Which Phone Should I Get?

I’ve been thinking about upgrading my phone now for some time. My Samsung Galaxy S3 is getting old – no, it’s already old. The battery last about as long as a carrot soufflé and I’m constantly having to restart it because of it freezing up. Sure, maybe there’s a virus. Or maybe there is some conspiracy happening. Yes, I’m convinced that there is a smartphone conspiracy happening. I think that whenever a new model comes out, the phone makers start to dial down the support on older models and begin to cause weird things to happen to them so that consumers – like me and you – will be tricked into buying the new model devices. It keeps happening. Think about it. As soon as the iPhone 6 comes out in September, or October, or November – whatever – all your iPhone 5s’s are going to start mysteriously acting up like never before. I experienced it with the Galaxy S3 twice so far, and my friends who have iPhones have experienced it as well when new updates and models have come out.

So, now I’m trying to decide on whether I want to get the new Samsung Galaxy S5, the HTC One (M8), or the LG G3. I’m going to stick with Android because I love it and because I don’t really want to join the Apple tree. It would be against my personality to do so.


I really like the HTC, but it has a stupid name and it doesn’t really stand up to the other two when you look at the features. The only thing it has going for it is the really sexy design that feels like you’re holding something premium and expensive. It’s like the iPhone of Android phones. Now, the LG G3 also feels premium and it’s lighter and bigger than the HTC, and the screen is the best of all phones on the market. Looking at the thing makes you feel like you have the vision of an eagle. It’s truly remarkable. Oh, and the camera is super quick. It supposedly uses the same laser technology that cops use when they do their speed traps – cool, right?


But the Galaxy S5 is still awesome and it’s water resistant and has a fingerprint scanner. And it’s Samsung, so I’m already used to the interface and most of the features. I don’t really feel like learning a whole new system. But the Galaxy S5 doesn’t look or feel as premium as the other two. It feels like a cheap piece of plastic in comparison.

What do you think? Has anyone out there purchased any of these phones? Is anyone having the same thoughts I am having?

Bay Windows

I went back to Boston a little over a week ago.

Some of my students were graduating from high school, and I couldn’t miss it for the world. It took me forever to get there, but 10 cancelled/delayed flights later, at 1:30am, over 12 hours late, my plane landed in that fancy airport in Massachusetts Bay.

I had a wonderful time there reconnecting with old friends, colleagues, coworkers, students, housemates, etc. It was nice to get reacquainted with my old job and get to know all the fantastic new things that are occurring these days. Most importantly, I got to see my old students again, and that was all I needed to remind myself of the example I am setting for them.

You see, all I want to do in life is help people. Everything I’ve ever wanted to do involves some facet of helping people. I wanted to be in the Peace Corps, on two occasions. I wanted to be a lawyer – a defense attorney – once upon a time. I enrolled in college to be a psychiatrist, but that didn’t quite pan out. Now, I’m an educator and I love it. It’s my way of giving back to the community. I’d do it even if I didn’t get paid – but I do, however, need money to survive in the world.

One morning, while in Boston, I woke up and wondered whether or not I should be pursuing this PhD thing. In 2007, when I was faced with the decision on which college to attend, I had a few options. Baylor, Morehouse, [Harvard], and Emory.  I got into “all” of them, but Emory did not offer me any money. However, I always knew that I would somehow get there, someday. Now, here I am, with a Master’s degree under my belt, on the verge of the final chapter of my formal education at the place at which I’ve, for many years, wanted to study for a PhD.  The story is poetic to say the least.

I am doing exactly what I prayed about, what I set out to do, what people have expected of me, what I expected of myself. Yet, recently, I’ve wondered if this is all right. Like, I would sit in my graduate seminars last semester and wonder if this is what I want to commit myself to for the rest of my life (or the next few years). Then I went back to Boston and encountered the same people who almost convinced me to stay and work in education reform, to teach and work in a high stakes/high results charter high school for a few more years. They knew I had an itch that I was too afraid to scratch. They knew as well as I did that with just a little more nudging, I would’ve thrown it all away to stay with those kids a bit longer.

So, I found myself on the cold wooden floor of my friend’s apartment (on a mattress), marveling at the morning sun beaming down on me from the bay windows above. One of the most stressful things about my time working at the school as dealing with special needs kids. If I had known how to talk to them, how to help them learn and support them as necessary, treat them “normally”, devise new methods on how to be a better supporter, I would have had a more enjoyable experience with them – maybe. At least, I would’ve been prepared. So, I laid there thinking that maybe had I stayed on a bit longer and learned the SPED ropes, I could’ve gone to grad school still, but for something that meant a lot more to me than what I’m doing now. What I do now is important, but not as direct. I study literature, so maybe you catch my drift.

What I imagined in my head that morning was spending another year at the high school, working closely with the SPED (that’s special education, fyi) staff, learning best practices, shadowing people, engaging with kids in constructive ways. Now, this is not saying that I failed my job when I was there. I think I did fine overall with the resources I had, but I definitely could have improved my performance. In this hypothetical year, I would also spend time finding graduate programs that would help me learn more about supporting students with special needs and apply and get in. Those who work with the school have gone on to top graduate ed schools across the country. I’ve always been interested in psychology, but never really had practical training in it. I started college as a psychology pre-med major, but dropped it in my second year because I had lost interest and had a tingle for literature. I still use psychology in my literary analyses.

Perhaps, this hypothetical trajectory would have given me the tools necessary to pursue the PhD that I’ve always wanted, but in a field that is more directly impactful to the people whom I care the most about – students. Who knows. I can spend all day going on and on about “what ifs” and “should haves” but I don’t have time. I figure I should find new ways, necessary ways of using the training and experiences that I do have to research and open avenues that will provide support and enrichment for the groups in need. I think I’ll be ok. I’ll just pray and hope that God is ordering my steps toward something that is beneficial to His kingdom. I trust him. I’ll be just fine.

Justin’s Stove-Top Penne Pasta

pre-cheese and basil

pre-cheese and basil

This is a simple, healthy recipe that is just as tasty as anything you’ll eat at an Italian restaurant (and about half the cost). I created this recipe in a desire to get something delicious, but healthy. What I came up with is water-watering.  There is no meat involved, just lots of good, fresh ingredients.  If you just absolutely NEED meat, go ahead and add some cooked Italian sausage and/or shrimp to the recipe for an even more hearty meal.

What You Need:

- cherry tomatoes (1 pk)

- 100% virgin olive oil (I normally use oil from Tuscany, but it may be interesting to try it with oils from other places like Greece or California) 2 tablespoons

- 2 cloves garlic

- uncooked (wheat or regular) penne pasta (1/3 box or 1/2 bag)

-  1 cup grated cheese mix  (parmesan, mozzarella, pepperjack – or any three white cheeses)

- fresh basil leaves, diced (optional)

- sea salt

- cracked black pepper

- tomato basil pasta sauce or regular tomato sauce (1/4 cup)


- Large skillet

- medium sized pot

- spatula or large mixing spoon

- knife, cutting board

- cheese grater (highly suggested)

- measuring cup (optional)

- strainer (optional)


What You Do:

1) The first thing you need to do is half your cherry tomatoes. Well, first wash them and then half them. When you cut them in half, it’ll make your life easier if you cut them down the length instead of around the width of the tomatoes. The reason for this is that the tomatoes will take a little while to cook down into a sauce, and if you’re anything like me, you hate waiting. So cutting them down the length will allow them to cook faster – a little bit. Thank me later. (3 mins)

2) Either just before you cut the tomatoes, or sometime midway through your decapitation fun, go ahead and measure your olive oil and garlic into the skillet.  You can add a little more olive oil later, if necessary, once you put the tomatoes in. Also, make sure that you try your best to spread your garlic around the pan. Be careful. It will pop on you. Stop being a baby. You’ll know it’s hot when.. Ouch! I just got popped. (1 min or less)

3) Maybe before doing all of this, you might want to drop that pasta into a pot of heavily salted boiling water.  Make sure you salt that thing. It should taste like salt water, kind of.  It helps to clean the pasta and heat the water faster.  The pasta will be dry when you put it in there, so you’ll know it’s done when the color is a pale yellow and it’s squishy. They’ll also grow a little bit. This shouldn’t take more than 10 mins before it’s cooked. If you get scared that you may be overcooking your pasta, don’t worry. Just take it off the burner and let it sit for a while. You’ll have time to finish cooking them in the sauce later.

4) Now that you’ve got your pasta boiling, and your tomatoes all cut nicely, your oil-garlic mixture should be nice and hot. Go ahead and drop (be careful) those tomatoes into your hot oil and let them sit for a while. Well, don’t drop them – scoop them in there so that you don’t make a mess. Stir them every few minutes until your nose gets excited and the tomatoes get soft and wrinkly. This may take about 10 mins or more depending on your stove.

5) While your pasta is boiling and your tomato concoction is brewing (make sure you stir it), it may be a good time to go ahead and cut up your fresh basil. You can cut it however you like – small chunk, long strips – doesn’t matter. Just make sure you throw away the stems. Don’t want that getting in there. Oh, and I hope you washed the basil off in water first. Oops. Leave it to the side.

6) Also, now is as good a time as any to grate your cheese. You can choose to do this later, once your pasta is done if you like. I just like having things ready to go. Besides, you’re just standing around anyway. You might as well get to work. Take your blocks of mozzarella and pepper jack and grate them into a measuring cup.  Add your parmesan.  Yeah sure you can use pre-shredded cheese, but it won’t be the same. It just won’t.  You should end up with a cup, or more, of delicious cheese. If you don’t have a measuring cup, then it’s about the amount of a half-full glass of juice. It’s a lot. I know. If you’re lactose intolerant or some other stuff, then I’m sorry you have to miss out on this. But I promise the pasta will be awesome without it – mostly. Leave your cheese mix to the side. Submerge the grater in some water. (When you have to wash dishes later, you’ll thank me dearly for telling you to do this.)

7) Remember that pasta/tomato sauce I told you to get? Good. Add that to your tomatoes that are cooking on the stove. Stir it in slowly. Add a little pepper. Bam! You do this so that your sauce can actually be a sauce. I used to make it without this step, which was fine, but I like to have some sauciness to my sauce – just a little bit. I would not add any more than what I suggested, but you can add less. Let it cook for about 5 mins. Stir. (This would also be the point where you add your cooked meat, if you want meat.)

8) Now, your pasta should be boiled. Strain the boiled water into the sink. Make sure no pastas try to escape. Mark my words, they will try to escape with the water. Make sure all of the water is gone! You don’t want water getting into your pasta. It’ll make it runny. No one like runny pasta. Once the pasta sauce is hot and bubbly, add your drained pasta to the sauce. Mix it up. Stir. Let it sit on the fire. 10 mins.

9) Turn down the burner a few notches. Add your basil to the pasta, and pepper, and mix it in. Add your cheese to the top of pasta and let it melt. You’ll know when the cheese is melted. When it is, cut the fire off.

10) Let the pasta sit and cool for about 5 mins before serving. If you’re hardheaded and you eat it before it’s cool, don’t get mad at me when your tongue gets burned.

11) Serve and store the rest in the refrigerator (once fully cooled). It reheats very nicely. If you’re cooking for more than one or 2 people, then you need to double or quadruple your ingredients.

(This is only a version of my secret recipe. I’m obviously not going to divulge my secret ingredient(s) to anyone.)


A Man’s Best Friend…

Did it ever occur to you that many American people between the ages of 20 and 26 really love pets? There may be no real way to prove why this is a reality or even if this is something worth studying, but I think there may be some correlation with Disney films.

This group of people grew up during the age of what is known as the “Disney Renaissance”, which saw the release of such films as The Little Mermaid (1989) through Tarzan (1999).  What’s interesting is that in all of these films, the protagonist has an animal companion. We read many stories about the subliminal messaging of the films and the sexual imagery and the misogynistic portrayals of gender, etc.. But we rarely, if ever, notice the inseparable bond between the main character and his/her pet bff. Don’t believe me? Here’s a refresher:

The Little Mermaid (1989) – Ariel has Sebastian and Flounder

The Rescuers Down Under (1990) – Cody has Marahute, Jake, the Rescuers

Beauty and the Beast (1991) – (this one is a bit weird) Belle has the horse and the dishes; Beast has Lumiere and Coggsworth.

Aladdin (1992) – Aladdin has Abu (and the magic carpet, if that counts); Jafar has Iago

The Lion King (1994) – Simba/Mufasa have Zazu, Timon, Pumbaa; Scar has hyenas

Pocahontas (1995) – Pocahontas has Meeko and Flit

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996) – Quasimodo has the gargoyles Hugo, Victor, and Laverne

Hercules (1997) – Hercules has Pegasus and Phil (he’s a satyr)

Mulan (1998) – Mulan has Mushu

Tarzan (1999) – Tarzan has Terk and Tantor

Princess and the Frog (2009) – Tiana and Naveen have Louis and Ray

Ok, I through that last one in for fun. I’ve also neglected to mention those other films of the 2000s such as Lilo & Stitch, Atlantis, etc. They were not as critically or financially successful as the films of the so-called Renaissance that ended in 1999.  I’ve also excluded the Pixar films and the more recent Disney films that used 3D and other formats.

These films during the 90s are vital parts of the childhoods of those of us who are now 20-26 years old. We learned many of our values from these films.  Disney shaped our childhoods in ways that many of us did not see manifest for decades. In each of these films, the animal companion is essential to the success and/or safety of the protagonist.  Just like we get many of our conceptions and fantasies of male-female relationships from the media of our childhood, could it be possible that we get our ideas of human-pet relationships?

And the Oscar Goes to…

It’s a new year. Let’s jump right into it.

12 Years a Slave is nominated for an Academy Award – Best Picture, with its black actors (Chiwetel Ejiofor and Luptia Nyong’o) nominated as well for their roles – their roles as slaves, and Michael Fassbender for his role as a malevolent slave owner.  The film has a black British director, the incomparable Steve McQueen, who is also nominated for Best Director.  It already has won numerous accolades including the Golden Globe for Best Picture. Bravo.

My point is this: Films that feature black protagonists (both male and female), which get nominated – and win – the most prestigious cinematic awards are those in which the actors portray blacks in very stereotypical roles.  Here’s the question – why?

In 1963, Sidney Poitier, KBE, was the first to win for his portrayal of jack-of-all-trades masquerader Homer Smith in Lillies of the Field. Denzel Washington comes along in 2001 to win Best Actor for his portrayal of a two-faced criminal cop in Training Day, beating out Will Smith’s Muhammad Ali.  Jamie Foxx followed up three years later with his portrayal of Ray Charles. Forest Whitaker won in ’06 for his acting as a corrupt African dictator in The Last King of Scotland leaving in the dust Will Smith’s portrayal of a black father fighting all odds to raise his son right.  And now, we have Ejiofor’s portrayal of an ingenious free black man who was tricked and spent 12 years unjustly incarcerated as a slave in the pits of the American South only to regain his freedom with the help of several charitable white men.

File:ACMI 14.jpgNow don’t get me wrong. These were all excellent roles and well-acted portrayals. Moreover, I don’t take issue with black men playing these morally ambigious – or downright evil – characters. I’m not against them playing athletes or entertainers either.  I’m not even against us playing slaves because I’ll be damned if I see another white man in blackface. It reminds me that when an actor plays Shakespeare, they are remembered for their roles in those tragic and questionable characters – Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello, Iago, Lear… none of whom you’d want as your neighbor. But Shakespeare gave us multiple facets of man and woman. Hollywood – the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, specifically – gives us a very limited scope of what it means to be an acceptable black person in this world.

Also, should I pause to discuss the award-winning (and nominated) roles for black women, as well? To date, Halle Berry is the only woman to have ever won Best Actress and it was for her portrayal of an abusive, broke, desperate single mother.  Just being frank. I’m not going to get into Supporting Actor and Actress. The only other nominees for Best Picture over the year, besides 12 Years, have been Django Unchained, Precious, The Blind Side (if that counts), and The Color Purple. John Singleton was nominated for Best Director in ’91 for Boyz N Da Hood.

The point, again, is that it seems that if a black actor wants a role that gets nominated for Oscars and Golden Globes and has a shot at winning, then the role they portray has to be some stereotypical aspect of black life, pop culture, or history. Records show that blacks only win when they play athletes, handymen, entertainers, criminals, slaves, abusive parents, drug addicts… I’m sure you’ve noticed the issue with this, but let me spell it out. Black culture is bigger than that. Unfortunately, the “Academy” is full of folks who really don’t understand that and don’t want to. If they did, then we’d see a film like Fruitvale Station up there. In that film, it has no happy ending, and white folks don’t swoop in to save the day. In fact, white folks – the white cops specifically – are the bad guys and justice is far from served. Perhaps it’s too realistic for the Oscar board. Perhaps it reinforces the fact that racism still exists – a fact that many people of privilege ignore and gloss over. A film like Fruitvale Station forces us to look at our own reality which seems to be exactly juxtaposed to what the Academy is looking for in a nominee.

But what do I know…