Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Rubrics


Well, gentle reader, the school year is winding down for teachers and students alike and that got me thinking about education in general so I decided to share with you some of my thoughts on the subject by way of a paper I wrote for one of my education courses. I realize this is not my usual, entertaining subject matter, but there are just some days when you can't think of a good poop joke. It's on a topic that really bugs me being that it's an educational standard that I feel is doing a disservice to students. So if you care to, read on, and as always, my lips to yours.


One of the most useful tools in assessment in any discipline, a new teacher is often told, is a well-structured rubric. Rubrics make the job and the life of the teacher easier by saving time in grading, offering clearly defined objectives for students, and removing subjectivity from the assessment process. As author Maja Wilson (2006) notes, rubrics are widely hailed as a “best practice” in education (p. xxi). But are they the best practice for teaching students to be creative? Are they the best practice for engaging multiple intelligences and encouraging students to undergo meaningful, thoughtful, exploration of a given topic? The answer, particularly in writing, is no.

The main problem with the idea of rubrics is that their value is placed in standardizing student writing or more accurately, in the act of standardizing itself. Alfie Kohn (2006) notes that standardizing is admirable in the realm of manufactured goods such as electronics, but does little or nothing to assess a student's comprehension of ideas. Rubrics, he argues, standardize not only student output in writing but also teacher assessment of writing assignments. By removing the inherent human subjectivity in assessing writing, teachers are turned into “grading machines,” not taking into account the overall quality of a writing assignment, but rather only the sum of its parts.

Students, therefore, tend not to produce their most innovative material in writing assignments, ensuring, rather, that the checklists of the rubric, which often place as much or more emphasis on objective portions (spelling, grammar, formatting, etc.) than they do the quality of ideas presented, are met. Kohn cites a work by Linda Mabry whose research concluded that as a result, students who adhered to rubrics achieved higher scores, yet produced “more vacuous writing” (as cited in Kohn, 2006). The obvious inference here is that educators are now placing more emphasis on giving students as large of a probability of achieving a good grade as possible, without regard to the actual quality of the written work.

So if student writing has less quality when following the guidelines of a rubric, why then do educators hold them so dearly as useful educational tools? Wilson suggests that rubrics are alluring because they simplify and objectify that which is complex and subjective. Any English teacher has been though the messy debate of how to assign a grade to something that another teacher could read and grade quite differently, which therefore makes a subjective assignment much more difficult. Rubrics help to solve this issue. In addition, they neaten, for students, the messy task of writing and give organized guidelines to help them through it (2006). Kohn believes them to be a handy tool in justifying grades to parents (2006).

But perhaps the most enticing aspect of the rubric is that it helps to ensure conformity in the classroom; rubrics help teachers teach the same thing the same way to every student. This is the model of American education, one that Sir Kenneth Robinson describes as a “fast food” model (2010). This model of education standardizes the type and quality of education that each student will receive and how they will be assessed. However, Robinson argues that this is an outdated and overall useless model. It is based, he argues, on conformity and linearity and fails to cultivate creativity, passion and innovation in students (2010).

Robinson's solution to the current educational model, is to move away from a model based on (as Kohn also noted) industry and manufacturing, and move to an agricultural model (2010). Teachers of writing should therefore not be handing out an instruction manual for how to write a good, creative paper. To paraphrase Robinson, writing, after all, “is not a mechanical process, it is an organic process” and teachers need to instead of being the manufacturers of quality writing, creativity and innovation, be the “farmers” who cultivate it and provide the conditions around which these things can flourish (2010).

The first time I had ever heard (or remember hearing) the word, rubric, was my first year of teaching English. I had given a descriptive writing assignment which we had been discussing and practicing in class for a week. After giving the assignment, a student asked me when they'd be getting the rubric. It was a nearly automatic response from the student, suggesting that he had gotten used to using rubrics for all or nearly all of his academic career. I, obviously, was not. I had to look up “rubric” in the dictionary.

I was therefore somewhat opposed to the idea of rubrics in the beginning of my teaching career. However, the administration, in order to better be able to explain grades given on papers to parents (a struggle I endured numerous times my first year) “strongly encouraged” my compliance in using them. To my delight, I found that rubrics made my life easier. I stopped having the parent objections to my grades as much. Students generally had better scores on their papers. Grading was much faster and more efficient. However, I rarely received truly excellent writing from my students, the kind that blew me away my first year when I was astonished at how talented some of the students really were.

I realized that this is because I took away the exploratory part of writing from them. I recall one student who had been struggling with an assignment. I worked with her for a few days on it, finally writing down an outline for her and asking her to follow it. She tried, but she couldn't make the paper fit. She went home, threw out my suggestions and wrote the paper on her own, and it turned out to be much better than the suggestions I had given her. I honestly believe it's because she had to fight through it, and figure out the mystery of writing on her own.

And this to me is why we use rubrics. They're easy. They make the student's life easy. They don't have to struggle anymore. Teachers don't have to struggle anymore. And with students receiving good grades, parents obviously believe that their children are good writers. And everyone is happy. Except me. And I know how in the minority I am when it comes to my stance on rubrics.

It's hard to argue with better grades. Better grades mean more finely honed skills, and a larger talent pool. They mean more successful schools, and a higher likelihood of students going to college and being successful there and/or in their professional lives. But I disagree. We are giving grades now to that which is quantifiable, and looking less at that which is subjective. Better grades to me now mean “more able to meet checklists” than “innovative” or “creative, thought-provoking writer.”

With respect to my professor, I would like to look at the rubric for the assignment in which I am currently engaged. Out of a possible 120 points, only 30 points are dedicated to the actual content of the paper, i.e. the depth of thought presented. The rest is dedicated to the mundane: 30 points for having included a summary of the research, 10 points respectively for mechanics and format, and the rest for including such things as title pages, reference pages, and having enough sources. Based on the rubric I received, I could say nothing of value on the topic and still pass the assignment with a 75%. Though this is not the intention of my professor, nor do I believe this assignment to be an exercise in meeting checklist requirements, I did want have a real-life example to illustrate a point.

I believe that rubrics can be useful. I believe they are most useful for the student who is not a gifted writer and needs the guidelines to produce coherent, meaningful writing, but would otherwise be lost, but we cannot treat all students as if they are so. Rubrics do help prevent failure. What they insure in its place is mediocrity. By denying students the possibility of failing, we also deny them the possibility of excelling. Rubrics help to insure a lack of mistakes. They also insure that students do not learn from their mistakes. Instead, they head learning opportunities off at the pass, provide specific instructions on how to not screw up, and bestow benevolent grades on students who have not earned them, but could have if given the opportunity to fail and try, try again.



References
Kohn, A. (March, 2006). The Trouble with Rubrics. English Journal, vol. 95, no. 4. Retrieved from http://www.alfiekohn.org/teaching/rubrics.htm.
Mabry, L. (May, 1999). Writing to the Rubric: Lingering Effects of Traditional Standardized Testing on Direct Writing Assessment. Phi Delta Kappan, vol. 80.
Robinson, K. (February, 2010). Sir Ken Robinson: Bring on the Learning Revolution! [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/sir_ken_robinson_bring_on_the_revolution.html. (2010, October 9).
Wilson, M. (2006). Rethinking Rubrics in Writing Assessment. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Time's A-Wastin'!

So the world is supposed to end tomorrow. That's kind of a bummer because there's lots of stuff I have yet to do, and I doubt I can fit it all in (that's what she said!) by then. A lot of it is the usual: go to Paris, skydive, play in a band with a monkey keyboardist... that kind of thing.

But lots of stuff on my list comes from the stuff you see on TV and in movies that happen maybe, if you're lucky, once in a lifetime.

So here it is, folks. Here's my bucket list. And if you can accommodate me on any of these things before tomorrow's Rapture, I'd surely appreciate it.


1) This one's an obvious one. I've never gotten to hang from the landing bar of a helicopter as it pulls me away from danger. I know, why would I want to get into danger in the first place? The answer is simple: to get rescued (barely) by a helicopter. I'm also not sure if this is even possible, that I'd be able to hang onto that bar (one-handed, of course, because obviously I'd have been shot in the other arm) as it speeds away. It seems plenty difficult, but damn if I wouldn't give it a try. I suppose my buddy would have to be there too to say something helpful like, "GIVE ME YOUR HAND!" and pull me up too, or else I'd probably die. And it would be cool if there was beer on the helicopter, so we could have a bearded, bloody brew and celebrate our clandestine hijinks.  (Did I mention I'd also have to be a CIA operative?)



2) I have yet to give a gorgeous blonde a passionate kiss on a rainy railway station platform and tell her I'm no good for her, Bogart-style. I'd tell her that she's better off with him and that one day she'd thank me. Then I'd plant one last zinger right on her lips, then stoically walk away, preferably to a dangerous jungle somewhere in Southeast Asia where I could be rescued by a helicopter (see above).



3) Speaking of stoically walking away, I have yet to blow something up and walk away from the explosion without looking at it. I'm not sure I could do this, either, because as I've never blown anything up, I doubt I could resist the urge to witness a massive explosion. So here's what I'm going to have to do by tomorrow: start blowing stuff up. I'm going to have to get so used to blowing stuff up, that I'll be able to blow up a truck using the ol' dropping a cigarette into the trail of leaking gasoline trick, and just know -- really know, like you know in your soul that your parents love you kind of know -- that there's gonna be an explosion, it's gonna be big, and I've seen it so much I don't even have to look anymore (also what she said). I'd walk away from it like it was nothing, like I was just headed in this direction to grab a diet Coke or something and KaBloom! The truck would be no more and I'd be looking all innocent, sipping a bubbly, icy cold beverage. But I'd know. I'd know.



4) It's hard to believe that after 32 years, I've never punched someone really hard in the face even though sooooo many people have deserved it! I think it's because my brother and I had a pact growing up that all any punches we threw at each other were to be from the shoulder down so Mom couldn't see the bruise. While I learned that a punch to the shin can be effective when someone is cowering beneath you, I've never had the full-on, bare-knuckled pleasure of decking some stupid jerk who was asking for it. So please, if you can, start being rude and obnoxious and say horrible things about my mother (you could also just be Ben Roethlisberger). Then let me punch you in the face. Thanks!


5) I have never had a super cool, Top Gun-esque high five to share with someone every time one of us does something awesome. I think I'd like to start that, even though I've apparently got less than 12 hours to develop the signature high five and start doing things which are awesome. I'd like it to be simple, but a bit more involved than the ridiculously cute snow bunnies pictured above, and not quite as complicated as something Miguel Tejada would come up with. The windmill high five would work, but it's played out. So let's get cracking, here people, time's a wastin'!

If I had to choose the order in which I'd like to do these things, I'd probably kiss the blonde, punch her boyfriend in the face, blow something up that incites a riot, get rescued by the helicopter, then give my chopper buddy our signature high five. Let me know if you can set that up.

My lips to yours.


Friday, May 13, 2011

Proof That Inhaling Too Much Onion Soup Mix Causes Delirium

This post is dedicated to the proud owner of the second best set of boobs on the Food Network.


Name: Sandra Lee. Startlingly similar to Sarah Lee, who has a bevy of fully pre-made foods that Sandra Lee might encourage you to buy. On her cooking show. More on that later.


Age: Unknown


Age of her boobs: Perpetually 23


Signature Dish: Chicken and dumplings, which features a "whole, store-bought roast chicken." This woman's cooking show actually tells you to go buy stuff that's already been cooked. Ingenious, really.


Favorite Ingredient: Onion Soup Mix


Eyebrows She Emulates: Newborn babies.


Signature Tablescape: A repulsive, functionless, Christmas-themed nightmare that becomes increasingly more dangerous with every sugary, vodka-y, Aunt Sandy Cocktail she ingests.


Signature Cocktail: Strawberry Cream Martini (as always, heavy on the vodka, and heavy on the sugar-laden bullshit).

My lips to her boobs.


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Douchebaggery Unlimited

This post is dedicated to the Food Network host I love to hate the most.

Name: Guy Fieri (that's pronounced "fee Eddy," and it rhymes with spaghetti)
Age: Too old to look like this, a look he calls "kulinary gangsta." With a "k."

Signature Recipe: Something he brought home in a doggy bag from TGI Friday's.

Hairstyle He Emulates: Anne Burrell because, yeah. She looks terrific.

Kitchen Utensil Line: "Knuckle Sandwich Knives" (Note the douche-y tattoo art on the blades)

Signature Cocktail: The Cabo Wabo Cocktail which features tequila, mangoes, and chili powder. Try chasing it with some muskrat piss.

My lips to yours, but not if you've been drinking one of Guy's cocktails.


Sunday, May 8, 2011

Plentyoffish: Why Me?

It's Sunday night, so the good people at Plentyoffish.com have decided to casually introduce me to some fine ladies in the Baltimore metropolitan area. Obviously, they think it wise to start my week off with a healthy dose of hopeless despair. Fortunately for you, gentle readers, instead of simply deleting the emails sent to me by this perplexing, sad, and most depressing website, thus side-stepping the painful process of wriggling out of the nets cast by scores of overweight, borderline retarded, single Maryland women, I dive head first into their murky waters, and confront their supreme awkwardness head-on.

And of course, by "head-on," I mean, "making fun of them behind their backs." But just to protect any feelings that might possibly get hurt (I know, I'm turning into a royal bleeding heart, aren't I?) I'm editing the names of the (ahem) innocent.

Shall we begin?

I only tell the truth when I get excited.


luv------81 fits the hefty yet chinless mold of plentyoffish users I've come to know and accept as "the usual." She further fails to make herself stand out as she chose to leave her "interests" section blank. She does tell me a little bit about herself, though, and for this I am truly grateful.

Thank you, luv------81, for telling me you "like to go to the movies, play pool shopping and going to the gym." I now know 1) nothing about your taste in movies, 2) you like to "play pool shopping," which I imagine consists of you going to pool stores where you pretend to buy pools, and 3) you enjoy fibbing about your exercise habits.

Concerning her outlook on life, she notes that she is "a very down to Earth person" and I might remember the rest of sentence, but bullshit cliches often make me drool on my keyboard, so cleaning the spittle between my space bar and the v key distracted me.

Let's see, what else does she have to say for herself? Ah yes, here it is. "Sometimes I like to tell it like it is, but for the most part I'm a very laid back person." So you're only honest sometimes, but the rest of the time whilst you're lying through your teeth, you can be a pretty calm chick, huh? Sorry, luv------81, even though the picture of you drinking from a red plastic cup in a car outside the 7-11 was pretty hot, as I can't tell if you were either hyper and truthful or calm and duplicitous when you wrote your profile, I can't trust you and will have to go fish elsewhere.

Opened to everything. Don't ask what I mean by "opened."


L----246 actually breaks the mold of "the usual" and is somewhat physically attractive, but she has some trouble nailing down exactly what her interests are. Her entire "About Me" section reads as follows: "I am opened to everything... want to try new things.hangout with my family..my friend,shopping,love to go fishing.. Notice me if you interested !!!" 


You like everything? Sweet! I'm totally into self-induced comas, stealing from the elderly and flogging the homeless without mercy. I'm guessing you are, too! How about this for a first date? We could have boiling water balloon fights with pre-teens, paint vulgar images on stop signs while on meth, then go hang out with your family or your one friend! 


Believe me, I notice you and I interested!!!


It doesn't matter what I am, just love me.




nedd----004 is a 29 year old woman who is obviously lying about her age and quite possibly her gender. She again stretches the truth when describing her body type as having "a few extra pounds," but she does come clean later on in her profile as her "about me" section begins, "5'5" brown hair, brown eyes, 199 lbs." 


nedd----004 looks as if she's been through a few wars, wars which may have involved states seceding from the Union, unreasonable taxes on tea, or quite possibly an objection to Hammurabi's Code. She does keep her hairstyle up to date, though, with a rather fearsome mullet and she has seemingly decided to replace her eyebrows with live ferrets. 


For the sake of not being repetitive, I'll eschew pointing out her paragraphs without periods, but instead take a look at the content of her self descriptions. She claims to be "tired of being hurt in relationships," but I imagine that trying to find her sexual identity during the Bubonic Plague was a bit rough on nedd----004. But she also offers this rather perplexing tidbit: "I would love to find someone who would care for me for who I am, not what I am." Does this not beg the question, "Lady, what the fuck ARE you?" I might  have a tough time getting past the whole "what is she" dilemma and moving on to "loving her for who she is." Color me a bigot, but I'd first like to make sure she's human.


Oh, Plentyoffish... 


My lips to yours.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Mega Shark vs Crocosaurus: a Really Long Movie Review (20,000 Stars) Pt. 1


If you ever have a day when you don't have a reason to put on pants, I suggest you spend part of that day watching what is possibly the greatest movie ever: Mega Shark vs Crocosaurus.

I found Mega Shark vs Crocosaurus on Netflix today, and thinking that it was going to be a National Geographic episode about pre-historic creatures I decided to watch it on my laptop whilst I lay in bed, sans pants. The opening credits began and the first name to appear was none other than Jaleel White, the child star of ABC's Family Matters. My original thought was, "why the fuck is Steve Urkel narrating a National Geographic episode about pre-historic creatures?" But as the movie began, I realized I was in for a feature film, and one hell of a ride!

The movie begins "somewhere in Africa." It really doesn't matter where in Africa, nor does it really matter if it's in Africa at all because the movie pays no attention to where the characters are nor how long it takes for them to change locations, assuming correctly that the audience isn't paying attention either. So there are these Africans in a cave/mine and one of them finds a sharktooth-shaped rock and assumes its a diamond. It is not only not a diamond, it is completely irrelevant to the story, for within about a minute of the evil white boss telling him to get back to work...

CROCOSAURUS COMES OUT OF THE CAVE AND EATS THE EVIL WHITE BOSS!!! The evil white boss forgot to run, and/or turn around when all his workers fled the cave after the dinosaur-like growling emanating from the cave caused the cave to begin to collapse. After he casually walks to the front of the cave, Crocosaurus eats him and steps on a few miners, squishing them into smithereens.



It is important to note that the cave was just barely large enough for the miners to stand up in. I note this because the makers of this movie (and their special effects artists) are seemingly unconcerned with the size of their antagonist creatures. Later on in the movie, we see Crocosaurus crushing buildings in Miami and Orlando, a distance Crocosaurus covers in a few seconds. But I digress...

The scene changes and we meet our handsome hero, Dr. Terry McCormick, a young Lieutenant in the US Navy. He is an acoustic engineer on a battleship, specializing in how sound affects sharks. After some witless banter with his semi-attractive superior, we learn they are lovers (yes, gasp on, dear readers, gasp on) but as with the shark tooth stone, it turns out it doesn't really matter who she is because as soon as she goes back up onto the deck of the ship...

MEGA SHARK JUMPS OVER THE SHIP AND KILLS HER!!! After a quick but yawn-inducing scene in which Dr. McCormick pretends to cry over her dead body, he leaves her to rot and puts on a wetsuit which he uses to get in the water when Mega Shark sinks the boat. We assume he was rescued somehow and not eaten by Mega Shark, and we also assume that life is not  a cruel joke played on us by an evil creator who has forced us to watch this movie for his sick pleasure and enjoyment. And so we watch on.



We again notice some size and perspective issues, this time with Mega Shark. When Mega Shark leaps over the boat and slaps it with his tail he appears to be about 2/3 as big as the battleship itself. But when the seamen (tee hee!) start shooting (tee hee!) at Mega Shark, it is obvious that his dorsal fin alone is larger than the battleship. Anyway, everyone dies except Steve Urkel who we see swimming underwater with some scuba gear as the ship sinks.

Aaaaaand.... we're back in the Jungle! Though this time, we meet a handsome adventurer who kills a boar and goes to a jungle bar, where he is met by a beautiful blond reporter with a thick Australian accent. They talk about some mythical creature and she offers him money to capture the creature we assume to be Crocosaurus. Then they get in a helicopter and they find the area they're looking for because the reporter says, "there's nothing there." In the audience, heads are scratched, balls are adjusted, and some figure this is a good time to get a Diet Coke, pants or no pants.

Anyway, Blondie is traipsing around the jungle in high heels and a black cocktail dress and she stumbles into a pond where she is...

IMMEDIATELY EATEN BY CROCOSAURUS!!! Crocosaurus then chases Adventurepants into the cave where we met Crocosaurus at the beginning of the movie, only now Crocosaurus is far too large to fit into the cave from whence she came. Adventurboots then runs out of the cave with an unidentified object in his hand, and is eaten by Crocosaurus who shakes her head and dies, leaving Adventureface alive!

After a few more scenes of gut-wrenching irrelevance, Crocosaurus is on a boat the size of an aircraft carrier, and takes up the whole deck. Apparently she's been sedated. Oh yeah, I've been calling her "she" because you find out later that she's a she and she lays eggs you don't give a shit about either. And then...

MEGA SHARK ATTACKS THE BOAT!!! It's also about this time we learn that Crocosaurus isn't dead, but sedated because obviously Adventuredick had enough sedatives to keep a crocodile that large asleep for as long as is necessary in the movie. So we see Crocosaurus has been tied down this whole time.The captain of the boat frees her by snipping the twine from the paper thin tarp that has "secured" Crocosaurus to the deck. He then, in the midst of a dual, pre-historic monster attack at sea, jumps overboard with Adventurebottom. The scene then immediately cuts to the two of them being awakened by some kids on a beach. Adventurehips pulls a gun on the kid who thinks nothing of it, because he's from a rough neighborhood and stuff and guns... well let's just say he's had his share of guns pulled on him by strangers on the beach. The yawns just keep coming.

I've forgotten what Urkel does next, but it obviously doesn't matter.

Adventurefoot goes to yet another jungle bar but doesn't have the money to pay. But lo and behold, Special Agent Bigtits comes into the bar with her wallet and her stern face a-blazin'. She takes him somewhere. It might be on a boat. It might be at a naval base. You don't know where they are for sure, but it looks like wherever they are, they're in the Shitgoesdownhere Room. There are no windows and they come and go from this place so frequently and without reason, that if you had any shred of sanity left at this point in the movie, you'd be dizzy. But you don't, and you allow the movie to continue, taking with it your remaining dignity.

[To Be Continued...]

My lips to yours.




Sunday, May 1, 2011

Salaries


I was looking at the Orioles salaries for their players this year and I got to thinking about who has been earning their money so far this year. They've been at it for a month and they've played 26 games. So who really earned their paychecks this month? Here's how the 10 highest paid Orioles have fared so far. Please note that the amount paid "per game" includes games in which the player does not make an appearance.

Nick Markakis
Salary - $10.6 million
Earned through 26 games - $1.7 million ($65,432 per game)
Stats - 26 games played, .206 average, 2 HR, 12 RBI, .586 OPS

Brian Roberts
Salary - $10 million
Earned through 26 games - $1.6 million ($61,728 per game)
Stats - 26 games played, .262 average, 3 HR, 19 RBI, .731 OPS

Vladimir Guerrero
Salary - $7.6 million
Earned through 26 games - $1.2 million ($46,913 per game)
Stats - 26 games played, .269 average, 4HR, 13 RBI, .667 OPS

Derrek Lee
Salary - $7.25 million
Earned through 26 games - $1.1 million ($44,753 per game)
Stats - 26 games played, .228 average, 1 HR, 4 RBI, .591 OPS

Luke Scott
Salary - $6.4 million
Earned through 26 games - $1 million and change ($39,506 per game)
Stats - 20 games played, .262 average, 5 HR, 10 RBI, .863 OPS

Mike Gonzalez
Salary - $6 million
Earned through 26 games - $962,962 ($37,037 per game)
Stats - 8 games played, 7.1 innings pitched, 9.82 ERA, 4 BB, 8 SO, 1.77 WHIP, 2 holds

Jeremy Guthrie
Salary - $5.75 million
Earned through 26 games - $922,839 ($35,493 per game)
Stats - 5 games played,  32 innings pitched, 2.53 ERA, 4 BB, 19 SO, 1.09 WHIP, 4 quality starts

Mark Reynolds
Salary - $5.33 million
Earned through 26 games - $855,967 ($32,921 per game)
Stats - 26 games played, .172 average, 3 HR, 15 RBI, .597 OPS

Kevin Gregg
Salary - $4.2 million
Earned through 26 games - $674,074 ($25,925 per game)
Stats - 10 games played, 10 innings pitched, 2.70 ERA, 6 BB, 10 SO, 1.50 WHIP, 5 saves

Adam Jones
Salary - $3.25 million
Earned through 26 games - $521,604 ($20,061 per game)
Stats - 25 games played, .207 average, 5 HR, 14 RBI, .591 OPS



Published!



My first article published somewhere other than here by someone other than me can be read here. Click the link, read the thing and leave comments that say stuff about that thing.
(Spoiler Alert! It's not my best stuff, and no, I didn't get paid for it.)