Book talks for readers at Chisago Lakes Middle School.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: the Classic Regency Romance-Now with Ultraviolent Zombie Mayhem by Jane Austen and Seth Graham-Smith

Those familiar with the original story know that Mrs. Bennett is obssessed with finding husbands for the Bennetts' five daughters. Life could be difficult for an unmarried woman in 18th century England. So, Mrs. Bennett's singular purpose in life is to train her five girls in the arts of conversation and civilized manners, making them more desirable to prospective suitors.

However, the story immediately takes on an unfamiliar morbid twist. Mr. Bennett of course is annoyed with his wife's incessant efforts to marry off his daughters. In contrast with his wife, his main concern is their survival-to train them in the arts of self-defense. The reason: a plague has stricken the land causing the dead to come back to zombies. In polite, civilized, cultured company the proper term to refer to the living dead (zombies)is to call them an unmentionable or one that is a member of the unfortunate scourge.

Instead of dreaming about boys, Mr. Bennett prefers his five girls to think about applying themselves to the deadly arts. Only by training them in the martial arts and the proper handling of lethal weapons will he guarantee his main mission in life: to prevent his family from joining the ranks of the living dead.

News reaches the Bennett household that two young gentlemen have arrived to visit at a nearby estate. Both are extremely rich, and available. The Bennetts are invited to a ball where there will be dancing, but more importantly, where introductions will be made. Mrs. Bennett hopes her girls will compare favorably on the opinions of the two visiting young gentlemen.

At the ball one of the prospective suitors, named Mr. Bingley, comments to his friend, Mr.Darcy, that he has never met with so many pleasant girls in one place in his whole life. It doesn't go unnoticed to Mrs. Bennett that Mr. Bingley dances twice with her eldest daughter Jane. Everyone immediately takes a liking to Mr. Bingley, especially Jane. However, the same feeling is not equally shared about Mr. Darcy. Even Mrs. Bennett herself thinks Mr. Darcy to be the proudest, most disagreeable, man in the world.

Both Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy wistfully remark to each other at how beautiful Jane Bennett is. Unfortunately, Mr. Darcy also comments to his friend that Jane's sister, Elizabeth, is only tolerable, and not pretty enough to interest him.

Elizabeth overhears Mr. Darcy and "her blood turns cold." She has never been so insulted in her entire life. She impulsively reaches down by her ankle where she secretly keeps a dagger hidden under her dress. She means to threaten Mr. Darcy with bodily harm when suddenly a scourge of unmentionables shatter the windows and crash into the ballroom.

"Unmentionables poured in, their movements clumsy yet swift; their burial clothing in a range of untidiness...Their flesh was in varying degrees of [rot and decay];the freshly stricken were slightly green and pliant, whereas the longer dead were gray and brittle-their eyes and tongues long since turned to dust, and their lips pulled back into everlasting skeletal smiles."

In the mayhem, Mr. Bennett shouted orders he knew would be received by five sets of highly trained ears:

"Girls! Pentagram of Death!"

The five girls pressed their backs against each other in a fighting formation that looked like a five-pointed star, pleasing their father no doubt as they confronted the deadly horde of party crashers. In one graceful motion, the girls reached for their daggers with one hand, and politely placed their free hands behind them in the small of their backs. Lunging with extended dagger thrusts, the girls worked in harmony as they beheaded the swarm of attacking zombies.

As the story continues, we later learn that Jane is involved in another fracas with the zombies, and has possibly been bitten by one of them. As Elizabeth risks her life to be by Jane's side, she is ambushed by three of the unmentionables. All three with arms extended, mouths locked wide open, would make anyone pause to reflect on a "universally acknowledged" truth about all zombies:

"A zombie in possession of brains mut be in want of more brains."

The questions I leave you with are almost baffling in themselves considering what Seth Graham-Smith has done to a story that many consider a masterpiece of world literature.

Will Elizabeth Bennett survive the ambush?

Does Jane Bennett transform into a zombie?

What will Mr. Bingley think of Jane then?

And, what about Mr. Darcy? Did Elizabeth catch his eye with her display of eloquence, grace, and deadly accuracy as she lifted a zombie by the scalp and thrusted her dagger into its neck?

Find out in this genre-defying classics-shattering adaptation by Seth Graham-Smith that might even cause Jane Austen to disturb her grave with laughter; may she rest in peace.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Interview with Jessica Schmidt

Do you know what a Tsunami is? Some people call it a tidal wave. It is usually created by an earthquake or avalanche of rock under an ocean's waters. Displacement of water creates the wave that is nearly undedectible until it reaches shore with devastating results. Just a couple weeks ago a Tsunami struck the Samoa islands in the Pacific with fatal results. What warnings are there to indicate that a Tsunami is approaching? Sometimes there is a drawback in which the water along shore is sucked out into the ocean, exposing the bottom for hundreds of yards. A drawback only gives a person a matter of minutes to run for higher ground before the Tsunami hits. Other warning systems involve ocean buoys that try to detect changes in pressure along the ocean floor, but this warning system isn't always sufficient.

Did you know that someone from our community, someone that went to school here at CLMS a few years ago, is currently working on solving the problems with detecting Tsunamis in order to save more lives in the future?

I would like to introduce you to Jessica Schmidt. She also goes by the first name of Jecca. Jecca attended CLMS from 1999-2002. (She probably would prefer you didn't do the math to find out how old she is now.) I wanted you to know about Jessica, not only because she is a good example to follow, but also because of the important work she is doing. Jessica's work and research has taken her around the world as the picture below illustrates. I also wanted you to know what she is doing because the subject of her research plays such a prominent role in one of this year's featured books on BC Booktalk called, Night of the Howling Dogs, by Graham Salisbury.

1. Jessica, can you tell a little about yourself and your years at Chisago Lakes Middle School? What were your interests?

When I was in middle school, to put it bluntly, I was a very shy nerd. I loved school and my classes, but it was a rare occasion when I would speak during class discussions. I played clarinet in the band for my three years there. During 7th and 8th grade, I participated in math league and math counts, and in 8th grade I played softball and basketball. Outside of school, my favorite activity was reading and trying to learn as much as possible. At that point in my life, U.S. history really fascinated me, and after September 11th occurred, current events grabbed my attention as well. Prior to that tragic incident, as Mrs. Guanzini would put it, I “lived in a cave.”

2. Where did you go to college and how did you choose what you wanted to major in?

I went to the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, MN. Before going there, I was uncertain in what I wanted to major in – I think I changed my major about three times before classes even started. However, I knew that I enjoyed math and I did not want to lose the math skills I acquired in high school. The only thing keeping me away from a math major was a programming class – which really frightened me since I had not knowledge of the subject. Eventually, I registered for the programming course because I didn’t know what else to take, and it was on the math major course schema. This was a good choice because after beginning the course, I found it to be enjoyable, and it caused me to double major in math and computer science. Recently, I left St. Scholastica to attend the University of Colorado where I am focusing on applied mathematics.

3. How did you get involved in the research behind detecting seismic tsunamis? What is the goal of your work?

I first got started in doing research relating to tsunami detection during the summer of 2008, while I was at the University of Minnesota on an internship. My advisor asked me to try to speed up my research team’s current tsunami simulation using the graphics card of a computer. A tsunami simulation is a computer program displays where a tsunami will go and how large it will take to arrive at shore. As we recently witnessed in the Samoa Islands, it has been difficult to create an efficient tsunami warning system that adequately warns those in the path of a tsunami of its coming. You may see the following video that was captured by an FBI surveillance camera in the Samoa Islands as proof that they did not receive much warning:

Go to the following URL:

Therefore, since we cannot predict when a tsunami will occur, after its formation, we want to minimize the amount of time it takes to estimate where and when it will arrive at shore.

4. Why is your work in detecting seismic tsunamis important? What are some of the challenges you and your colleagues face?

This work is important because currently an efficient tsunami warning system is not in place. Looking at the recent past, we see that one of the most deadly tsunamis in history occurred on December 26, 2004 in Sumatra (see figure 1). Yet, we are living in an age in which we have quite sophisticated technology, still we are unable to determine in a timely fashion when a tsunami will arrive on shore. It is not that this problem has been overlooked, but rather the problem is so complex that it takes a lot of computational power. This means it could take hours to compute the track of a tsunami through the ocean, at which point it may be too late. Therefore, it is vital that the amount of time it takes to run the codes is decreased in order that another disaster, like the Sumatra tsunami of 2004, does not happen again, in order that other people’s lives may be spared. The question then becomes not how to forecast how a tsunami propagates (travels through the ocean), but rather how to speed up the simulations.

Figure 1: Historically Deadly Tsunamis

The challenge lies in solving the wave equations, since a tsunami is a wave. In its most basic form, this is a very common type of problem. However, the challenge soon escalates once we realize that the boundaries (shorelines and sea floor) of the ocean are quite complex. They are jagged and constantly changing, but is vital to determining the propagation of a tsunami. Moreover, there are different forms of the wave equation, some of which are easier to solve than others. For example, solving the linear wave equations does not take as much computational power as solving the non-linear equations. Yet, the results of the non-linear equations are more accurate than the linear ones. Additionally, we can add more details to the problem, these details are known as parameters and they help to make the wave model more realistic, but they also contribute the difficulty of the problem and increases the computational time it takes to solve the problem. Therefore, an accurate model may take considerably longer than a less accurate model – so we need to find a balance between accurate results and computational time.

5. Where do you see your work with this area taking you in the future?

I want to get my Ph.D. in applied math, with a focus on a numerical scheme called radial basis functions (RBFs). Whether I end up applying RBFs to tsunamis or something else, I am unsure at the moment. However, I think that I would like to develop a fast and accurate algorithm using RBFs for the solution of the wave equation and figure out how it can be implemented along the rugged coastline in order to give accurate results. Currently, I am looking at detecting tsunamis in the upper layer of the atmosphere known as the ionosphere. This is because as a tsunami is propagating in the open ocean, it displaces a small amount of water, perhaps just a few centimeters. However, this wave is greatly magnified in the ionosphere, and has a distinct look, which can be picked up by GPS satellites. This method could then be another way to detect a tsunami.

6. As far as you know, were the earthquakes that led to the tsunamis that recently hit Indonesia and Samoa detected before reaching the islands? Was there any warning?

There was some sort of warning because I remember reading on a news website an article about how a large earthquake had occurred and the islands in the Pacific were told to be on alert. However, whether it was issued for all countries that could possibly have been hit or those actually affected, I am uncertain. I know Hawaii was told to watch out for it, and they breathed a sigh of relief when it missed them, but I do not know whether the countries affected by the tsunami were given any advanced notice. Moreover, many times, the places affected are remote villages on the coastline, and it is difficult to relay information to them. What usually happens after a significant earthquake occurs is that a message is relayed to coastal countries that may or may not be affected by a potential tsunami. Many times these warnings turn out to be false, as a tsunami was not generated. The question then becomes, is it better to issue a false warning or no warning at all? I think everyone would rather be safe than sorry.

7. What advice would you give to CLMS students that are interested in Math/Science or careers involving Math/Science?

Join math league! Honestly, that activity gave me some of my fondest middle school memories. It is a no pressure environment, and you get FREE COOKIES before each meet! I believe that you have many other opportunities available to you as well such as robot club (???-Mr. Schoeneck, I think you know what group I’m trying to reference here), quiz bowl, etc. – so join those activities in order to facilitate your learning. More than anything, become involved in the different activities offered. Then, as your schooling progresses, take as many math and science classes as possible. Not only does it allow you to see what you like/dislike, it also gives you a better understanding of each subject since sooner or later they all become intertwined. Also, working in groups is a great skill to have – rarely is work completed by a single person anymore, but rather a group of collaborators.

8. Do you have any other advice or comments to pass on to our 6th graders?

My #1 advice for you is to HAVE FUN! Enjoy life. Look for the good in everything you do – but be aware that it may take a few years until you see it. Do not be afraid to ask questions - your teachers are there to foster your learning, and there is NO such thing as a dumb question. Also, try to cut back your time watching television – it is much more fun to live your own life than to watch others live theirs. Finally, if you have not already done so, read and/or watch “The Last Lecture” by Dr. Randy Pausch of Carnegie Mellon Univ. If I say anything else, I would just be mimicking him….he gives the best advice – my favorite being “You just have to decide if you’re a Tigger or you’re an Eeyore!” Well, enjoy your time at CLMS – it goes by much too quickly and I wish you all the best of luck for the remaining of the school year!


Thanks Jessica. We wish you well and hope for tremendous progress in the work towards detecting Tsunamis.


Sunday, October 11, 2009

Night of the Howling Dogs by Graham Salisbury

Chorus: The Shadow nears when foreshadowing appears.

It's 3:30 in the morning. Dylan and the rest of his scout troup are already up for their big day. The troop is getting ready for their camping trip to the southern most part of the 50 states. Their destination is Halape Beach, at the base of a volcano located on the southern tip of the big island of Hawaii. They are planning to pitch their tents in a grove of trees that sit below a 1000 ft. cliff right next to the ocean. Because of its remote location and the difficult trail that leads to it, the boys and their adult leaders will probably have the beach all to themselves. The trail is steep and treacherous. One false step could result in injury or something worse. So, Dylan and the others have to keep their eyes focused down to avoid stumbling, but out the corner of his eye Dylan spots some wild dogs in the distance. One of the dogs appears to have a white coat of fur. No one else sees them. No one else believes him. Dylan knows what he saw was real.

Mr. Bellows is Dylan's scout leader. As part of Dylan's ladder of requirements to be an Eagle Scout, Mr. Bellows assigns him a turn as the troop's Senior Patrol Officer on this particular scouting trip, even though he isn't the oldest. One of the older boys named Louie, calls Dylan "Senior Patrol Loser" instead. To Dylan it seems like Louie wants to settle an old score. Dylan wishes Mr. Bellows had never invited Louie. Louie was nothing but trouble, in his mind. Sure, Louie could do some things like tie knots, but Dylan thought even an ape could tie an knot. Dylan considers Louie like he were a big dumb ape of a bully, or was it that Dylan was really being oversensitive and looking for ways to get back at Louie?

Chorus: The Shadow nears when foreshadowing appears

That night one of the other adult leaders is asked to tell a scary story. He chooses an ancient Hawaiian legend involving a god that takes the form of a white dog. According to the legend the god who takes a white dog's shape and form has power over spiritual and physical forces on the Hawaiian Islands. Later that night, Dylan wakes up in his sleeping bag. He feels something moving on his face. His face is crawling with roaches. What drove them out of their cracks and hiding places to seek protection in Dylan's sleeping bag? As he shakes them off he suddenly hears howling. The dogs are back. The white dog makes another appearance.

Chorus: The Shadow nears when foreshadowing appears

When an author gives clues that something is going to happen later in the story, in this case something bad that is going to happen, this technique is known as foreshadowing. What clues does the author give? What's going to happen?

The ground begins to shake. There's an earthquake. Mr. Bellows calms everyone down and reassures them that it wasn't big, maybe a 2.5 or 3.0 tops. But, Mr. Bellow's face cannot hide the concern on his face about what might follow.

The book says that the howling stopped, and then the world fell apart.

"Way out on the horizon a flash of unworldly light lit the ocean, like some silent scream from the deep emptiness beyond."

One of the boys witnesses an EQL (Earthquake Light)-the mysterious flash of light that sometimes appears when there is an earthquake. Even today, Scientists can't quite yet explain why this phenomena happens.

In addition to the appearance of the white dog, the earthquake also foreshadowed something bad that was about to happen. The events that follow in, Night of the Howling Dogs, remind me of something that recently happened in the Samoa Islands or the events that happened in the Indian Ocean 5 years ago that killed over 200,000 people. The events that follow are actually based on a true story that happened in Hawaii on November 29, 1975, on the very spot the story says the boys were camping.

Dylan will observe first hand what being a leader really means. He will witness what it means to reach deep inside to find the will to survive. And, he will reflect on how terrible circumstances can reveal how outstanding character can rise up in the most unlikeliest of sources.

Did all the boys and their adult leaders survive? Will Dylan make it? If you like adventure, stories of survival, I would recommend, Night of the Howling Dogs, by Graham Salisbury.

Take a look at photos from the 1975 tsunami and Boy Scout Troop 77:

Friday, October 2, 2009

Max Quigley by James Roy

Max Quigley: Technically Not a Bully by James Roy

Max Quigley, by James Roy, has the look and feel of a Diary of a Wimpy Kid book. Max Quigley is actually a foreign import. I'm definitely not against foreign imports when it comes to books, but be careful, you may catch yourself talking a little Australian before you're done reading.

You might slip into a, "G'day Mate!," instead of saying good morning or good day. Instead of saying "cafeteria," you might ask your teacher for permission to go early to the "canteen." What would happen if you called someone in the hallway, "lovey?" And, what would happen if you said "mum" instead of mom when you got home tonight? Would she think you deserve one across your "bum?"

There are always repercussions when you try to be different, even in the way you speak. When you speak differently than anyone else you can't help but stand out. And, you know what happens when you stand out in middle school. You get noticed. How horrible! Hopefully, you won't get noticed or recognized by a ....bully.

Everyone knows what happened to Taylor Swift, right? Taylor Swift was about to be recognized for Best Female Video at an awards show and then what happens? That bully Kanye West climbs up the stage, takes over the microphone, and announces Beyonce should have won.

Just a few weeks before this incident Taylor Swift made an appearance on the Oprah Winfrey show. It was a show featuring exceptionally talented children and young adults. Oprah asked Taylor to give some of her younger fans some suggestions for success. What she said surprised me a little. She said:

"I think that the most important thing is to be different enough where you stand out. The only place that being like everybody else is cool is junior high."

In my opinion what she meant by being "different enough where you stand out" means letting the world see your differences, your uniqueness, the things that make you stand out in the crowd. Think of American Idol. Don't the judges like Simon Cowell constantly say to the contestants that they need to have their own unique and distinctive style? Unfortunately, some students in the middle school world don't always value, support, and accept differences in their classmates.

In the book, Max Quigley, Max is having trouble appreciating differences in one of his classmates. He is amazed by how much Triffen Nordstrom stands out. Triffen Nordstrom can't help but stand out in the crowd no matter how hard he tries not to. Max constantly calls him Nerdstrom. Max compulsively picks on Nerdstrom as his favorite target. Max's most recent accomplishment involved shoving Nerdstrom out an emergency door that locked from the inside while on their field trip. Besides torturing Nerdstrom, Max likes to draw, and he especially likes to draw pictures of Nerdstrom. Take a look at the example on p.29. (The picture of one of Max's teachers trying to hopelessly cope with the copy machine that doesn't work on p. 84 is one of my favorites.)

I think this book is unique in the way it is told from the bully's perspective. This twist definitely adds to the humor found throughout the book. In the beginning of the book you can't help but shake your head when Max cannot grasp the fact that he is a bully. You can tell he's obviously going through denial. Just listen to these words from pp. 23-24:

"[T]echnically I'm not actually a bully. Bullies wait behind lunch sheds and steal kids' Twinkies. I've never stolen anything in my life. Bullies beat people up. I've never actually punched anyone in my entire life....The other things bullies do is hurt people. And I don't mean just a flick on the ear or a punch to the leg. I mean hurt people, hurt them until they cry or have to go to the hospital. And as far as I know I've never caused anyone to get taken to the hospital....I've never even made Nerdstom cry, and he's about the cryingest-looking person I've ever seen....Like I said before, most of the things that have happened to Nerdstrom when I've been around have either been completely his own fault or just jokes that have gone a little bit wrong."

Can you hear the denial? How many clues does Max give that reveal he could be a bully yet not realize it?

If you like school stories and books about friendships I would recommend, Max Quigley: Technically Not a Bully, by James Roy. It's a book that covers a serious subject in a humorous way that helps us all think a little bit more about ourselves and how we accept others.

Nikola Tesla by Michael Burgan

Nikola Tesla: Physicist, Inventor, Electrical Engineer by Michael Burgan

Does anyone recognize this car? [picture below] The Tesla Roadster is probably the world's best engineered electric powered car. It can go from 0 - 60mph in 3.9 seconds. In can go 244 miles without recharging. And, you only need $101,500 dollars to drive it off the lot.

Why is it called the Tesla?

The reason may in part have to do with a story about Nikola Tesla and an electric car he supposedly invented in 1931. According to legend Nikola Tesla modified a Pierce-Arrow automobile and replaced the gas powered engine with an AC electric motor. The motor was said to have consisted of a box that contained 12 radio tubes connected to a 6 foot antenna. This means, if you believe the story, that the engine received, or was charged by, a source of electricity by wireless transmission. Then the story usually goes on with the claim that Tesla's electric car could reach speeds of 90mph.

This story isn't based on the truth, but it illustrates the fact that many people have been pulled into a fascination about the man named Nikola Tesla. Sometimes he is called the forgotten wizard. Unfortunately, stories like these have also repelled many others from considering Nikola Tesla's actual accomplishments. The myths, lies, and legends about Nikola Tesla have even made him out to be some kind of extraterrestrial being that walked among us on the earth. Misconceptions and misunderstandings about a incredibly gifted and talented person have probably contributed to the reasons why Nikola Tesla is not considered a household name such as the famous inventor Thomas Edison.

Nikola Tesla actually worked for Thomas Edison. Surprising to the image I ascribe to him, Edison played a cruel joke on Tesla. Edison told Tesla that he would pay him $50,000 dollars if Tesla could help him with his DC electric power generators. When Tesla finished the work, Edison basically replied that he was just kidding about the money-couldn't Tesla take a joke?

What could a poor unknown immigrant to the United States like Tesla do? Edison, the inventor of the light bulb, a man considered like a god of technology in the United States, had the money, the power, the support, and the reputation to do whatever he wished. Tesla decided the only thing he could do was to leave Edison and strike out on his own. They eventually became rivals instead of friends.

Have you heard of AC DC? Tesla's incredible work with AC electric power generation would gradually get more attention than Edison's ideas with DC electric power generation. It was a battle between AC vs. DC power. AC power won. AC current can travel farther than DC current can and this is the system that we use today.

However, as Edison's fame grew as our country's best roll-up-your-sleeves, 1%-percent-inspiration-99%-perspiration, inventor, Tesla's reputation grew more mysterious, like one who was a magician or wizard, not as one who was as gifted and important as Thomas Edison. What Tesla demonstrated did indeed seem like magic to people. One of Tesla's many projects involved work on the wireless transmission of electricity. He would occasionally put on performances showing off his incredible knowledge and command with electric current. For example, he would put on shoes with a special sole made out of cork. He then would take a specially designed light bulb and place it into his left hand. Without any wires attached to the light bulb, he would then take his right hand and touch a piece of equipment that was sending out electric current. The bulb lit up, as did the applause that came from the crowd that witnessed the spectacle. As the onlookers gasped they may have asked: How did the light turn on? Why didn't Tesla get hurt?

Did it help Tesla's image by taking so many publicity photos of himself sitting casually in the midst of a Frankenstein-like lab with bolts of electricity zapping across the room? The photos were obvious fakes, double exposures.

Would you have taken him seriously?

It's too bad that so much mystery overshadows Nikola Tesla, the man who is sometimes called the Master of Electricity. Tesla was truely a man before his time.

Due to him we have the electrical system that supplies power to our homes.

Did you know most of our history textbooks got it wrong about who really invented the radio. (1943 the U.S. Supreme Court decided that Tesla, not Marconi, invented the radio.)

Did you know he had an idea for a death-ray that he thought could stop wars, and he even invented an earthquake machine.

Did you know one of his inventions probably gives him the last laugh over Edison, if Tesla was alive today. (Guess who invented the fluorescent light bulb? Maybe the joke is ironically on Edison after all.)

Remember the Tesla Roadster? No, the story can't be true. He couldn't have invented the electric car in 1931. That's impossible.

Find out more about the amazing and mysterious Nikola Tesla in Michael Burgan's book, Nikola Tesla: Physicist, Inventor, Electrical Engineer.

Explore more:

Explore the PBS site on Tesla: Master of Lightning

Do an online search for movie clips that continue the fascination with the myths, legends, and incredible achievements of Nikola Tesla.

Related Posts with Thumbnails