Posts Tagged ‘English’

How to Win (Or Maybe Not) on Wheel of Fortune

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

Wheel! Of! Fortune!One nice thing about being a programmer is that you can automate certain calculations that you’d have to be crazy to attempt any other way. While some would see a non-programmer attempting to figure out some of this stuff as borderline insane, we coders just come across as eccentric with a lot of time on our hands. If people ask a question fairly frequently, and said question involves lots of number-crunching, you can bet some coder somewhere has taken a crack at trying to crunch those numbers.

Case in point: Wheel of Fortune. Now, I’ve never really been a huge fan of the show, but I see it a lot anyway. It’s on after Jeopardy!, which I really do enjoy and try to watch fairly frequently, so I’ve seen my fair share of episodes of Wheel. One thing that always got me was the final puzzle. For those of you who don’t know, this is how it works: the winning contestant from all the previous rounds must solve a shorter, harder puzzle by himself in a small span of time. He is given a (usually unhelpful) hint in the form a category, and some of the most common letters in the English language (R, S, T, L, N, and E) are already shown. Then the contestant must choose three more consonants and one more vowel. If any of these letters occur in the puzzle Vanna White shows them, and the players has ten seconds to guess what the word or phrase is.

There are other factors at play here, but they don’t relate to what I’m interested in most, namely: What are the best letters to pick? Can we do an analysis of the letter frequency of a whole bunch of these puzzles? Can we determine whether or not the producers of the show pay attention to these frequencies? Thanks to the Internet and some spare time in the hands of a programmer, the answer is a (qualified) yes, we can. Please note that while I do enjoy math, I am most certainly not a mathematician, so this is just an armchair analysis, and not a scholar’s take.

First, I needed a set of data. As interested as I was in determining the letter frequencies, I wasn’t about to spend six months collecting data by actually watching the end of each show. I have the Internet to do that sort of stuff for me! In this case, I found this forum, whose residents had already done the hard work. I was able to grab the final puzzles from a couple of threads on this site, and store them in some text files, one puzzle to a line. Then, I wrote a short Python script to parse through the results and generate links to a Google Charts representation of the data. If you’re going to screw around on the Internet, why waste time inputting data into Excel?

The Code

Below is the code. Please note that while I have commented it, it’s task-oriented code. I did not sit down and think things through for hours on end; I was more interested in the results produced by the code than the process of making it. To that end it may be a bit rough around the edges. If you’re a Python programmer you might even think it un-Pythonic.

Show/Hide Source Code

from operator import itemgetter # for sorting
import sys # for command-line arguments
# makes sorting dictionaries prettier
def sortDictionary (s):
    return sorted(s.items(), key = itemgetter(1), reverse = True)
hexColors = ["F05DCF", "F4B213", "7BB5FE", "19B915",
       "C913E4", "E38080", "4891EB", "DCF725", "E02EB0",
       "EE7D18", "16D949", "73E0C9", "22F1DB", "1460A1",
       "CF8040", "FFFFFF", "CF8054", "204E00", "2B1160",
       "87513C", "DECEE9", "C913E4", "83B892", "597D4C",
       "DACA5D", "2F486B", "D79E17", "826889", "359DA1",
       "DE7A43", "568C51", "FBF786"]
if __name__ == "__main__":
    # set up command line arguments
    # thumb:   creates a smaller file, with shorter (or no, depending on letter count) labels
    # verbose: prints out each list of letters and frequencies, too
    if (len(sys.argv) < 2 or len(sys.argv) > 4):
        print "Usage: [filename] [t|f] [v]"
    thumb = False
    verbose = False
    fileName = sys.argv[1]
    if len(sys.argv) > 2 and sys.argv[2].lower() == "t":
        thumb = True
    if len(sys.argv) > 3 and sys.argv[3].lower() == "v":
        verbose = True
    # set up lists of letters
    letters = ["a", "b", "c", "d", "e", "f", "g", "h",
               "i", "j", "k", "l", "m", "n", "o", "p",
               "q", "r", "s", "t", "u", "v", "w", "x",
               "y", "z"]
    consonants = ["b", "c", "d", "f", "g", "h",
                "j", "k", "l", "m", "n", "p",
               "q", "r", "s", "t", "v", "w", "x",
               "y", "z"]
    vowels = ["a", "e", "i", "o", "u"]
    # letters to exclude (already given to you on game show)
    already = ["r", "s", "t", "l", "n", "e"]
    # set up frequency dictionaries {leter : number of occurences}
    allFrequencies = dict((letter, 0) for letter in letters)
    vowelFrequencies = dict((letter, 0) for letter in vowels)
    consonantFrequencies = dict((letter, 0) for letter in consonants);
    # Read the data file. Should consist of one final puzzle
    # solution per line, optionally lines can start with "#" for a comment
    file = open(fileName)
    while True:
        line = file.readline()
        if not line: break #end of loop
        if line[0] == "#": continue # skip comments
        for letter in line:
            lower = letter.lower()
            if lower in allFrequencies:
                allFrequencies[lower] = allFrequencies[lower] + 1
            if lower in already: # exclude RSTLNE from vowels and consonants
            if lower in vowelFrequencies:
                vowelFrequencies[lower] = vowelFrequencies[lower] + 1
            if lower in consonantFrequencies:
                consonantFrequencies[lower] = consonantFrequencies[lower] + 1
    #sort dictionaries
    allFrequencies = sortDictionary(allFrequencies);
    vowelFrequencies = sortDictionary(vowelFrequencies);
    consonantFrequencies = sortDictionary(consonantFrequencies);
    if verbose:
        #display the lists
        print "ALL:\n", allFrequencies
        print "\nVOWELS:\n", vowelFrequencies
        print "\nCONSONANTS:\n", consonantFrequencies
    charts = {"All+Letters" : allFrequencies, "Vowels" : vowelFrequencies,
             "Consonants" : consonantFrequencies}
    for chart in charts:
        # make the image URLs, using Google Charts
        if thumb:
            url = ""
            url = ""
        # build lists for data series and its labels
        labels = []
        data = []
        for entry in charts[chart]:
            if int(entry[1]) > 0: # exclude any letters not used
                # make sure a thumbnail doesn't have too many labels to clutter it
                if thumb and len(charts[chart]) <= 6:
                    labels.append(entry[0].upper() + "+(" + str(entry[1]) + ")")
        # set them to the query string parts for data and labels
        dataRange = "&chd=t:" + ",".join(data);
        if (thumb and len(charts[chart]) >= 6):
            labelRange = ""
            labelRange = "&chl=" + "|".join(labels);
        # build the array of chart colors
        chartColors = "&chco=" + ",".join(hexColors[0:len(charts[chart])-2])
        # build final URL
        url = url + dataRange + labelRange + "&" + chartColors + "&chtt=" + chart;
        print "\n", chart, "\n", url

The Results

Might as well show off the pretty, pretty pictures, huh? Click any graph below to enlarge it.

At first look, the data is not too promising. I can give you two letters that will increase your chances of getting a ‘hit’, and one of them might come in handy. In our six months’ worth of data, O is the favorite… but not by much. Looking at both periods, it seems pretty clear that somebody at Merv Griffin Productions is responsible for distributing the vowels O, I, and A across the spectrum so none of them shows up too frequently. Notice how I and O are tied on the most recent set of data, but A is the second-most frequent vowel on the older figures. Combining all the numbers, we see that these three vowels are essentially tied in frequency, with U in a slightly lower class. But at least it’s something to work with, right? From the last six months of Wheel, it looks like ‘O’ is the best vowel to go with.

Now what about consonants? I was most excited when I pulled up the 2009 consonants graph (the first one I did), because you can clearly see that the top two letters are definitely a bit more common than the rest, and even the top three look pretty solid. H, G, and D… could those be the winning ones? My excitement faded, however, as I ran the earlier set of data through the script. Looking at the combined chart, H still has a statistically significant lead. But you’ll have no luck trying to discover the three letters to choose. But we can limit our options a little. F, G, and B are all clearly separated from the next letter (D) in the combined graph, with a decent-sized gap between them. It’s harder to say for certain, but it looks like the producers may be balancing these top four letters throughout their puzzles.

So, what to go with? You should definitely choose O for your vowel. H is the consonants which statistically is most likely to occur. Then any of F, G, and B would probably do you some good.

And how about those shifty producers? Are they gaming the final answers, so they don’t have to give out as much prize money? Are they maybe picking and choosing their phrases to deflect somebody who did a little research before heading down to the studio to play? Well, let’s try to find a pattern in the frequency of letters in the English language (please note that I’ve removed RSTLNE from these graphs):

Right away you should notice some major discrepancies between the Wheel of Fortune data set and written English. While H shows up at the top where we’d expect, D is clearly in a much higher class than B, F, and G that we picked above. In fact, F and G aren’t even in the top five, and other letters that show up often in English aren’t placed very high in the combined final puzzle data. This is probably the result of producers fine-tuning their answers over the years, either to avoid the letters contestants chose most often or to more evenly distribute the winning ones.

This is such a small data set, however, that we shouldn’t rely on it too heavily. After all, Wheel of Fortune has been on the air for twenty-six years, and we only have half a year’s worth of data, or around 2% of all that is available. But a small attempt at analyzing this data is probably better than going in blind and picking letters that you ‘think’ show up frequently.

There are other ways that this quick-and-dirty analysis can be improved. Mine is a pretty naive approach. Going over some basic rules of English might help to improve the method. For example, breaking the final puzzles down into phonemes could yield more information, as might looking at letter pairs instead of single letters. For instance, Q never occurs without U, and some letters are more common after others. This is especially useful in our task, as we need to choose three consonants but only one vowel. Consonants are most often followed by vowels, so consonant pairs increase the uniqueness of a phrase. P is often followed by R, L, or H, for example. Looking for patterns in the words themselves might also yield better predictions about what letters would be better to guess.

Another thing to realize is that these numbers are averages from a discrete set. Some puzzles might include the high-frequency letters and be solvable with only those (and RSTLNE), while some might not include a single one of the high-frequency picks. Picking from one of the high scorers might improve your odds of getting more letters, but it doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get some, or even any. You might wind up with something like ‘Blind Luck’, which doesn’t contain an O or an H. These estimates can help you, but only so much.

So, after all these calculations, I now know what I would do if I ever found myself in Wheel’s final round. I’d go for H, G, and B (G and B having been arbitrarily picked over F), and then O as my vowel. And maybe I’d win big. Of course, the biggest factor in all this is your ability to manipulate letters and words in your mind. That’s one subject in which I lack skill, as evinced by the Boggle-solving program I wrote (a story for another time). So I might tank, even if my statistically-chosen letters filled out quite a bit of the puzzle. A lot of it does come down to luck, which was probably the producers’ intention all along.

The Flogging Molly Paper

Saturday, November 6th, 2004

[Keep in mind that while I had lots of fun writing this paper, it still has lots of academic windbaggery. Also, I had to integrate texts from other readings we’ve done into the paper, so if you don’t know what No Telephone to Heaven Is, don’t blame yourself.]

Flogging Molly is at the forefront of a new niche in punk rock music: the Irish punk band. In the tradition of the Pogues, Flogging Molly combines traditional Irish music with the more contemporary sounds of rock ‘n roll. The band takes this fusion one step further than the Pogues, however, because their songs typically incorporate the madcap, four-on-the-floor rhythm and energy of punk rock. It is fitting, then, that on their newest album, Within a Mile of Home, there is a song about the Caribbean, called ‘Tobacco Island.’ Like the plantation slaves who melded the music of their homelands with that of their white oppressors (which would eventually become rock ‘n roll), Flogging Molly’s song does something similarly subversive: it combines punk rock, a creation of Ireland’s former oppressors, and its own traditional songs. Through the mixing of genres, the song subverts. ‘Tobacco Island’ similarly undermines this oppression through its lyrics. The song transforms a kidnapped Irish slave into one of the African slaves, throwing into question the notion that skin color makes one the slave and another the master.

Traditionally, songs about the Caribbean have been about the surf, the sun, and the sand. Probably the ultimate example of this trend is ‘Kokomo’ by the Beach Boys: the song is plea from one lover to another to come to the sunny islands of the Caribbean. ‘Tobacco Island’ throws this convention out the window. Instead of treating its island, Barbados, as a tropical paradise, the song addresses the slaughter and destitution of slave life, drawing parallels between the African slaves and the oppressed Irish people. The song’s speaker is an Irishman sold into slavery, and he makes no mistakes about where he is going in the song’s chorus: “All to hell we must sail / For the Shores of sweet Barbados / Where the sugar cane grows taller / Than the god we once believed in.” These initial lines set up the parallels between the Irish people and the African slaves by leaving little room for misinterpretation about where the speaker is going (and his displeasure at the thought) while simultaneously leaving open to interpretation the origin of the speaker. The first four lines give no hint as to who the speaker is; he is merely another passenger on a slave ship and could be of either race. The speaker, if he is an Irishman, has lost his faith in God; if he is an African, then he will eventually lose the religion and culture of his homeland.

The first verse draws parallels between the invasion of an African village by slavers and the massacre at Drogheda, Ireland in 1649. Oliver Cromwell was sent to Ireland to quell Catholic uprisings, and Drogheda stands out as his campaign’s most shameful moment. Although Cromwell had instructed his soldiers to hold their fire, negotiations broke down and they stormed the city. Almost every person in the city was killed, including women and children. There were about thirty survivors who were rounded up and sold into slavery in Barbados. Although this verse specifically mentions Cromwell, if we disregard these lines then we can see the connection already established between the Irish speaker and his fellow slaves on Barbados. He speaks of how he and his brethren were “Blackened from the sun,” becoming similar in appearance to the African slaves who toiled alongside him. Seeing no hope for rescue, the speaker proclaims, “This rotten cage of Bridgetown / Is where I now belong.” The speaker becomes a nomad, a recurring theme in the Caribbean literature we’ve read: Clare from No Telephone to Heaven feels the same way, as does the speaker in ‘Wherever I Hang.’

Another repetition of the chorus follows, creating a transition between the Irish and African people on the island. The second verse of ‘Tobacco Island’ could come from either a slave from Barbados or one of the banished Irishmen. It is filled with imagery of suffering and torture, of blisters and blood and “floggings… aplenty.” The speaker laments the fact that he was ‘”Paid for with ten shillings.” Slavery dehumanizes all by putting a price on each slave’s head, regardless of race. Master and slave alike are dehumanized by this transaction. As in the chorus, it is difficult to tell who this speaker is, and this ambiguity reinforces the idea of combination, of intermixing culture. The final lines provide additional insight into this theme of hybridity. After a day working in the fields, the Irish and African slaves join under the moon, ‘together danc[ing] as one.’ The two peoples may have been different in their home nations, but slavery has united them, both as the merchandise they have become and through their resistance through song and dance. The idea of musical resistance is a theme repeated throughout the texts in our course, from the singing mob at Leopold’s arrest in Sugar Cane Alley to Christophine’s singing to protect Antoinette in Wide Sargasso Sea. Another theme that recurs in the literature we’ve read in our course is hybridity. The Irishmen and Africans in the song become two of one, like Harry/Harriet in No Telephone to Heaven or Antoinette in Wide Sargasso Sea. They belong nowhere, and it is this feeling of homelessness that unites them.

The song’s bridge reduces the suffering of the slaves of both races to its simplest terms. “Agony, will you cleanse this misery?” the speaker asks, lamenting that “it’s never again I’ll breathe the air of home.” The African and Irish slaves have been unified, and this is their final resistance. Skin color was all that separated slavers and slaves, and since white men too are slaves, the question as to why some people are slaves and others are not arises. This hybridity sews the seeds of doubt, and this can be viewed as an act of defiance on the part of the slaves. If there are white slaves as well as black, what is keeping somebody from making the masters into slaves themselves?

Interestingly, at the Flogging Molly concert I attended in Spokane a few weeks ago, the band’s singer, Dave King, dedicated this song to Walter Cromwell himself. This dedication added another ‘layer’ of resistance; by facetiously dedicating his song to the song’s villain, King pointed out the fact that he and his people were still around and free. He was able to both write the song and sarcastically dedicate it to Cromwell, who King was free to denounce. When the crowd around me proceeded to boo Cromwell, King told them not to. “Don’t worry,” he said, “the bastard’s dead!” The ultimate resistance comes from what the slaves created: the hybridity in song and unity of race, despite initial differences in skin color. While the slavers could only tear apart and destroy, the slaves managed to create: they melded and assimilated, despite their masters’ best efforts. The slave songs and musical cross-pollination survive to this day, and the traditions of the slavers do not — there is no such thing as a ‘slaver song.’ As the African slaves prevailed through their music and their open nature, so too did the Irish.

Solo Album Update

Monday, April 7th, 2003

Inspirational Song Quote of the update:

“The old men march slowly, all bent stiff and sore

The forgotten heroes of a forgotten war

And the young men ask, ‘what are they marchign for?’

And I ask myself the same question”

— Eric Bogle, “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda”

This weekend was all about my solo album. I got all the electric guitar parts done (including a bitching blues song, “The Waiting.”) I borrowed Chris’s bass, his 5-string, which was fun. I managed to incorporate that low B string into a few songs (no super-poopy-low nu-metal songs, though). I got some of the vocals done, too. I think I might call the record “Misanthropomorphic” and write a title song for it this week, depending.

Tonight I did a 4-page paper for my British Lit class in about an hour and a half. To be fair, I marked the novel (Heart of Darkness by Conrad, which I did read for Senior English) as I read to get good passages for my thesis. I actually think this paper is pretty good.

Anyway, gotta get up in two hours, but my paper’s done, so I don’t have to scurry to work on it. Good night.

Update and Poems

Thursday, March 13th, 2003

Sorry. Gotsta update this thing more often. I’ve been busy.

First, I’ve been working like mad to get the Nerds With Instruments website updated. I learned about Cascading Style Sheets on Wednesday and have been updating the website to include them. Now, I can switch color schemes by judiciously changing a few images a CSS files, as opposed to spending hours tweaking colors on thousands of HTML elements. Dave likes CSS.

I’ve also been writing poetry. Here is a sonnet I composed while eating lunch today:

I sold Satan my soul at midnight

on the crossroads (He did look quite a hoot

decked out in his wingtips and Armani suit);

all that I really wanted was a light,

but it was quite a treat to see that brute

cackling and chuckling with evil delight

(it was clear the fiend thought the price was right).

I showed no fear. I was resolute.

If he’s apt to trade a soul for a whim

(praying for the better end of the deal)

then he may collect after my last breath.

I forsee no torment after my death.

Lucifer believes his end was the steal.

I don’t want to spoil the bargain for him.

Here’s another one. It doesn’t have a name:

Down myriad aisles stretching miles long

Lie uncounted volumes, each one a door —

And one portal leads to a thousand more.

Here an adventure, there a book of song,

A tome of knowledge and a book of lore.

I yearn to leaf through them, to stroll along,

To grab a stack of books twenty strong,

Each one offers something new to explore.

Sitting on a couch, in a cozy nook,

I hear no hustle, no crash, no car horn.

It’s a silence of gold, of turned pages,

A moment lasting through untold ages.

My world seems neither hateful nor forlorn

It consists of only me and my book.

Pretty nifty, huh? I like the rhyme scheme (ABBABAAB CDEEDC). It’s a pretty simple one for the octave (the first eight lines), but the sestet is nifty: the “C” lines surround it, further offsetting it, and there is a third and final “sandwhich” quatrain in between them. The only problem I have is finding four A and B rhymes.

Speaking of boring pedantic stuff, in English we had a test. I hadn’t done any of the reading. I do not think I’ll get a good grade on this quiz; this time I’m serious. But I don’t care. As long as I get a ‘C’, I’m fine.

John called and I’m going to see “My Fair Lady” on Friday. I really don’t like going back to my alma mater so often (I went there last Saturday to see C.C.’s show, The Phantom Tollbooth), but John’s a buddy (and former Speech partner), so I’ll go. They only have two showings of it, though. I’d be pissed if I was in it and they only did two shows — they’ve been practicing since early January. Apparently, the school didn’t spring for performance rights for more than two shows. Typical.

Ha ha ha. My school is running Neil Simon’s Rumors for two weeks! And I have three stages! Not even the mighty Hamilton High School can top that!


Friday, February 28th, 2003

Apparently, my band does have a show next Friday. I wish there was more time to promote it, but (to quote Mick Jagger) “You can’t always get what you want.” So that gives me stuff to do, as far as making ads and putting them up. I want to learn some new songs, but I doubt that’ll happen.

Also, John called. He’s having a geek-fest at his house tomorrow: a Star Trek marathon. Dave just might go.

Here’s something to add to the College-is-Easy file. On Wednesday in my British Lit class we were put into groups to answer questions about “The Lotus Eaters” by some guy whose name starts with a T (Lord Tyrannus… Darth Maul? Dave knows not). Anyway, none of the five people in my group had read the damn poem. We managed to BS our way through the discussion about it in class today, though.


Thursday, February 6th, 2003

Well, I overslept a little today. My alarm clock went off, but it took me about twenty minutes to get up. I really need some sort of backup alarm clock, put in some out-of-the-way place where I’d have to actually get up to switch it off. It would work, because it takes a lot of effort to climb back into bed.

I talked to Brenner and told him that Mr. Kane sends his regards. He’s a really cool guy, and I’m really looking forward to having the class this semester. For one thing, the reading isn’t as voluminous as in my other English class. We read about one short story a day. More time is spent actually thinking about the text. It also turns out one of my roommate’s friends is in the class, too.

Then came the other English class. I find myself writing a lot of poetry there. Today I wrote four poems: “Moth”, “Having Observed Upon a Sunset”, “The Anti-Sonnet”, and “Holden.” Why do I feel so creative when I’m supposed to be learning?

I finally got my financial aid dealt with. Turns out my bill comes to $360.84.

Other than that, I’ve been working on the novel I started in October. I finished it last night (at around two-thirty in the morning) and am now going over it and editing, re-writing, and generally fixing it. It’s amazing how much I’ve improved as a writer in just five months. I’ll probably never publish it, but it’s nice to know I’ve actually written a novel. Working on the novel is a nice distraction from my other concerns.

Anyway, I don’t want to waste any more of my writing energy on some silly blog. 😉


Monday, February 3rd, 2003

I sure was tired this morning, so I skipped History of Rock ‘n Roll. I handed in my AIS (fingers are crossed), and slogged through the next English class.

All this plays second fiddle to the waiting I’ve been going through. It’s been a week since I called Erin and poured my heart out, and I’m pretty sure she said she’d let me know by tonight. She didn’t call. To her credit, my roommate was on the phone during the half-hour that she tends to call, so I don’t know. I think I already know what she’s gonna say, and I’ve been pretty much accepting that fact for the last year, but I have to know. Y’know, I just want to be able to know if, when she finally gets ahold of me, if I’ll despodently accept what she says or — and in my mind this is a remote possibility — I can go “Woohoo!” and do some strangely arrhythmical dance. I guess I’ll call her tomorrow, if I have to, but I’d feel kind of weird. I almost literally dropped a bombshell on her last Monday, and she probably needs time to mull it over, still. Is it wrong to phone and say “Well?” That seems so… so… much like delivering an ultimatum. I just wish I knew the answer to that. I know I’ve been pretty much reactive in every aspect of staying in contact with her, but I just feel that I should give her time here, to make a decision in her own way.

The thing is that she really is an empathetic person, so it could be hard to tell me what I’m fearing. But this limbo, this Purgatory on Earth, is much worse than flat-out rejection.

All I know is that I screwed up, big time, majorly, Iran-Contra, and if I have a chance I will let her know what she should already know: that she’s the prettiest, brightest, gosh-darn swellest gal I’ve ever met and that every second I’m around her is (literally) a dream come true. These words look so hollow on the screen, but that’s only because I can’t find the right ones.

Anyway, I’ve got this, for whatever good it does:

I couldn’t tell which had become more wet:

The rain, drizzly, falling on field and farm

Or the perspiration — I mean my sweat —

Which created small lakes under each arm.

When I saw her, dazzling as always

I jumped, because I still wasn’t prepared.

I did not know smooth words the smooth man says;

I fumbled, squawked, and nervously I stared.

I was suff’ring, yes, and deathly afraid,

But was happier than I’d ever been.

‘Twas later I this observation made

Which dispelled almost all of my chagrin:

I realized, as we were saying goodbye,

Perhaps she was merely as nervous as I.


Sunday, February 2nd, 2003

I really need to start writing these things earlier in the night, if only to make the dates match the day about which I’m writing.

I went for a stroll down my road today. It’s pretty serene, even with the highway a quarter-mile away. Usually I walk and listen to a Walkman, but this time I just walked and thought. I thought and thought, about a lot — and not. Sorry, switched into Seuss-mode there for a while. I did have a lot to think about, yes, and it was nice not having my dog to babysit. It was cold, but the cold was that crisp, refreshing cold you can only feel in your lungs. Strolls through Missoula’s streets just can’t match it.

I just finished my first AIS for an English class. The instructor is interesting, and for the first time (possibly in recorded history), I am really, really interested in my assignment. I gotta go to bed now.


Sunday, February 2nd, 2003

Al Gore on Saturday Night Live. Somehow, it didn’t improve his image much. Now, instead of seeing him as a stiff, emotionless politician (a “Gorebot”, as Tom Tomorrow took to calling him), I see him as a stiff, emotionless politician who once appeared on a sketch show that has seen better days.

I am, of course, at my parents’ house, a fact one can infer from my having seen television. The TV I brought to my dorm room quit soon after the State of the Union address, which doesn’t bother me much. That’s also why I wrote nothing here yesterday. Last night I stayed over at Shawn’s house. We rented This is Spinal Tap, a movie which neither Shawn nor Aaron found as funny as I did.

Friday’s classes came and went, with only two noticeable incidents. The first was in History of Rock ‘n Roll, when professor Leadbetter played some different early blues songs. I got this urge to go back to my room and hammer some of my own out on the guitar. And I did. Later, in my British Lit class, I wrote a couple of poems which may or may not make it onto my main website. I had to walk to downtown Missoula because my bike is still here at my parents’ house, but the stroll was pleasant. The weather was a bit drizzly and the fog clinging to the air almost made the usually dingy Missoula streets almost pretty. Even the turbid Clark Fork was something to look at as countless drops of rain speckled its smooth surface.

I finished reading “Apt Pupil”, a story which I found quite disgusting. Now I’ve started in on “The Body”, which in the popular mass-media world goes by the movie title Stand By Me. Is there anything Stephen King has written which hasn’t been made into a movie?

Tomorrow, I have to write an AIS for Brenner’s class, an assignment which tickles me pink. For the first time, I am looking forward to something in my college classes. I looked forward to some stuff in my acting class, but I’ve considered that more of a diversion than a bona fide course. I need to e-mail my Senior English teacher, Mr. Kane, about Brenner. Shawn tells me that Kane had Brenner and I’m not at all surprised.

It’s a bitch about the Challenger. But you know what really pisses me off? The fact that nobody cared a donkey’s ass about the space program until a shuttle blew up.

Anyway, something important might happen tomorrow. I’ve done my best to steel myself, but there really is no speech for me to write, I guess. I have a feeling I know of what’s going to happen. I can hope against it, but I have to face overwhelming facts.

That’s all for now. Mr. King’s prose calls.

About Me

Wednesday, January 29th, 2003

I have stepped into the miraculous world of online blogging. Hooray! I have chosen to do this because while I still have a ‘real’ diary/journal/log, I find that typing is much easier on my hands. So everything that isn’t too private will go here, for all eyes (or, to be realistic, no eyes) to see.

A little about myself? I’m 19 and a freshman at the University of Montana in Missoula. I graduated from Corvallis High School, which actually furnished a decent education for being in the middle of nowhere. My biggest accomplishment there was probably winning fourth place in the state at the ABC speech meet for Serious Duo. I don’t fancy myself talent as an actor at all, so it was quite surprising. Just a few days ago I learned that my partner from last year and the singer from my band got first place in the state for Humorous Duo, so I’m psyched for them. I’m majoring in English Teaching, with a minor in Paying Off Debts For Life. I mean drama. A minor in drama. I’m going into teaching because I love being around kids. They seem so free, so full of life, and so innocent that it seems nuts not to do something to try and light a fire within their minds. I’ve always liked kids (not in a Pete Townsend type way), and seeing a group of them at play (on a playground somewhere) always brings a smile to my face. Being a teacher will mean that I will never be able to buy the finer things in life, but that doesn’t bother me.

I was born and raised in Walla Walla, Washington, a city infamous as the ‘Warner Brothers Funny-Name City.’ What I remember most about Walla Walla was the heat: clinging to your very skin, cloying, overwhelming. My childhood was very much one of the late eighties/early nineties: moonwalks, and M.C. Hammer, and Nintendo. In 1993, shortly after the birth of my sister, we moved to Billings. Billings was large, stinky, and somewhat unfriendly. Two years later we moved to Corvallis, where I finished middle school and high school. Corvallis is small, friendly, a tad boring at times, and beautiful. I met many interesting people there, including all of my bandmates, my closest adult friend (who also happened to be my Speech teacher), and other people who I will carry with me for life. Missoula (my current hometown) shares some of that beauty, glimpsed above the buildings in the mountains, so I really don’t feel out of place here. The only thing to miss about my hometown (which is only an hour away) is the people.

They say I’m pretty smart, and I will admit that I tend to agree with them. I was singled out in elementary school as ‘gifted and talented’, for whatever that’s worth. I’m not going to engage in anything as masturbatory as posting my IQ or SAT scores, and I promise that this will be the extent of my ‘bragging.’

I play guitar in a band, Nerds With Instruments, which is unknown even in the rather thightly-knit Montana punk rock scene. I fancy myself a decent writer. I dabble in a lot of other hobbies, including programming, photography (usually when I can get my hands on my Dad’s digital camera, which is a lot cheaper than film), and recording music. My favorite hobby, I must confess, is to frequently split infintives.

Now that exposition is out of the way, I will get into my day. I woke up at 9:00, an hour before my History of Rock ‘n Roll class. This class is interesting. Unfortunately, its format (three exams make up the total grade) is the easiest one for me to skip, but I won’t want to skip it. Bottom line? I will not be skipping ten class periods like I did in Native American studies last semester. Today, we went over the defining characteristics of Rock ‘n Roll. I still need to get a copy of the book; tomorrow I’ll check the UC Bookstore.

An hour after that class ended I have American Lit. This class reminds me of my high school Senior English class, mostly because of the similarities between the instructors. I was startled today when everyone started packing up to leave, because I hadn’t looked at my watch once while sitting through that class. The same thing happened in my Senior English class. I’ll have to either ask Professor Brenner if he remembers a student from Butte or ask Mr. Kane if he was a student of Brenner’s.

Then I had a rather boring British Lit class. Almost the polar opposite of American Lit. It’s startling to see the dichotomy between these two courses. One is dynamic, and chatty, and interesting; the other, static, silent, and boring.

After classes I fiddled around with my guitar. I finished reading Insomnia by Stephen King, and started in on my Psych asssignment. I still need to finish that before the end of the night. Then I went to dinner. Thank God Missoula is such a liberal city. The Food Zoo (the place in which I’m forced to eat) has a nice selection of vegetarian foods, so I don’t have to fill up on French Fries and salad. A nice piece of cake rounded out my one meal of the day. Although my parents are concerned because I only have one repast a day, I am not. I eat a big meal, and I’m kind of big anyway.

After dinner I settled down to watch Jeopardy on the TV I brought up from home, but the TV (an old Sony which has seen bitter days) blitzed out on me. This means that I have to hook my rather crude antenna up to my VCR (which will not release its vicelike grip on my Star Wars: A New Hope tape) to get any TV. Not that I watch much television. Jeopardy, Seinfeld, and the News: these are the only shows I watch up here. Back home, I can see M.A.S.H. and Spin City on my parents’ fancy satellite dish, but here I only get broadcast shows. With no TV, I took a four-hour nap, and woke up to start this blog.

I have a personal homepage, where you can sample my writing and other things about me. I hope to get some of my photography up there someday. It is, I confess, an exercise in vanity, but it’s probably the only vain thing I do. Click Here.