Parlor Spider...Step In, Little Fly

Insightful thoughts and/or rants from atop the soapbox from one who wishes to share the "right" opinion with everyone.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Email Is Today's Rotary Dial Telephone

Literally nanoseconds roll by between the introduction of new technological advances. Just in time for Christmas shopping, a company is coming out with a laptop computer with TWO separate screens for diehard multi-taskers, and supposedly, Apple is harboring a secret about its next big innovation, due out sometime this fall, touch screen and all. It's really too much: just when I feel comfortable with things like email and texting, it all goes away. Take email, for instance.
Our freshman orientation seminar group of 30 students has a professor, an upperclassman and myself as facilitators. In order to prepare students for what was to take place, Professor Nelson sent them all an email last week. She sent it to their new university account. Over the weekend, I,too, sent all of them an email, but I sent it ot their personal accounts, thinking that since MY students never check school email, the incoming students wouldn't either. Turns out, they didn't. Only three people admitted that they had read the first email. Worse yet, only four people indicated that they had read the one I'd sent to their Hotmail/Yahoo, etc. account; thisoversight meant that many of them were trying to accomplish active team-building challenges in flip flops...not so easy. But at least I warned them ahead of time! This is not good: someone had better inform the professors on campus that students no longer rely on the outdated information-processing form of email.
I can just see it: professors opening Facebook or Twitter accounts to get information to their students...while I'm still trying to text them!
Getting too old.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Futura or Verdana? Even I Can't Decide

Madness is not relegated to those incarcerated in locked wards around the world. It is not simply a medical or psychological diagnosis made by professionals. It would seem that amateurs now feel free to assess what is and what is not worthy of the title…or so it must seem to the surprised folks who head up IKEA.
Just in case you are unfamiliar with the company, IKEA is a Swedish company that makes stylish, yet inexpensive home furnishings and offers them for sale in huge stores brightly colored in yellows and blues. In keeping with the sense of style I found in Sweden, each piece is functional though not ornate. It will usually come boxed, and you get to put it together; it will, however, last almost forever…longer than you might want it to. But the product is not the current problem: it is one of font.
See, the IKEA catalog recently changed the font from Futura to Verdana, its first font change in 50 years. The latter as a font designed by Microsoft to be more legible on small screens like those on computers as well as on the printed page. Outraged recipients of the catalog seem to put the change in the same category as “New Coke” vs “Coke,” at least if internet posts are to be believed:
“Words can’t describe my disgust,” noted one reader.
“IKEA, stop the Verdana madness,” opined another.
Someone even posted an online petition, urging the change to be negated. To date, it has garnered 2,700 signatures.
The Swedish art director Christoph Comstedt didn’t think it was a big deal, saying that most people wouldn’t care one way or another about the font.
What you are seeing in this blog should have been Verdana…since my font settings didn’t even provide Futura,I typed it in Verdana on a Word document; however, when I tried to paste it into here, it returned to the default format. With no way to change it, I am helpless to give you a demo. There's foul play afoot, I suspect.
Can you believe ANYONE has time to spend dissecting a magazine for font type?
Probably someone from Norway.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Dealing With the Myopic

I've had glasses since I was in high school, I think...maybe even before that: one of those genetic defects I got instead of intellectual genius. I'm nearsighted, and since getting my nose smashed in and my glasses broken, I usually use contacts (I know, it doesn't matter who I know!). Sometimes, though, I think I see 20/20 and other people are blind: sightless to their own biases and unwilling to apply anything that resembles logic to a situation. This locktstep of "anything different is less," "that's what everyone says," or "they're all alike" just drives me nuts, and I realized the other day that I have altered my personal presentation as a result. Not tht I'm non-judgemental in all areas, either. I'm casting general stones today as specific people like Michael D. and Father J.
While I'm admittedly not a genius, I'm not totally without intellectual capacity and wide-ranging interests. I'll admit that there probably aren't many teachers of English and physical education who've also worked for years as a disc jockey, been a janitor at McDonald's, a city alderman,an orderly on a locked ward (some might think teaching is like this), worked on road construction and farms as well as guiding tours of historical landmarks.
I am not particularly interested in public opinion...I prefer my own research and the counsel of people I can trust. Thus, I would like to think that my life has some meaning and that what I've chosen to do has been done for positive reasons.
Enter Fr.J, our parish priest years ago. He had a background in English literature, and he and I had thoughtful discussions concerning authors, books and historical perspective. He thought me to be erudite and insightful since I was at that time teaching English and possessed a master's degree. That is, until he discovered that my master's degree was in administration of physical education and athletics: we never had another meaningful discussion. I was unworthy, it would seem.
As a physical education teacher, I was constantly ducking under a barrage of snide remarks about getting turf toe from merely "kicking the ball out" for class. Teachers of academic subjects would ask me how it felt to be "stealing" money from the district: and none of them voted High School Teacher of the Year as I was. Bitter? nah...well, maybe a little. But it was Michael D. who sent me off on this tangent recently.
I hadn't seen him for five years or so though we had gotten together regularly before I moved 25 miles away. Catching up involved what I was currently doing (following a handshake which he said was "too forceful"); when I noted that I tutored athletes at the university, he commented, "Oh yeah, those guys that can't do ABC's or numbers." He reads a few news stories about athletics programs that defy regulations, enlist illiterate performers to cast them aside once "basket weaving" classes are finished, and hire people like me to complete academic work FOR athletes and proceeds to make the huge jump to implicting me in the same kind of activity.
At last count, there were eight types of intelligences, and we are not all gifted with the same ones to the same degree. What IS it about the kinesthetic intelligence that causes people to be narrow-minded? Is numeric or linguistic intelligence that much better that types cannot co-exist to a certain degree?
See, I'd like to think I possess more than one kind of intelligence, in varying degrees, of course.
Maybe I'm just sensitive because I feel inferior to those people in some way.
Maybe they're just idiots.
From now on, though, I'm just admitting to being a tutor for university students.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Still Searching For Answers

I work with people several generations removed from my own. To be honest, I was never really on the cutting edge of fashion anyway, though I did have a T-shirt in college that featured a target on the front and the word "STUDENT" just above it...ah, the late 60's-early 70's. Anyway, so I, at least, get to view what passes for fashionable trends as students make their way into and out of my corner office (that's "corner" as in "next to the exit" not as in "surrounded by windows on the top floor.") North Face has been in so long I think it's ready to go out: Columbia and Nike remain for those hopelessly out of touch in the young adult world.
Bare midriffs have really gone away for the back-to-school set though college kids tend to be quite casual, favoring hoodies and baseball caps (the better to hide their eyes while sleeping in the back row or examining someone else's test paper).
It's the hats that caught my attention over the last year or so...not so much the hat itself as the way it's being worn: OVER the wearer's ears! Look closely at any young male, and you will not see the top of his ears: they are covered by the hat. None of the guys with whom I work could explain why that was the fashion any more than they could tell me why they didn't peel the gold head size sticker off the brim; "That's the way we wear it," was all I could glean from them. Personally, I think it's all Spike Lee's doing.
The New Era cap companmy has been in business since 1920, and it serviced its first baseball team, the Cleveland Indians, in 1932. Honus Wagner had a huge melon so the company had to make something special for him...thus, the adjustable cap came into being. Now, the company is the offical cap maker for all major league baseball teams, churning out 72,000 caps a week for the general public as well as the pros.
Why am I holding Spike Lee culpable? He was the first to ask New Era for a custom New York Yankee red. That started it all. Now every team has available many styles and colors though the pros rarely change the design too much, except for the Pirates, a team that changes hats roughly every month. Apparently, they are looking for one which will enable them to win a few games.
And, there are preferences for players, according to the company. Older players prefer a higher crown while younger players opt for a cap with a lower crown. Flat brims (a la Joba) are becoming popular as well, though not with me...much like the hat placed on slightly askew (a la C.C.).
The most popular logo, according to New Era? The New York Yankess by a 3 to 1 margin.
Me? I wear caps occasionally, favoring a low-crown Yankees or Packers cap, but I sometimes go old school with my high crown Emporai State University cap. Mostly, though, I want to get as much air to my head as possible to stimulate brown-hair growth instead of the ever-popular-with-my-cohort gray hair.
All of that, and I STILL don't know why guys need a hat so big that it covers the tops of their ears. Fortunately, another school year begins next week.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Not So Bad in the Badger State

I have, on occasion, ranted a bit about the forced "furloughs" taking place this year in oder to help the state of Wisconsin reverse budgetary setbacks. And, of course, I've whined about how I didn't cause the problem...yada,yada, yada. Today, I discover that it's not so bad being here after all.
Currently, 19 states have enacted measures whereby some or all of the state workers get "vacation" time from both work and pay. Here in Cheeseland, full time state employees get 8 days off each year for two years, amounting to, perhaps, a bit more than a 3% reduction in salary. While not pleasant, it beats many other plans by a wide magin:
Rhode Island's governor reported today that state employees there will be taking 12 days off...the exceptions being law enforcement, hospitals and the department of corrections as well as public transportation. The DMV? forget it...get your license another day. And with the second-highest unemployment rate in the country, this will fray a few more nerves while saving an estimated $68 million.
Arizona, Maine and Illinois offer their workers the same 12-day furloughs while California workers take off 3 days a month through June of 2010. (in addition to furloughing some 27,000 people currently in jail!)
Governor David Paterson of New York took an even harsher stand: when unions indicated that he might be breaking a contract to furlough those workers, he indicated that he would, otherwise, lay off 8,900 folks! How about that for a choice?
Governor Linda Lingle of Hawaii seems to have taken a more "re-electable" stance: she has decreed that she, her cabinet and their deputies would all take two days off without pay. Perhaps Hawaii has less of a budgetary shortfall than anyone else, but this strikes me as a better way to begin than those seen so far.
At this point,I'm just happy to have a job in the Badger State.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Oh No, He Didn't Say That!

Every now and then, something comes along that is so incredible that we find ourselves totally without the ability to describe what we have just seen or heard. We shake our heads to clear the cobwebs; we slap ourselves once or twice to make certain we are really awake, and we ardently wish that life had a "refresh" button so we could validate the experience. This happened to me today. I am not sure I can adequately describe the scene, so I have included the link to the video on YouTube.
To further pique your curiosity, I will tell you that this is a short infomercial brought to us by Adam Jay Geisinger who has developed what he believes to be the ultimate product: one that everyone, and I mean EVERYONE can use.
Geisinger paid money to air his infomercial on MSNBC, and the company claims that they ran it...exactly once...during the 2 a.m.-5 a.m. slot and then immediately dropped it, claiming the final product ad was not exactly as pitched to them. With no alcohol, aerosols or other irritants, this may just be the perfect product.
You decide. Check it out.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

But Seriously, Though...

I loved the Three Stooges when I was a kid. In fact, any kind of comedy presented on tleevision was sure to get my attention. A lot of it was childish, nonsensical stuff, I'm sure, but I thought that being a comedian was about the best job a person could have. Situation comedies and variety shows that featured singing, dancing and funny people invariably tickled my funny bone. Now, I find out that all of that was a negative thing! In my quest to be thought of as funny, I was unknowingly becoming something least a recent study would seem to indicate so.
Helga Kotthoff, a researcher at Frieberg University of Education in Germany, recently published findings which state unequivocally that comedy and satire are " based on aggressiveness and not being nice." It is her contention that people in power have permission to attempt humor while those of lower status don't dare do the same. According to her, it is an attempt by those of higher status to "take control" of a situation. And humor,according to Kotthoff, is different between the sexes.
Women tend to be self-deprecating when it comes to humor while men men tend to prefer humor that comes at someone else's expense. That would seem to be "proof" of her theory that the powerful wield humor as a source of control while the less powerful fear to do so.
This behavior starts early as well. Boys tend to tell more jokes, frolic and act clownish as young as four or five while girls at that age tend to be the ones laughing at the hilarity...but not attempting any of their own. However, while males start sooner, women become more at ease with humor as they get older and gain a sense of independence.
Take Chelsea Handler of "Chelsea Lately," Tina Fey or any of a host of modern funny women. Their humor is typical of what was once thought of as "male" humor in that they have fun at others' expense. I mean, Vanity Fair even tackled the issue of funny women back in 2008, bristling at the idea that women were not funny but men were. Part of it, I think, is that there have not been a great number of famous funny women in our past. Barbara Stanwyk? nope. Margaret Mead? nuh uh. It wasn't until the 60's that women actually got the opportunity to emerge from the shadow of men's humor dominance. It was as if Virginia Woolf was suddenly being read by everyone as she claimed that all a woman needed was some money and "a room of one's own" in order to be a successful writer...or comedienne, one would suspect.
While humor MAY, in fact, be used as a method of control, it certainly is not the domain of males anymore.
But men are probably STILL threatened by a woman being funny.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

All Wee-Weed Up In August

Every year the lexicon of The English language gets updated by the folks who print dictionaries and similar tomes. The technical age has given us hundreds if not thousands of new words, and text messging? Don't get me started on what THAT'S done to English.
Then, there are the "accidental" misuses of language that get spotted every day. Malaprops give us a cause to chuckle, whether they be from Yogi Berra, George W. Bush or an anonymous source. Usually, though, they're nothing to get all wee-weed up about. (I'm still laughing)
Of course, perhaps President Obama is the ONLY one who knows exactly what he meant when he noted that Washington gets all "wee-weed" up in August. Context clues? perhaps, but I've heard many interpretations, especially from the Rhodes Scholars on Fox News. My interpretation is that he meant something to the effect that folks get all riled up over trivial matters...but I could be (and often am) wrong about that. That's how I'm going to use it in this post as I formulate a list of the things that are opposed to those things of REAL importance that we SHOULD get all wee-weed up about. Here's the list of the "Are you seriously giving this importance?" items:

1. Miley Cyrus' performance at the Teen Choice Awards (or ANYTHING about M.C.)
2. Brett F. in Minnesota.
3. A too-low scoreboard in the "Jones Mahal" in Texas.
4. Absolutely anything related to Jon & Kate or Octomom.
5. U.S.A. 4x100m relay teams at the World Championships.

HOWEVER...I DO think the following might be worth some serious consideration in the "wee-weed" category:

1. Health care reform not guided by insurance companies or partisan politics.
2. Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi being allowed to go home to a hero's welcome and die
a free man.
3. Usain Bolt
4. The State of California getting ready to release 40,000 prisoners due to budget
issues...after cutting education and social programs.
5. Finding Jasmine Fiore's "boyfriend."

Sometimes I just have to wonder what's going on here!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The List You Never Thought You'd Want or Need

Working at a sports venue as I do engenders a host of questions that most people would find just too trivial to think about...but then again, these are sports fans or they wouldn't be touring a football stadium...and be excited about it. So, today the question arose: how heavy is the Heisman Trophy (given to the best college football player each year)? I surely didn't know, nor did I know where that weight ranked the trophy among the most famous of all time. However, since we have Paul Hornung's Heisman Trophy on display, I figured I should look it up. And knowing that you'd also want to know, I've decided to share the information with you. Thus far, it's only the weights I am concerned with, not how much each is worth. Obviously, the gold ones are worth more than the wooden ones, etc. The following is a list of the most recognizable trophies in terms of weight:

12. The Kentucky Derby trophy weighs 3.5 pounds (but it is solid gold)
11. The Ryder Cup trophy weighs 4 pounds (it, too, is gold)
10. The Lombardi Trophy for the Super Bowl winner weighs 7 pounds
9. The America's Cup sailing trophy weighs 8 pounds
8. The FIFA World Cup Trophy weighs 12.125 pounds of solid gold
7. Any NCAA Championship plaque/trophy weighs 12.5 pounds
6. The Larry O'Brien Trophy for the NBA Championship weighs 16 pounds
5. The Heisman Trophy is a hefty 25 pounds
4. The Commissioner's Trophy for the World Series weigh 30 pounds
3. The Stanley Cup weighs 34.5 pounds
2. The PGA Championship Trophy weighs in at 44 pounds (are golfers that strong?)
1. The Indianapolis 500 Trophy weighs 80 pounds, though a replica is actually presented to the winner that weighs far less.

There you have it: more useless information than you'd ever want to have. Oddly enough, those are the kinds of facts that are necessary in the life of a tour guide at Lambeau Field.
And I won't even charge you for it!


Monday, August 17, 2009

Into the Wayback Machine


We took a trip in the Wayback Machine tonight. It began as a simple idea: we'd take the two neighbor kids to the A&W for a root beer float to celebrate the end of summer. Thier dad was away on a business trip, and their mother welcomed the invitation as a chance to be alone for an hour or so...these two boys are 5 and 11 or so, and I had forgotten so much about what young boys are like without the strict guidance of their parents. The outing eventually included not only the root beer float but a trip up the observation tower on the university campus and a sundown hike along the Niagra Escarpment to an unknown (to them) little chapel in the woods. All rather idyllic, don't you think? Here are the parts their mother didn't hear about:
(most of this was the 5-yr. old, I must admit, but his brother instigated a bit, too)

1. Heads hanging out the window (though safely belted in) shouting at people, then attempting to spit out the window of a moving vehicle. In his defense, the 5-yr. old was willing to clean it off though less willing to hold on to the napkin after that.

2. At least ten references to "puking" in addition to other bodily functions and appendages peculiar to males. In addition, there were "rope burns" "knucklehead rubs" and short-hair pulling (that hair on the very bottom in the back...hurts like heck to have someone tug on it!)

3. Actual root beer leaking out of a facial orifice, though I'm not sure which one, as further funny references were made about the earlier-mentioned functions. Fortunately, napkins were in good supply, but I had to throw them away.

4. An incessant need to ring the bell in the A&W under a sign which read "Ring the bell if you enjoyed your food." Hey, they asked for it, but still, it was all I could do to get the guys out of there before the riot started.

5. Walking 'way too close to the edge of the observation tower which drove an already-nervous former mom to quit the premises (and drag the rest of us with her)prior to the actual sunset...which was striking.

Oh yeah, the guys drank so much root beer that at least one of them will be wetting the bed tonight. When my sweetie and I talked about a limit, we decided that such a thing was for their mother to deal with!

And yet, I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience. Of course, they were not my children so I could be a bit more relaxed (though not to the point of their being totally naughty). The walk through the darkening woods was enhanced by the younger brother taking my hand for security, finding pheasant feathers (fortunately, one for each kid) and becoming quite interested in the rock formations...fantasizing about jumping down from the top and having great battles there. Swinging Tarzan-like on drooping tree roots and vines added an element of danger to the exercise, and the boys writing (or printing) their names in the ledger placed in the chapel for such a purpose gave them a sense of being someone.
Could I do this every day? probably not without a more strict regimen, but it certainly took me back to the days when exploring with little kids was about the most fun a person could have.
It's sad that our own kids are grown. They used to love this stuff, too.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

What's In A Name? It Depends


Not currently possessing a GPS instrument to find addresses unknown to me, I have to depend on Mapquest or a street directory. While I intend to have the tech advantage of satellites soon, it didn't help today when I was trying to find a retail establishment specializing in bird feeders (don't ask!) in a part of town unfamiliar to me. So, I pulled out the city map and began to search in what I thought was the general area. During this inquiry, I found enough startling street names that I began to wonder, "How in the hell do people come up with all these names, and WHO would live in some of these places?" Thus, some research was needed, and I had time.
There are 4,000 named streets in Brown county. There are a lot of common ones, and quite a few head-scratchers. More on that later.
When urbanization began to boom, naming streets was easy since there were so few of them. Usually, these passages were named for landmarks (Mill Street), topographical (Hill Street)or hydrological features (River Street) as well as symbols of power, authority, heroes and famous leaders. That seems to cover most of the ones in our city. But, wait!there's more!
During the 1850s, Nature ceased being the contentious, to-be-dreaded force and took on more of a pastoral image; thus, we had streets named after trees, flowers, etc.
Following the Civil War in this country when development really began to take off, many of the new names echoed that of the developers themselves (we have one in our neighborhood: Fagerville St.) A bit presumptious, if you ask me...but then, you didn't.
Eventually, the term "street" became too common and was replaced by "avenue" which was, in turn, replaced by "drive" as the automobile became prominent in this country. Of course, "boulevard" followed closely. These new names were meant to impart a sense of broad expansion and leisurely travel. All of this meant that we could have four or five paths with the same basic name: "Farve Street, Favre Boulevard, Favre Avenue, of Favre Drive." Lest you think I'm being presumtuous myself, we already have a "Brett Favre Pass" here in Green Bay, and we will soon have a "Favre Boulevard." This latter one will replace either Ashland Avenue, Military Street or Velp has yet to be decided which.
Of course, we have all sorts of Packers nomenclature associated weith our streets: Lombardi Avenue used to be Highland Avenue, Holmgren Way used to be part of Gross Avenue, and the Ray Nitsche Bridge used to be the Washington Street Bridge. But, I digress a bit. Back to the street names which caught my attention today while searching for the bird place.
Animals are popular here, with "Swan" being associated with at least five or six locations, while "horse" notes both Trails and Courts.
There's a Stine Way, but I don't think it has anywhere close to 88 cul-de-sac extensions as it would have if I'd have planned it.
One seriously needs a GPS here in Green Bay because there's a Lost Lane, Lost Trail, Lost Horizon Rd., a Lost Creek Lane, a Lost Ridge Court, and a Lost Valley Court. In addition, there's Lost Dauphin Rd. that, supposedly, was the final destination for an exiled French monarch who didn't have global positioning either, apparently.
There are 27 streets, avenues, etc. named for saints as well as Lourdes Street which, I am told, has the best water in the city.
I would not try to play street hockey on Talladega Speedway, Daytona Speedway, Indy Court or Pocono Court, and I doubt if small children last long there unless they are very quick!
But, the strangest development of all is located in a solitary (no wonder) section of the Town of Lawrence here in Brown County. I imagine that there is some kind of test or initiation procedure if you want to live on Ravenclaw Court, Gryffindor Court, Wizard Way or Quiddich Court. Perhaps everyone has to be assessed by those on Rowling Road. Seriously, I'm not kidding. These places actually exist here.
All I'm saying is that if I run across streets named Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse or Breaking Dawn, I'm driving the other way as fast as I can and going immediately to buy a GPS.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Who's the Adult Here, Anyway?

1196-J. That was the first phone number I remember having as a kid. We needed to pick up the phone, wait for the operator (no dialing possible) to answer, then recite the number we wanted. She would then connect us at her leisure, and that was that. It made calling in for radio station contests incredibly hard, and usually, it was a party line which meant any number of people could listen in if they simply picked up their phone. Oh yes, there was a cord as well. Portable? no. We were stuck, standing in the living room while talking to a friend or, gasp, a potential date. That's why I really don't get all the hoopla surrounding cell phone use by children.
According to Christopher Collins, an analyst for the Yankee Group that does research, more than half of all children over the age of 12 in this country have cell phones...innovative cell phones...not the kind I use. Schools typically ban their use during the class day, and arguments rage about the wisdom of having them at all since it seems to stunt the growth of actual human contact. But that's not the source of my concern here.
Parents get all fired up over things like sexting, hugely expensive text bills, inappropriate downloading and unnecessary expenses like new ring tones. One woman interviewed found a $19.99 bill on her Verizon Wireless bill; her son had downloaded a "joke of the day' application, thinking it was free. not so.
Nick Andes, in 2005, had an "unlimited" texting plan so he thought he would try to break the world record for texting (seriously, he needs a hobby). After 217,000 texts in one month, he had his record...and a bill from the company for $26,000. Seems as though "unlimited" was limited to 100,000 text messages in a month (can you say "carpal tunnel syndrome"?). I'm sure many parents have discovered the same "oops" on a different (we hope) level.
My point? What the hell are parents thinking? Get the kid a phone...not the latest computer! Limit the applications to making calls and sending text messages restricted by number. NO internet access...NO camera on the phone...just a phone to call. Is it so hard to understand? Most kids have phones that are more complicated than their parents have.
AT&T, for example, has something called "Smart Limits" which allows parents to set parameters for numbers, web sites and purchases made with the internet connection.
Geez, this can't be so hard. Say "NO!" to your kid every now and then.
Of course, I'm just jealous because my parents wouldn't even leave the room when I was trying to talk to a girl...and I never won any kind of contest when an operator was involved.
But then, I had P.F. Flyer tennis shoes instead of Converse All-Stars like all the other kids.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

"Shhhhh! Be Vewy, Vewy Quiet!"

I find it totally unseemly that native animals deem it necessary to come around and ruin our perfectly good civilization! Those darned buffalo, for example, had the chutzpah to wander across railroad tracks when we were trying to civilize the untamed West! And who can forget the trouble the snail darter caused to the Tennessee Valley Authority when all we were trying to do was corral a little water...probably to green up a golf course somewhere. I won't even get into how those harp seals were cluttering up the ice floes up north! Now, it's those pesky wabbits (OK, by now, you've gotten the Elmer Fudd thing so I'll stop it). They hop around all cute and cuddly, then do their best to have a billion babies who eat the non-native plants that we've inserted in the earth for our pleasure. Those plants aren't cheap, and the local rabbits seem to think the plants comprise some sort of buffet line just for them. If you are plagued by such annoyances, here are a couple of tips:

1. You could get a pellet gun or a .22 and shoot them. The downside would be that you'd feel rather guilty for killing something so cute and cuddly, and there would be no Easter candy for you.

2. You could trap them and release them in someone else's yard. This, in fact, was the method I chose. In a paroxysm of romantic emotion, I bought my sweetie a rabbit trap for our anniversary, and we have managed to tear apart a rabbit community by relocating captured bunnies to various wildlife areas not in our neighborhood. Now, the rest have apparently gone to look for the lost kinfolk so our problem is solved. WE can get back to civilizing the yard now.

3. You can frighten them into staying away. This method was suggested by an outdoors-type worker at the condo where friends live. Today, I sneaked up on a very small rabbit, leaped out at it and shouted as loudly as possible. Its fur stood straight up as it bolted for cover (a truly hare-raising experience). I chased another at breakneck speed from tree to bush...we'll see tomorrow if there are rabbit corpses strewn about.

4. You can hose 'em down. Our friend Patty found this to be exceptionally effective as she delivered not one but two blasts from a garden hose (shooting, no doubt, a fire-hydrant-like blast of water). Now THAT worked, as the rascal lay totally inert the next more scooping up the field mice and bopping them on the head for B'rer Bunny. Of course, there was guilt involved with the slaughter, but if civilization is going to advance, a price must be paid.
Just ask the Taino Indian tribe who watched bemusedly as Columbus fell to his knees upon "discovering" a new world.
Or the native populations of the African continent when Europe discovered profitable natural resources.
But, hey, the rabbits will just continue to produce like, well, rabiits anyway.
Stew, anyone?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Paying (again) For Idiots

While I doubt I could be accurately described as a socialist, I do believe that those downtrodden by life in general (not through their own stupidity or laziness) should get a hand up every now and then. I also think that industrious labor should be rewarded, and that when someone must bite the bullet or swallow a hard pill (I love cliches when I'm p'ed o)the distress should be equally distributed. When it is not, I tend to Vesuviate (I also like to make up expressive words) today.
The state of Wisconsin has done such an horrendous job of managing finances that it finds itself several billion dollars in arrears. Understand, I had NOTHING to do with this bungling: people supposedly a LOT smarter than I am couldn't even manage to balance the checkbook. Anyway, to correct this egregious error, the legislators decided that ALL state employees would be forced to take eight days off of work this year without pay...and do the same next year. The state employess who screwed this up will, supposedly, bear the burden along with those of us who were more responsible with money. In some small way, the powers-that-be-that-probably-shouldn't-be feel that they are spreading the pain; and they are, to a certain point. This is where I start to smolder.
The last 12 years of my teaching career, I was bound by the QEO, legislation which prohibited teachers from fairly negotiating any new contracts. Mind you, NO OTHER state employee was so burdened, just teachers. In the end, as long as districts picked up what amounted to the cost of insurance raises, that was about all we could get...and there was NO recourse to mediation or arbitration, and work stoppages had been rendered illegal after the Hortonville thing when med/arb was offered as a compromise. Where were the rest of the state employees then sharing the pain?
So today, I discussed the upcoming "furlough" year with my supervisor at school. He inidicated that 3.065% would be deducted from each check for this year, but that he expected me to come to work without taking any days off! In short, I could continue to work 35 hours a week (15 of which I'd "volunteered" the last two years)AND "share the pain" with all other state employees.
In a year when my retirement check has diminished and my health insurance premium has gone up again, this is unacceptable.
Oh yeah, did someone say we didn't need health care reform? I don't see the insurance companies and Mobil/Exxon "sharing the pain."
Rant over. I'm off to look for a job. I hear Wal-Mart is hiring.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Board of Education

Daryl Starbird was famous. You may not know who he was, but if you've ever seen "American Graffiti," you know his work. His job for that movie was to designb and build the custom cars for the show. His designs were featured on model cars for years, but I suppoise kids don't go for that stuff any more. Anyway, he was famous.
As a newly-minted teacher in 1972, I had the misfortune of having his son in class as a 9th grader (or maybe he had the misfortune of having me as his teacher). Anyway, young Starbird was apt to run afoul of the regulations on occasion, and on one such occasion, I'd had enough and threatened corporal punishment...which was not only accepted in Kansas at the time but was encouraged by the principal of the junior high where I began my career. At that time, only two states had laws prohibiting such contact.
Having backed myself into a corner by issuing the ultimatum, I was forced to apply a few swats to his backside with a board made by the shop teacher, complete with a handle and little holes drilled in the "business end" in order to increase the educational impact. Having done the deed, I was almost ill, knowing that I'd taught him nothing except to be afraid when I was looking and more sneaky when I wasn't."That was back in the 'old days'" I hear you say. Not so fast.
Last year, according to an estimate of the Department of Education, 223,190 public school children were meted out corporal punishment. While 28 states at this juncture forbid corporal punishment (with Ohio being the latest addition to the list), it is plain that there are many that still see it as a "viable option when other means of correcting behavior have failed to produce the desired results," according to Roy McCoy, a junior high principal( and he's my "pal"?) in Louisiana, a state that allows corporal punishment though some districts in the state prohibit that means of discipline.
And, according to an article in the New York Times, a disproportionate number of those students being physically punsihed are students who have some kind of disability. As reported in the Times, 19% of all students who were reported as corporally punished were students with disabilties...whose total number comprises only 14% of the entire population in public schools.
My dad was a BIG fan of corporal punishment. As a former practitioner (albeit briefly) of this form of discipline in schools, I can guarantee you that its effectivesness is highly questionable, at best. Such "external motivation" is incredibly short-term and creates a whole new set of problems.
Being a parent or a teacher isn't easy, but this isn't the way to gain some sort of conformity to regulation.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Demystifying Fandom

It struck me last week as I was walking through a department store, scanning the "70% OFF!" racks in case there was something I couldn't live with out. Since I now have to wear shirts with collars on them to work, I'm always scanning the racks for polo shirts. This particular day, I found one, in my size, marked 'way down to $2.50. I was just about to consider it, but then I noticed the color: purple, the color of royalty in the old days. Unfortunately, it is also the major color featured on the uniforms of a rival school (back when I was teaching full-time), so I quickly unhanded the garment and went about my way, hoping that no one I knew had noticed. This is what "fans" do...unreasonable? probably. Childish. no doubt, but I would not buy or wear anything that color.
This effect also comes into play when people who are not associated with sports ask me about my job at Lambeau Field. They are continually mystified at the vast numbers of people who show up JUST to see the stadium and gain a glimpse of the team. For example, a family drove yesterday from North Dakota just to watch the inta-squad scrimmage on Family Night...and then rain and lightnig combined with the aluminum bleachers to ruin the whole deal. Undaunted, they were back at the stadium today, asking to take a tour. A woman also brought three kids from Washington, D.C. to spend a few days in Green Bay JUST to see the stadium! (not of her kids)Fans!
This mirrors my experience last evening: Yankees (my team) and Boston (the hated enemy) were playing on of the 9th, Boston's last chance...and the local station cut away for four commercials then an hour's worth of jabbering prior to the Packers' scrimmage. Livid does not describe my reaction, but that's what being a fan is all about.
If you are a fan of a band or a team or a political party even, anything like that, you already know what I mean. Logic plays no part...rationality goes out the window. It's OUR team.
Go, team, go.

Friday, August 07, 2009

I Now Pronounce You...Broke

I've never been accused of being a romantic guy...and probably never will be. Love and romance seem to call for extravagant gestures to prove the undying nature of the affection, but, truthfully, I always thought they were somewhat fake: insecure people trying to make a statement that they could not make with words or actions. I'll admit to being somewhat cheap as well, but that's just now. My sweetie's first "engagement" ring came from a gumball machine, and even the first "real" ring had a diamond so small that her friends all thought THAT one came from a gumball machine as well. Flowers? not me...they just wither and die, creating (for me) a potentially painful depiction of what COULD happen over time to a relationship (as well as that cheap thing). I remember bringing flowers to the hospital room after our first child was born: I stopped in a field and picked some wildflowers to present the new mommy. Cheap or sentimentally thoughtful? You decide.
Anyway, I was left shaking my head by Zhao Peng today. That guy is in for a pressur-filled married life, if you ask me.
Peng, from Jilin Province in China, didn't want the traditional wedding with a dinner and an orchestra (or polka band, I presume). Still, he wanted to do something on a grand scale to impress his bride so he combined his wedding with a record for the Guinness Book of Records folks.
With the help of his aunt, a seamstress, Peng designed and constructed a wedding gown that was 7,083 feet LONG and covered with 9,999 silk roses. Really. It took 200 guests 3 hours to unroll it at the ceremony. Total cost for the wear-it-only-once dress? 40,000 yuan ($5800)
How does this compare to what we could spend here? I have no idea, but an Oleg Cassini gown on EBay (where else?) was a mere thousand bucks, while a gown decorated with 1,000 Swarovski stones would be a mere $4000. Uh...yeah.
In case you're wondering, the old record for longest wedding gown was set in April of 2009 in Bucharest and measured a mere 5,180 feet long.
I get the grandness of the gesture, but the groom's mother was a bit less impressed. She said it was a waste of money.
My thought? What's he going to have to do for anniversary gifts? I don't give this one very long. After all, how can he top this?

Thursday, August 06, 2009

No DDOS Here

It probably was something out the Apocalypse of the imagination for millions of people. It was alsmost as if we'd suddenly fallen back into the Middle Ages. There was international panic, I suppose. Before long, someone will have written a song about it...the only question is how will the world find out about the new song?
Don McLean hit #1 in 1969/1970 with a song about the death of Buddy Holly, proclaiming the singer's death to be "the day the music died." Well, today was the day that Twitter suffered a stroke: not exactly dead, but not able to communicate, either.
For all I know, by this time, the service is back to running all out, but for much of the day, the service was down, plagued by nefarious individulas who overloaded the system with millions (or more) of computer-generated requests, something called a "distributed denial of service" (DDOS) by those techies in the know. To the over 20 million people who use the service to find out such important information as what Paula Abdul's next step will be now that she's gone from "American Idol" or what Mr. Cromartie thinks of the food at Chargers' training camp, it was a dark day, indeed.
In truth, there have been some positive uses for the service such as chronicling upheaval in Iran or giving us the first photos of a water landing in the Hudson, but, by and large, I'm still not a fan and won't be joining soon. I've barely mastered texting (though I do NOT use abbreviations by choice), and I'm comfortable blogging in order to keep my writing skills working at capacity. (sad that THIS is an example of capacity, isn't it?)
Besides, I can never say anything in just 140 characters!

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Four In A Motel Room

If you're old enough, you might remember a movie entitled "Three in the Attic" about a philandering young man who's three ladies find out about each other. None of them is happy about the lothario's actions so they lure him into an attic where they commence to lock him up. Each then visits him over and over in an attempt to destroy him physically by continuous...well, you get the idea. To most guys, I guess it seemed like a great way to go, but only for a little while. It certainly was no picnic for our friend imprisoned in the attic. Truthfully, I can't remember how it ended...I think I had my hand over my face like I do in really scary movies.
It seems that idea has gotten a modern embellishment from four women in Wisconsin. Since it's even made the Chicago Tribune, I guess it's noteworthy, if only for the way these women "improved" on the punishment factor. Here's the skinny:
It seems one of four women (not the man's wife) discovered he was having affairs with three other women (including his wife...if that's possible) and contacted each of the ladies with her information and proof. A plot was hatched, as one might imagine. On the premise of getting a "rub down" by one of the ladies, the unsuspecting gigolo showed up at a motel where he permitted himself to be tied up and blindfolded...hoping, one suspects, for something more than your basic massage. At this point, all four women converged and threatened him with mace, pummelled him for a few moments and taunted him with things like, 'So, who do you like more?" before getting down to serious business.
This business involved super glue and an unmentionable part of the man's anatomy. Your imagination could only do justice to the end result. Sadly, the women were arrested for false imprisonment after the man started yelling. Of course, if I were to realize the intent of the super glue, I believe I would shout loudly as well.
At least it was less permanent than the Bobbitt maneuver...I think.
Movies: not just fiction any more.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Not So Random After All

It has been used to decide contention since...well, since slicing babies in half was deemed to be less than a good idea. The use of a coin flip was believed to be the most random method of determining a Solomon-like answer to the most troubling issue or settle any number of bar bets. It was used so predominantly because, having two sides, the coin was thought to have an equal chance of coming up either heads or tails. That, too, has had its share of contentious views: "tails never fails, etc." Now there is, er, scientific proof that one side actually DOES emerge on top 51% of the time. Which side? well, it depends.
According to Stanford University professors Persi Diaconis, Susan Holmes and Richard Mongomery, the final outcome is determined more often than not by which side is "up" when the coin is flipped...sort of. It is fully covered in their article entitled Dynamical Bias of the Coin Toss."
Confused? me, too, sort of.
The researchers developed an automated coin-flipping machine and determine through countless tests that the side which is "up" when the coin is flipped will end up in that position 51% of the time. Originally, there was some discussion having to do with the density of the coin (is "heads" heavier than "tails"?), but this theory was disproven as Mongomery developed a coin that was balsa wood on one side and metal on the other; the results were the same. However, there is one small caveat: there is more than one force at work when the coin is flipped manually (by humans, in other words): the coin not only rotates end over end, it also spins in a circular direction, much like a pizza being tossed. The more the coin "spins" in this manner, the more unpredictable its landing.
The last word on the subject according to the researchers?
"Be both the caller (so you can see which side is up) AND the flipper (so you can control the spin).
Got some time on your hands? Try the experiment yourself in order to verify its accuracy.
Good luck with your next argument! But don't bet the house that you'll be right.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Mystery Solved...Years Too Late

To say I never had a lot of friends growing up would be something of an understatement. I mean, I was on a first-name basis with the local library staff, and name-it-and-claim-it radio shows were about the most entertainment I could find. Oh sure, Bullet the Wonder Dog would play with long as Mom tied a steak bone around my leg! And don't even think about girls in this equation; even though THEY were the ones with cooties, I might as well have been leprosy walking for all the attention I got from the girls in school. Now, years and years too late, I find out why. During the "wonder years" ("I wonder what the hell's wrong with me"),I had seriously checked myself out in the deodorant department and the complexion facet, but little did I know these were not the things that would have made me irresistible to the girls. According to Yahoo news today (I mean, it's on the internet, it HAS to be true!) there are seven attributes a guy must have in order to gain the eye of a comely lass or two. Turns out to be a shopping list of what I didn't (and probably still don't) have. To my shame, here's the list:

1. Be able to master the "Richard Gere" wink. Forget possessor of a lazy eye to begin with,I had no shot at this one. I could, however, wiggle my ears; this scored points with Bullet but that was it.

2. A hot guy supposedly radiates calm. I doubt I've ever been calm more than fifteen minutes at a time in my whole life. All this time, I thought being "passionate" about life was a positive...chicks, apparently, didn't like it.

3. The irresistible guy "takes care of himself." OK, I'm in the ballpark here. I used to take a bath every week, and I brushed my teeth regularly. Having big feet and being terminally skinny probably offset those traits, though.

4. The right type of guy has his own "style" which indicates who he is and what he's "into." Please...growing up in Kansas and I was supposed to develop "style"? Totally screwed here. Now, however, I HAVE actually developed a style which is displayed by my choice of clothing and my desire not to interact with actual people. It's called "I'm cooler online." Thanks to Kenny Chesney for the line, BTW.

5.Women really go for a guy who has a "manly scent." A spritz (but not two) of cologne apparently sends just the right message of availability and coolness. I sweat a lot and still have that barely spritzed 3 oz. bottle of "Brut" from high school. Note to self: "spritz up tomorrow."

6. Women cannot resist a man who's affectionate. One show of affection (apparently) is for a man to reach out and touch his sweetie's leg while driving. I tried that today and got "Hands at 10 and 2, please." Of course, the metro male can also say things like "I love you" as well. I can do that, but it's just easier to text it when she least expects right in the middle of an important meeting with her boss.

7. Finally, some hope for me, albeit years and years too late. The guy all the girls want laughs loud, hard and often. That's me. I once tried to count how many times I laughed in a day and was over 100 by ten in the morning. I still laugh a lot, especially when I realize how totally dorky I am and how amazingly lucky I am to have a sweetie who doesn't especially mind that I'm not irresistible to women.

Oh yeah, Happy Birthday, Fred.