Saturday, May 16, 2009

Third Article for the Sun

Just had an article in the Naperville Sun published for the third time. So, um, you should read it.


When sophomore Matt LaCosse first met coach Paul Ryan on the diamond last year, he was terrified.

"He yelled at me my first practice."

The fact that LaCosse is Naperville North's starting quarterback and stands well over six feet tall did nothing to calm his fears.

Teammate Dave Considine agrees: "He comes off as a very demanding and very strict coach."

But LaCosse and Considine, co-captains of North's sophomore baseball team along with Jon Green, have since recognized what Ryan's hard-nosed style of coaching is really about.

"After I got to know him I realized that he's in it for the right reasons," LaCosse said. "He's not here to pick on anybody -- he's just here to make everyone better."

"You can tell he knows what he's talking about," Considine said, "and he really wants his players to become better ballplayers."

This June will see the retirement of Paul Ryan, who has coached baseball and football and taught English and speech for 33 years. In 2006 he was inducted into the Illinois High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

He's a tall man, and surprisingly soft-spoken in person. He says he recognizes the changes in students' lives from when his coaching odyssey began.

"Students are growing up a little too fast," Ryan said. "They don't see it that way, but I see a lot more pressure put on them for decisions they're making. It's forcing them to grow up sooner."

Over the years he's tried to mold his athletes not just into better players, but into better people. "I am very demanding, but I'm always trying to nurture them and build them into a better individual, someone who can get along with others, who can work hard. It's true wherever you are -- in school, in your career, in relationships, on the field."

North Athletic Director Doug Smith says some players may have trouble adjusting to Ryan's style at first, but eventually they understand his love of the game and his true willingness to see them improve.

"People like Paul don't come around much anymore," Smith said. "He's a multi-sport coach who is as dedicated to his coaching as he is to his teaching. Some might criticize an old-school approach, but in anything you need to know the fundamentals first before you can really move on."

Ryan says one of the highlights of his career was having the opportunity to coach and mentor his own son, Jon, on the field.

"I hope for my son, if he doesn't start a day, I just want him to work well with others, understand discipline, and be a team player."

For LaCosse, Considine and the rest of the team, the initial shock of having a strict coach with traditional values has given way to a deep respect. They know that the lessons they're learning on the diamond will last well past their playing days.

"Discipline helps you stay with something if you're struggling because you know it's going to get better, so you want to push yourself," LaCosse said. "It definitely works."

The two teammates laugh when Considine says of Ryan, "He definitely takes his job very seriously."

Then he grows more serious and adds, "But that's what you look for in a coach."

LaCosse nods at that. "His heart's definitely in the right place."

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Sarah Palin, Author

Yesterday’s Mediabistro newsletter contains the surprising-yet-unsurprising report that former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin would be releasing a book through HarperCollins. The AP reports that “Palin's memoir, currently untitled, will cover her personal and political life, from her childhood in Alaska and last year's campaign to her political beliefs and her family life, including the pregnancy of her teenage daughter, Bristol Palin, who gave birth in December to a baby boy, Tripp.” The memoir is due to be released next year, the same year Palin is up for reelection.

Why is this surprising? Well, you see, sometimes I forget what type of world we actually live in, and I regress to assuming that people only want to read books that are well-written, or interesting, or both. Not so. Why wouldn’t millions of people be interested in reading about the personal and political life of an Alaskan governor who until a year ago no one had ever heard of? Why wouldn’t we want to read about her moose-hunting expeditions, or her challenges in trying to raise a family of five children, one of whom—gasp—has a child of her own. And—again, gasp—she’s still a teenager. How interesting.

Why is this unsurprising? Well, Tori Spelling has just inked her third book deal (and yes, I just compared Sarah Palin to Tori Spelling). President Obama has appeared shirtless on the cover of the Washingtonian. A talk show host has legions of followers buy any book she recommends. What I’m getting at here is that it’s celebrity that sells; rarely does merit alone create a popular product.

But who knows—maybe Sarah Palin (or her ghost writer) will craft an excellent memoir for the ages. I’m not holding my breath, though.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

New Article in the Sun

I've gotten another article published in the Naperville Sun. This one concerns a restaurant owner who turned to high school graphic arts students to redesign his rather boring menus. See below or click here for the link.

Senior's menu design No. 1

North graphic arts students gain real-world experience at Grumpy Bulldog

April 22, 2009

Every successful bar has three things in common: great beer, good food and a stylish menu to show it all off. Chris Bauer, co-owner of Naperville's Grumpy Bulldog, had the first two covered.

And since the Bulldog is Naperville's only choice for a wide variety of microbrews and craft beers -- there are more than 100 to choose from -- he wanted a menu to match the unique character of the bar.

First he tried the traditional route.

"We hired a Chicago firm and just hated it. There wasn't any creativity to it," Bauer says.

His next step? High-schoolers, of course. Bauer reasoned that having students work on the problem might provide a new perspective -- for him and for the students.

Dave Hayes, a graphic arts teacher at Naperville North High School, welcomed the opportunity. He says he's constantly looking for authentic experiences for his students.

"The nature of the class is to get them into some very hands-on types of experiences, as opposed to imaginary things," Hayes said. "This is something they want to pursue after high school."

Hayes introduced the project to his advanced graphic arts class as a competition, and Bauer decided to offer a $500 scholarship to the winning student.

"There are a lot of very creative kids out there who just aren't recognized, and this gives us a way to recognize them," Bauer says.

Knowing their designs might be seen by more than 500 customers a week motivated students Kristen Danowski and Cody Hardine to put extra effort into the project.

"It was cool knowing that you were doing something for real life, rather than just yourself," said Danowski, a senior at North. "I tried harder to make it look more professional."

Hardine adds, "Because I knew this was going to be for an actual cause, I wanted to make it look as good as I possibly could."

Hardine welcomed the creative freedom Bauer gave to the students.

"He didn't want to tell us what to do," Hardine said. "He wanted to see what we would come up with, and then have his customers pick what they wanted."

A survey of customers and neighboring businesses determined the best fit for the restaurant to be the menu design of senior Brittany Broaders.

When asked what she thinks about her work being seen by hundreds of people each week, Broaders sheepishly glances at the floor, trying to hide a smile.

"I just thought it was cool to design a menu for an actual restaurant and the possibility of it actually being used," she says. "I tried to reflect the atmosphere of the place -- laid-back and casual."

Next year, Broaders plans to study graphic design and business at the University of Illinois. If there's one thing the Grumpy Bulldog project has taught her, it's this:

"I can actually do this -- I actually have the ability to be a graphic designer," she said.

There's not too much grumpy around the Bulldog these days: Bauer has his menu design, Hayes' students have had an authentic experience in graphic design, and for Broaders, the future is bright indeed.

Editor's note: To see Broaders' menu design, visit the Grumpy Bulldog at 7 Jackson Ave., Naperville.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Charging for News Content Online

Mediabistro’s newsletter on Thursday carries a story from The Daily Beast that details Rupert Murdoch’s plan to charge fees for accessing online news periodicals. The article, “Murdoch’s Secret Plan to Charge for Content,” succinctly lays out the situation: “Now, The Daily Beast has learned, Murdoch’s News Corp. has set up a global team, based in New York, London, and Sydney, to create a system for charging for online content in an environment where consumers have come to expect to get it for free.”

I would love to say that I think everything on the internet should be free—but I can’t. For good journalism to exist—journalism that uncovers stories and delved deeply into the implications of the headlines—there need to be skilled journalists. And skilled journalists need to be paid. I am terrified of a world where everyone checks their Twitter news feed for current events: “US invades Iran. People are hurt.”; “Dan Rather died. He was a news anchor.”; or “Paris’ new purse matches her dog AND her shoes.” Or, worse yet, more pervasive advertising. How does this strike you as a headline: “FBI Finds Nixon Aides Sabotaged Democrats—Brought to you by Scotts Miracle Grow, for a weed-free lawn!”

The bottom line is that to prevent the watering down of news content and journalistic integrity, consumers of journalism have got to somehow support news sources financially. So, for once, I’m on the same side as Fox. Yikes.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Michael Crichton Writes from the Beyond

In the April 6th newsletter from Media Bistro, there is a New York Times article regarding a complete novel found on Michael Crichton’s computer after he died. The interesting thing is that according to the Times, no one even knew he was writing it. HarperCollins, the publisher of Crichton’s other novels, will print an initial one million copies of the book, which reportedly required “little editing” to be suitable for printing. Crichton’s agent said that there are many files on the computer that no one’s looked at yet, so there may be other novels yet uncovered. What’s rather depressing to me is that Crichton wrote so much during his life that he couldn’t publish his books fast enough. I mean, the man had a backlog of bestsellers sitting on his computers when he died. It’s interesting to note, though, that HarperCollins says that they don’t plan on using Crichton’s name to create a franchise with ghostwriters, a la Robert Ludlum. Good for them.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Kindle for the Blind?

This isn't a mystery: I will never, ever own a Kindle. I view the Kindle as one of the clearest signs of the impending apocalypse. But I have read in a few places (including the Publisher’s Weekly newsletter from April 7th) about the debate regarding the Kindle’s text-to-speech function—and I take a perverse pleasure in seeing Amazon’s devil tool in a bit of controversy. At issue is the Kindle’s innate ability to read the text displayed on the screen. Why is this a big deal? Because if people can hear the books read to them on the Kindle, the thinking goes, then people won’t buy audiobooks. Fewer people buying audiobooks means fewer dollars in the bank. The Authors Guild is the group not happy about the audio function, and justifiably, the National Federation of the Blind are on the side of the text-to-speak ability. Personally, I see both sides of the argument, but I tend to side with the consumer in matters such as these. But as long as the Kindle is in the middle of any sort of mess, I’m happy.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

The People Want April Fool's Products for Real

At least two of the gags from yesterday are being demanded for actual production by the people.

The first is a tauntaun sleeping bag that actually looks freakin cool. Notice the intestines lining. Nice.

The second idea is the TXT'N'WALK mobile application, which allows you to see a PiP window of what's in front of you while you're texting and walking. Pure genius.

Friday, March 27, 2009

All Hope Not Lost?

This is one of the most poignant things I've ever heard, and it came from a TV show.

But if I’m really being honest, I never really thought it would have a happy ending. I don’t know what “happy ending” is. Life isn’t about endings, is it? It’s a series of moments. It’s like, if you turn the camera off, it’s not an ending, is it? I’m still here. My life’s not over. Come back here in ten years. See how I’m doing then. Because I could be married with kids. You don’t know. Life just goes on.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Brian South is Now Famous

Well, not really. I did get an article published in the local Naperville Sun, though. See below, or check out the online edition.

North HS Journalism Program Eyes Future

In her youth, Tara Jewell's family subscribed to two newspapers -- a major daily and the local community paper. The routine was simple: Jewell would get the papers as her parents set the breakfast table, and they would all read the news as they ate.

Today Jewell's routine varies in some small but noteworthy ways. Instead of reading the print form of the major daily, she reads it online. Instead of the local paper, she reads two news blogs. And she gets national news headlines e-mailed to her every morning. She's become the type of person who subconsciously polishes her iPhone as she talks to people.

The transition from print to online news junkie isn't an uncommon one, but in Jewell's case, its a significant one: Tara Jewell is the director of the journalism program at Naperville North High School.

The import of training the next generation of reporters isn't lost on Jewell.

"I'm training these kids to be journalists in the school of new media," she says. "It's vital that they are prepared for whatever comes."

Because Jewell believes the future of news media is on the Internet, during the past few years, she has made some major changes to the program. While her journalism crew still produces its monthly newspaper, the North Star, they now post a story almost every day on their blog, North Star Online (

People read their news online because its more accessible, says student editor Jessica Mummery, who along with fellow editors Alex Johnson and Taylor Haeffele is cautiously optimistic about North Star's foray into the digital frontier. All three say they don't regularly read print newspapers, though their families subscribe to them.

"I get most of my news from TV and the Internet," Johnson says. "I love Rachel Maddow, and I check the Daily Beast, the Smoking Gun, and (celebrity gossip blog) every day."

Haeffele is particularly excited about the social networking aspect of North Star Online.

"Currently, the newspaper has 30 perspectives that make up its voice," Haeffele said. "With the Web site, we're giving the school a voice."

Jewell says her goal is to have students post one story each day, even if it's just an opinion poll.

"I want them to be able to post breaking news as it happens, not mull it over for a month," Jewell said. "That's not real journalism. I want my kids to feel like they're the gatekeepers of information at this school. They're deciding on the content of the papers, they're deciding on the content of the blog. They're deciding what's newsworthy.

"Editors also are starting to create weekly podcasts," Jewell said, "which allows students to subscribe to an audio file and have it automatically downloaded to their music players."

Since 2004, past editors of the North Star have painted their names on bricks in the journalism room, the symbolism of which isn't lost on the current editors.

"People could look back and say, 'Oh my God, I can't believe they were doing that,'" says Mummery. "People could look back and think it was crazy."

Crazy or not, the North Star's transition to the Internet is here to stay.

"We're not going back," Jewell said. "No way. This is just the beginning."

Brian South is a freelance writer, and an English and film teacher at Naperville North High School.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Oscar Reactions


The opening monologue was amazing. But will people give them grief for making light of the recession? I don’t care. Jackman was great.

· Reading the supporting actress nominees took ENTIRELY too long. Entirely. If the whole night goes like this…I’ll be up until 2am.

· Steve Martin and Tina Fey were hilarious as Screenwriting presenters. I also LOVE the idea of reading the script as we see the finished product. GO SLUMDOG.

· Half an hour in and my wife has already told me to see WALL-E three times.

· I did enjoy the musical montage, though it was clear that Beyonce was lipsyncing. I would have chosen different songs—though it was entertaining. I give it a B, overall.

· Really no surprises, except for supporting actress.

· In the middle of the awards, I realized that I absolutely admire each of the best director nominees, and I’ve seen multiple films from each. I wouldn’t have been upset with any of them winning (though I’m quite happy Boyle got it).

· I did say earlier that having five former best supporting actresses, but I have to admit that seeing the five former best actresses up there, it’s pretty damn impressive.

· I particularly enjoyed the best actor montage. Lots of good memories there.

· Ditto with the impressiveness of the former best actors. Magnificent Seven soundtrack??? I guess for Yul Brynner.

· Big surprise with Sean Penn. I wanted to hear what Mickey Rourke was going to say. I did like Penn’s speech, though.

· Loved the best picture montage. Glad Slumdog won.

This is What Happens When You Hire a Terrible Coach and No One Comes to Your Games.

Michigan lowers price of football tickets for 2009 season.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Wil Wheaton Says the Watchmen Movie is Good

In a nice spoiler-clean review, Wil Wheaton talks about his impressions on the Watchmen movie. His conclusion: we don't have anything to worry about.

Read the review.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Watchmen on DVD Will Come in Tall, Grande, and Venti

A friend passed on this link to me today, and I felt I needed to do the same. Zach Snyder, director of the anticipated Watchmen movie, is saying that he will release at least three different versions of the film on DVD--for the obsessed, the very obsessed, and the downright fanatical.

I've gotta say that at this point, I'm downright fanatical about Watchmen; whether that fanaticism carries over to the video medium...well, we'll find out on March 6th, won't we?

Check out the article: Watchmen will come in long, extra-long and really extra long.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Hidden Door Company

I remember as a kid going to one of the Ford family mansions and being astounded by the grandeur of practically everything. Henry Ford built a playhouse for his kids--but instead of a normal kids' playhouse like you might expect, this was a stand-alone actual house--complete with bathroom, kitchen, the works. In the early 20th century.

What really got to me, though, were the secret passages. I was REALLY into anything secret: secret passages, secret agents, secret societies. Probably because I'm an only child and wanted to feel like I was a part of something that other people weren't.

Well anyway, I stumbled upon this website recently, and I was transported back to the above scene. It's a company that custom designs and installs hidden doors into your home. Hidden doors, people! The kind where you pull a light fixture and it swings out, revealing a SECRET lair where you can...well, I don't know what you do in secret lairs if you aren't a mad scientist or a kidnapper, but it's still very cool.

No word on pricing, but if you're in the market for a hidden door, do you really care about money? Check it out.

The Hidden Door Company

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Do Not Buy the Kindle 2.

My friends, we stand on the brink of change. But not the kind of change that's being bandied about in Op-Ed pages or in the few pieces left jingling in people's pockets. No, alas, not that kind of change at all. Evil change. A change that will try to devour us without our even knowing it. A change for the worse.

I'm speaking, of course, about the Kindle 2, Amazon's second-generation e-book reader that has the tech pages aflutter with pictures of flat, eggshell-white blandness that promises to change the world. Even Oprah's on board. You download your e-books from the Kindle store, just like you download your music from the iTunes store, and off you go, reading Dorian Gray one minute and switching to the New York Times headlines the next.

I say no. I say NO. Leave our books alone, Amazon. Up until now I've respected you as a company, what with your free shipping on orders over $25 and your generous offer to let me buy both The Dark Knight and espresso beans at two in the morning. But enough is enough. You may not take my books from me.

I know what you're thinking. Hey, it's just a niche market. It's only for people who want the convenience of reading the newest novel or newspapers without having to carry around a bunch of different books or having to store all those books, useless once read, in dark, imposing bookshelves in the back room of your tastefully decorated home.

It may be that way now, Amazon, but with Sony's e-book reader gearing up to offer some stiff competition and other companies waiting in the wings, I see which way the tide is turning. But it's not too late to turn back now.

You must sell thousands and thousands of books every day. Don't you feel even a little loss when you're forced to send off one of those books, packing them lovingly in those smiling boxes? Wouldn't you rather just keep them, to show off to your friends and neighbors? I would, Amazon, and I think you would, too.

And I can guarantee you, Amazon, that no matter how bad things get--NO MATTER--I will NOT be showing my friends and neighbors my list of e-books that I've downloaded on my damn Kindle.

You know why, Amazon? Because I would rather the seething ghost of James Joyce come back from his rotting grave and tear off my flesh with his ethereal fingernails than succumb to the shame of having digital books. I would rather Jane Austen's zombified corpse slice open my head with a steak knife and feast upon my still-living brains. I would rather Mark Twain load a six shooter with the agonies of the entire world and shoot it directly into my heart...

Well, you get the idea.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009


A student of mine lent me his copy of Watchmen. Wow. I don't think I'd ever read anything that could be remotely described as a comic before in my life, but if comic books are like this, maybe I should read more.

But I have a sense that very few comic books are like this. I found this article regarding Watchmen, which is being made into a movie for an early March release. Here's a passage from the article:

Who's watching Watchmen? Everybody apparently. This book -- or comic book, or graphic novel, or whatever you want to call it -- has been picked apart endlessly in the 20 years since it was first published. Every frame has been microscopically studied, its plot, characters and symbols charted out no less elaborately than Ulysses'. Its fans, like fans of everything else, are intensely protective and argumentative. Reading a book like this now, for the first time, is likely to result less in actual criticism than in intellectual alignment. What can be said has likely been said; the issue now is with whom do you agree.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The New Yorker Respects My Writing! (And Then Rejects It)

So I'm in a grad class right now related to magazine writing, and on a whim late one night I decided to submit my most recent piece to the New Yorker. Well, today I got this in my inbox:
Dear Brian South,
We're sorry to say that your piece wasn't right for us, despite
its evident merit. Thank you for allowing us to consider your work.

Best regards,
The Talk Dept.
"Evident merit?" The New Yorker thinks my writing has "evident merit?!" Well, turns out that the New Yorker sends this response out to pieces that are a cut above the rest, but not good enough for the final dance.

If you're not a writer or artist of some sort, you probably don't get what all the fuss is about. I got rejected. That may seem to be a weird thing to get excited about. Hell, it is weird thing to get excited about. But I and most other writers receive SO many rejection letters that one that actually compliments your work does seem special. And the fact that it's coming from the New Yorker, about a dream rejection. (Actually, I've never heard the phrase "dream rejection," but it seemed to fit there so I'm going with it.)

I don't mean for this post to brag at all, I'm just trying to highlight that there is so much failure associated with this line of work that a momentary bright spot can light the whole room. In all its pathetic glory.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Chief Justice's Flub

Doesn't that title sound dirty?

Watching the swearing in and inaugural speech was amazing. Watching it with 1,000 freshmen was less so. While the speech itself was inspired and moving, perhaps the most surprising bit of the afternoon was Obama's excited jumping ahead in the oath of office, followed by Chief Justice John Roberts' reordering of words in the oath, followed by confusion on the part of Obama, followed by confusion on the part of Roberts. Hilarity ensues.

Most media outlets, of course, are focusing on the grandeur of the day, as well they should, but I did track down this article from

Chief Justice Fumbles

January 20, 2009 12:45 PM

Chief Justice John Roberts is a man who has made very few public missteps in his life -- but he appears to have made one when swearing in Barack Obama. After Obama stepped on the first line of the oath, Roberts then slightly flubbed the next bit--which then tripped up Obama.

You'd think two brilliant Harvard Law grads who are both serious students of the Constitution (and obviously know the words of the oath by heart) would nail this one, but, then again, who among us has made history standing before two million people on a freezing January day?

The oath is contained in the Constitution:

"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

But when Obama jumped in sooner than Roberts expected, Roberts flipped some of the words, saying: "I will execute the office of president to the United States faithfully."

Here's the transcript:

ROBERTS: Are you prepared to take the oath, Senator?
OBAMA: I am.
ROBERTS: I, Barack Hussein Obama...
OBAMA: I, Barack...
ROBERTS: ... do solemnly swear...
OBAMA: I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear...
ROBERTS: ... that I will execute the office of president to the United States faithfully...
OBAMA: ... that I will execute...
ROBERTS: ... faithfully the office of president of the United States...
OBAMA: ... the office of president of the United States faithfully...
ROBERTS: ... and will to the best of my ability...
OBAMA: ... and will to the best of my ability...
ROBERTS: ... preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.
OBAMA: ... preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.
ROBERTS: So help you God?
OBAMA: So help me God.
ROBERTS: Congratulations, Mr. President.

UPDATE: It's worth pointing out that Chief Justice William Howard Taft, who had been President himself, also flubbed the oath when he was swearing in Herbert Hoover in 1929. When Taft administered the oath, he said, "preserve, maintain and defend the Constitution," instead of "preserve, PROTECT, and defend." So where Roberts flipped a couple of words, Taft substituted an entirely new one.