 is seventh grade material but it's hard not to be intimidated by it at first. It is night and day to the blue book and it typically does not go as quickly. Particularly since I start introducing sheet music as we go. My goal is to have this class perform at least 3 tunes with the advanced band on whatever end of semester concert is coming up be it Christmas or Spring. To this end we often wind up "cherry picking" our way through the book introducing new concepts and such. 

Every teacher has their method of teaching a class. Mine has evolved to suit my situation. With limited numbers I often lead the class by playing my guitar. Why guitar? It allows me to vocalize instructions such as counting while I demonstrate music. I use a very simple: "I do, You do, We do" structure.

We start every exercise by identifying the Time Signature, Key Signature, Tempo and Dynamic Level. Next I demonstrate the music. After that I give my students a minute or two to practice it on their own. I resisted this for a long time. Even when students are actually working it sounds like complete chaos. But I've given in to practicalities. After a minute or two has passed we play it together. Often times I give them another moment to fix any mistakes made before we try it again. 

Eighteen weeks. That's how long I have to get kids ready to be part of a performing group. At the end of that they're rip roaring ready to go right? Don't bet on it, but they are ready to be part of something bigger and they usually get the hang of it quickly when given the opportunity. Using this system I almost doubled the size of my program in a years time. I anticipate at the current rate of growth having a 45-50 piece ensemble by the end of next year. That does not take into account any junior high students who do actually make it through the program. 

I have actually considered adding an intermediate band at the high school level and attempting to work through book 3, the dreaded red book. Of course this would mean giving up on Jr. High altogether and I'd hate to do that at this point. So, how do others deal with situations like this? What methods do you use?