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, January 30, 2012

Bob's One-stop Office Supply and Dental Practice

Right next to the file folders on Aisle 3

I'll admit that I was a bit stunned when our family doctor used Super Glue at one point to close up a minor cut. Of course, he used something LIKE Super Glue but just used the generic name so I would understand...right? Well, no...he actually used the over-the-counter brand name product. As he explained it, though, it made perfect sense: anybody who's ever glued fingers onto a broken coffee mug handle knows it works. Since minor injuries like a head cut heal from inside, the glue eventually gets sloughed off by the new, pink skin underneath.
Of course, for much bigger incision, staples have replaced the stitches of days gone by.
Orthodontists use rubber bands to keep braces snugly in place...or they used to.
As a result, no one should be surprised that paper clips might be the next office supply item to be rushed into service: and they were, by a dentist in Massachusetts by the name of Dr. Michael Clair. Unfortunately for him, paper clips were not a healthy substitute for the stainless steel (I hope) metal rods normally used when fixing a root his patients discovered who began to suffer infections and other unfortunate related maladies after being treated.
The ex-doctor is spending a year in the pokey for his little adventure which really amounted to trying to defraud the Medicaid system by charging it the expensive metal rod price and substituting a MUCH cheaper metal version via the humble paper clip. When confronted with problems, it seems the former dental dynamo resorted to assault, and witness intimidation as well.
Come to think of it, every time I GO to the dentist I feel intimidated the minute I walk in, and I feel assaulted when I leave...especially now that nobody seems to use nitrous oxide: God's gift to cowards.
I'm definitely checking the tray beside me more than once the next time.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Open the Closets!

The Bastion of Secrecy

OK, OK...enough already. Seldom do I think there's a soap box issue that I feel compelled to address, but there is one today. It's the matter of "the house" as in "Let's keep that information 'in house.'" Or, as the owners of the Indianapolis Colts says, "In the family." There have been so many stories emerge over the past few months detailing how information that is kept "in house" turns out to be evidence of heinous activities that are covered up to protect the reputation of a third party, whether that be an institution, a team, or someone's professional career.
You know about the obvious ones, but there are a couple that have been somewhat hushed up...or at least not delved into as they might have been.
One involves a senior athletic department official of a school that regularly attends bowl football games as a member of the Big Ten Conference. It turns out that this year at a major bowl, said official held a party in his hotel room for university staffers and furnished alcohol to minors: well, that's a crime right there. But the story gets more sordid. Turns out, this person has been doing this for years with knowledge of university officials who once sent the staffer a letter of remonstrance indicating that he should not act in such a manner again...but this was years ago.
This time, on Dec. 31st at a similar party featuring minors and staffers, the official actually groped a male staffer and threatened to have him fired if he let word out about the incident. Really. Now, of course, the athletics director claims to have known nothing about it, the university says it has fired the individual, and all is well.
But wait a minute...if these parties have been held regularly (since this team always goes to a major bowl because it "travels well," you cannot get me to believe that this was an isolated incident and that NOBODY knew such goings on were, well, going on. That's simply too incredulous. Much like the Penn State deal of last fall, there had to be many people who knew about this behavior but kept it "in house," and now they are congratulating themselves on handling the matter so swiftly that they hope we'll forget about the implications.
Then, there's the story that broke this week about an Ivy League quarterback who was nominated for a Rhodes Scholarship and was being canonized nationwide for being the best of everything. Heck, he even refused to go to the scholarship interview because his school was playing its most hated rival that day. What dedication!
As the story unfolds, however, the scholarship committee had put his application on hold because he'd been under investigation for a sexual assault of a student on campus. The young lady reported the issue, but apparently, there is something called an "informal investigation" at this university that does not involve the police or a criminal record. The whole affair was dealt with in a dignified and under-reported manner...even the school newspaper knew of the scandal but chose not to publish it out of "respect for the girl involved." I'm sure the megamillion-dollar donors were glad not to have the name of their prestigious university dragged through the sordid mess at the same time the PSU scandal was unfolding. When interviewed, one of the player's teammates admitted knowing all about the incident but preferred to keep it "in house" (his quote, not mine).
These people are lying to themselves. In saying that they are trying to protect a reputation, what they mean is they are trying to protect "their" reputation because there is somehow money attached to doing so.
"Don't ask, don't tell" seems to be the phrase in vogue.
I'll step down from the soap box now; if I hear the expression "in house" or "in the family" used in a cover up context, though, I might just explode the next time.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Men: Beware of Kansas City!

The picture of health

Men's Health magazine has just published its recommendations for the best (and worst) places for men during the coming year. The emphasis, of course, is on finding those places to live that are best suited for, well, men's health (go figure). Not content with just calling guys on the phone and conducting a survey, the folks at the magazine depended on statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Center for Disease Control, and (gulp!) the FBI to determine which cities had exemplary quality of life characteristics, and which cities should be avoided like, well, like the plague.
One hundred cities were classified according to thirty-five categories, ranging from amount of exercise most folks get, employment figures and air quality to such health-related items as incidence of heart disease, diabetes and depression. All in all, one would have to agree that it was a respectable exhaustive study (except for the researchers who were in shape!).
First, a list of the bottom 5 with no explanation as to the lowly status of each:
5. Jackson, Mississippi
4. Cleveland
3. Tulsa
2. Toledo, Ohio
1. Kansas City, Missouri

If you live in one of these places and panic, go to the magazine for clarification. I did not want to add injury to insult by publishing just why your place is so bad.

Now, for the BEST places for men to live and a quick fact that sets each apart:

5. Boise, Idaho. While the potato capital might seem to emphasize starch, there are a large number of community gardens, and people in the area eat far more healthy meals than most of us.

4. San Jose, California. Warm weather, sure, but a populace near Silicon Valley that recognizes no stigma for mental health issues and, as a result, seek therapy a great deal...supposedly making them more well-adjusted than the rest of us.

3. Plano, Texas. Probably one of the exercise capitals of the country. It features more than 65 miles of trails for hiking, running and mountain biking...and I would guess the trails are a lot less crowded than those in Boulder or Eugene.

2. Madison, Wisconsin. An oddity of sorts, Madison residents report playing more basketball than people in 98 of the other top 100 cities. Somehow, I would have thought of other things for Madison, but...

1. Burlington, Vermont. Despite being home to Ben & Jerry's (now owned by someone else), Burlington residents are among the most health-conscious of Americans when it comes to medical checks and checkups. A top-notch medical center utilizes technology to keep patients apprised of their conditions, and people are also outdoorsy-active. (plus, I suspect there's some brown fat burning going on during the winter!)

Green Bay didn't make either list, and Milwaukee finished at #71 on the "good" list...not much of a recommendation when your city is five or six spots better than Newark!
For now, I'll stick around here and try to limit the cheese least the deep fried ones.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Refrigerate the Fat Away!

Older people have less of it than younger people, and older men have less of it than younger women. This mysterious and recently-dicovered-in-humans element? Fat; not just any fat, mind you: brown fat! (Yes, it is actually brown in color).
Prior to recent studies, it was assumed that only rats and babies had quantities of brown fat. What do the two have in common that would necessitate the need for brown fat? Neither can shiver...the adult human's way of burning calories to protect it from the cold. Now, three studies have shown that adult humans do, indeed, have deposits of brown fat, and these deposits actually burn the white fat (that stuff that jiggles around your waist!). Really.
Dr. Andre Carpentier an endocrinologist in Quebec was the lead author in one of the studies, and he was able to detect brown fat in adults in their upper back, on the side of the neck, along the spine, and in that dip between the collarbone and the shoulder. he notes, "We have proof that this tissue burns calories."
Actually, there are two "types" of brown fat, and each burns calories. Type one is located in deposits along the body and sucks glucose from the other cells as the body gets cold (but not shivering). This type was discovered as a result of Carpentier's research: the subjects of his experiment (all males) were chilled to just before shivering temperature, and simply sitting, their metabolism rose 80% as the brown fat cells burned calories from the other white fat cells. In the space of three hours, the subjects burned 250 calories.
Now, if you don't like the cold and three hours is too long to wait, you could try the other "type" of brown fat: the type that is created from white fat cells through...exercise. It takes me roughly 20 minutes on an elliptical trainer to burn 250 calories, but it's a lot of work and sweat. sitting in a wine cellar for three hours just might be a better idea!
Of course, living in Wisconsin has the residual benefit of being close to shivering a LOT!
Obviously, the pharmaceuticals have yet to find a way to increase output in these brown fat cells, but you can rest assured that they are working feverishly on it as dollar signs light up their eyes.
Working feverishly at anything is bound to burn calories! Win/Win!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Want the Perfect Job? Look Here!

Sure, but when do they get any work done?

It has been widely reported that Americans spend MORE time on the job than workers do in any other industrial country. We spend less time with our families and less time on hiatus from work...and we often carry our work with us.
For the most part, many of us spend between forty and fifty years working in order to develop a certain lifestyle then claw and scratch to hold onto that lifestyle. Each has a talent that, hopefully, shines forth and leads every individual in the direction he or she was meant to go: a direction that is fulfilling on a personal as well as a professional level. Naturally, "fulfilling" is a word that each of us defines individually, and I'd be foolish to presume that every day of our lives spent on our vocation/avocation is a paradise. The fact remains, however, that very few of us WANT to spend our mortal existence merely shuffling from place to place (zombies being the exception to this), idea to idea with no real purpose and no real sense of gratification (eating brains does not count)...and there's no rule that says we have to be PAID to pursue our life's work, either. Take motherhood, for example (please do, I doubt I could handle it and remain sane).
Intangible rewards are often the most valued, but for those who actually have to go to a job site or report to some kind of boss, it's all about the perks. Eliminating for a moment the fact that some CEO's get $30 million in bonuses, I'll be they also get some rather sweet perks: memberships to fancy clubs, etc. Deservedly so? I cannot say. For the rest of us, it is the little things that allow us to go to work looking forward to the day on most days.
Every year, the top companies in America get rated for the very things that make them great: could be profitability; could be environmental awareness; could be lots of things, but employee satisfaction is ALWAYS part of the equation: a big part. Satisfied workers are productive workers; it does not take a genius to figure that out (as evidenced by the fact that I know it).
Some of this year's winners featured free Spanish classes for employees; some matched pregnant employees with mothers in a mentor relationship...the list goes on. Here are a few of the perks from some of America's top 100 companies that I would like to get:

Zappos. com gives each employee $50 every month and asks him or her to give that money as a bonus to a deserving fellow employee. A list of winners is compiled, and a top employee is feted with other bonuses, including an office parade!

Schweitzer Engineering gives each employee an allowance of $80 per month for furthering educational goals. provides team bonding experiences during work hours that have included rafting trips and trapeze classes.

This year's top company Google has, of course, the requisite recreation facilities; in addition, the New York office features the very popular eyebrow shaping perk. The main office workers in California have to make do with a haircut option. East Coast/West Coast: it's a different vibe, I guess.

There are obviously companies that do a myriad of other things to enamor and retain employees. Morningstar provides a stress-free environment (white noise), free soft drinks, tea and coffee. I believe there is also a "free bagel" day each week, and this year, the company celebrated its ranking in the top 100 by having senior management serve huge gourmet cookies to the employees. Additionally, each month the employees are encouraged to ask a question of the top person in the company, and he selects his favorite question, reads it aloud over the office video chat line and provides a personal response to the entire workforce. In October of this year, the question he answered was "What is the company's plan if we are attacked by zombies?"
Seriously...he also claimed that he was relieved to FINALLY get a question he wanted to answer.
That would never happen where I work.
Zombies cannot climb ivory towers.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Women Emerging...Seriously

What's So Unusual? This is Saudi Arabia!

It's fortunate for me that in the mall where we shop, there is a Finish Line across the aisle from the Victoria's Secret store. When my wife walks in to browse the, uh, feminine delicate items, I head across to peruse the latest Air Jordans. Not that I would ever spend that kind of money on a pair of athletic shoes, but I definitely would not be caught wandering through intimate women's apparel. I mean, where does one look? Focus on one item, and a guy is automatically some kind of creeper, and women who are perusing their next purchase MUST feel uncomfortable having guys around. Valentine's Day? No lingerie purchase for me; something I can safely buy like perfume. I get chills just walking BY Victoria's Secret, trying hard NOT to look at the larger than life, uh, models' pictures plastered on the windows. What do mothers with younger sons do, I wonder?
Anyway, if you can get why I feel a bit unnerved being in such a place, imagine how the women shoppers would feel if ONLY MEN WORKED THERE!!!
"What size would you like, madam?"
"Do you need assistance with fitting?"
"Oh, you'll look great in that!"
Don't laugh. The women in Saudi Arabia have had to deal with this forever. Seriously. Until a royal decree from the king last summer that changed the cultural bias, women were not allowed to work outside the home in any capacity. That meant buying intimate required women to deal with male sales clerks! Remember, this is a country and religious structure in which women are not even allowed out of the house unless accompanied by a male relative! For a heavily clothed and veiled woman to be SEEN by a total stranger has serious consequences enforced by the socially conservative religious "behavior police." Women who could afford to travel often bought foundations outside the country in stores with female clerks. Fortunately, things have somewhat changed.
From a tangible perspective, women sales clerks were non-existent for several reasons in addition to the religious proscription. There is little public transportation in Saudi Arabia, so women would be hard-pressed to get to work. In addition, there were no women "trained" as sales clerks so the business owners threw a hissy. (really, though, how long could it possibly take to train someone? McDonald's does it in a couple of hours!) A lack of formal education was also a barrier, but that has fallen by the wayside in recent years. In fact, education has greatly contributed to this change in public view.
Women are now educated at public expense, and the general feeling is that the country could very well use their economic output. combine that with some boycotts organized by women, and the conservatives were forced to relent. By summer, there will be ONLY women working in stores that sell products solely for women's use: cosmetics and underwear; though I wonder how many cosmetics get used in a country where women's eyes are all that is uncovered?
Next up for the distaff members of society? Driving privileges; while thousands of Saudi women have international driving licenses, they are still prohibited from operating a motor vehicle in their home country.
No wonder, with those veils, their peripheral vision must be terrible!
You go, girls! You'll be in the 19th century before you know it!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Nevermore, the Beating of His Hideous Heart!

So Much For the Mystery. It Will Remain Unsolved.

January 20th has been somewhat of a landmark date in Baltimore, Maryland, for decades. With each passing anniversary, the mystery deepened, and it defied all attempts to solution. Now, sadly, it appears that there will be no resolution, and no more anniversary dates, either. Poe would have loved the ending!
Edgar Alan Poe died in 1875 and was buried (not prematurely, one would hope) in a churchyard in Baltimore, Maryland. At some point, a mysterious stranger known as the "Poe Toaster" would appear in the dark of night each year on the anniversary of Poe's birth and drink a toast to the dead writer. In addition, the mystery person would leave the telltale half a bottle of cognac and three roses on the grave in tribute. At some point, I would have thought a cask of amontillado would appear, but that's the romantic in me. No one was ever to explain why cognac and why only three roses (at least I don't know), but The Man of the Crowd appeared without fail for decades...until recently.
This year marks the third year in succession that the Poe Toaster did not appear. Oh, many poseurs have come forward in the past, but all were debunked. Now, it appears that the real man (or woman) of legend has finally given up the ghost (so to speak); thus, the in-house ushers in charge of keeping watch on the anniversary date have declared with fallen countenances that the vigil is officially over. Three years' worth of absences seem to constitute the statute of limitations on spectral appearances.
Oh, there are conspiracy theories everywhere about who the stranger was and why he could appear for many, many years. Some say it was a "job" handed down from father to son...some might feel that it was all a hoax designed to draw people to visit...and that part certainly worked. People came from all over in hopes of catching a glimpse, or merely catching, the Poe Toaster year after year. The crowds got so thick that they had to be restrained behind iron gates to keep them from flooding the cemetery.
We may never know who the guest was, why he or she made the annual pilgrimage, or why the visits stopped. We do know that there will be no "official" vigil in the years to come, though I suspect that visitors will show up nonetheless.
Just in case the growing crowds were the reason that Poe's Toaster decided to take a hiatus.
Baltimore in January? You'd be stark, raven mad!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Perils of Academia

That's it? Really? That'll be $75.

"Since you teach at a university, I'll explain this slowly."

Somebody I didn't even know recently made this comment as he was attempting to explain the finer points of what he did. For just a second, I could see my dad's face superimposed on this guy's body, and my sweetie surreptitiously grabbed my arm in the nick of time before I could do something I'd regret. I mean, a total stranger feels he can impugn the limits of my ability to think outside the ivory-towered box? Really? He, of course, thought he was being clever while I thought he was being an a$$.
I'd heard this several times before in other contexts. Any time I struggled with something technical in the "real world," my dad would say, "Didn't they teach you that in college?" No matter what it happened to concern, it was obvious that higher education had not prepared me for the task at hand. He knew how to do a myriad of things about which I had no clue nor experience...and he was almost always correct, but now, as a dad myself, I see that I'm SUPPOSED to be right, to know how to fix mechanical things: it's what dads DO.Some things continue to frighten me with possibilities, especially the possibilities of disaster when I don't get it right the first time. Like water spraying all over the kitchen.
One of my tasks during the semester break was to figure out how to stop a kitchen faucet from dripping and wasting hundreds of gallons of water yearly. Actually, turing the handle just...SO...would stop the drip, but I knew that wasn't going to be good enough for long, and it wasn't. With only four days left before heading back to the eager students, I decided it was time to confront my fears and tackle this challenge head on. After all, I had a "Fix Everything In Your Home" manual and a whole set of tools: how hard could it be? Hard enough that I had put it off for weeks, that's how hard.
Step by step, I proceeded to dismantle the faucet, lining everything up in the order that I had taken it off as well as photographing every step of the process. (Yes, I remembered to turn the water off first!)
A trip to Home Depot resulted in a kit with more parts than I figured I would need along with a hearty "good luck" from the plumbing expert woman there. I think she secretly wanted water to spray everywhere so she could say, "Didn't they teach you anything in college?", but it was probably my father's ghost I heard chuckling.
I even invented a few other chores at home so I could delay the repair attempt, but finally, there was no choice but to give it a shot.
Truth? It was easy. I did not have to refer to the manual or my photographs. It was simply replacing one part with another in a sequence...following directions, really. Even turning the water back on provided no drama. It worked like a charm, and I felt foolish when I looked back at my groundless fears.
But I was still disappointed when my sweetie barely heralded my fabulous accomplishment.
"You fixed the faucet? Great. Thanks."
I guess she figured guys/dads SHOULD be able to do things like that.
Despite having a college degree.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Deja Vu All Over Again

Inmate # 326451

Mom used to cut my hair when I was a kid. By "cut," I mean "shave my head with a clippers every two weeks." I'm sure we didn't have money to send me to the barbershop, but it was extremely embarrassing to go to school with little or no hair. Granted, this was all pre-Beatles, but I STILL had the shortest hair (or longest scalp) of any kid in my class. At one point, a nun (remember them? Paragons of virtue and boosters of children's intellectual ego) told me that I looked, and I quote, "like a skinned rabbit." I became the most adamant defender of longer hair at that point, and the battle with my parents only intensified with the British Invasion and subsequent hippie couture.
I made every excuse not to get a haircut, and held out long after I was on my own. At one point, I was down to two haircuts a year...just because I wanted to defy the sartorial rules that had been forcibly imposed upon me as a child. As grey began to creep in, however, I felt the need to crop my hair a bit and discuss "highlights" during my four-times-a-year appointment with the stylist. Now this:
Working with student athletes can be somewhat frustrating at times, and motivational speeches only go so far. As a result, I promised to allow one of the sports teams on campus that they could shave my head if the team earned a 3.0 GPA cumulatively. Since this feat has been accomplished only one time in the seven years I've been working with this particular group, I felt relatively safe. As one can see, however, the safety was short-lived. Proud as I was of their academic achievement, I dreaded the thought of the resulting hair style. It brings back painful memories of my childhood even though almost everyone says it looks O.K. Fortunately, one of the associate athletics directors likes his hair very short so the effect was not as dramatic. I think we've bonded somewhat now!.It didn't take long, though, for the comment I most dreaded came out:
"Hey, you look just like your grade school pictures!"
Fabulous. Rabbit stew next?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Out of Tune(s)

What? No cassette player?

It doesn't seem that long ago that my hurry-up Dodge Demon was all the rage, what with the stick shift, the 8-track player and the Starsky and Hutch striping. Of course, even discussing an 8-track player makes me almost an anachronism, but not so much as the new generation of automotive music producers will.
I recently bid a fond adieu to a 1996 Toyota RAV 4 featuring an Oregon Ducks tire cover (depicting Donald Duck) and a cassette player. Even though 250,000 miles hadn't entirely ended its usefulness, my collection of cassette tapes was rapidly dwindling, meaning that sooner rather than later, I would have to depend on (eek!) the radio for in-motion entertainment. No CD player, no MP3 player...just old-fashioned technology that never failed.
The newer edition of the RAV can play CD's, MP3's and even has an auxiliary input so I can hook up my iPod and play 10,000 tracks without repeating (except for "live" and acoustic versions). Of course, it also features satellite radio that reminds me a great deal of FM radio when it made its debut: no commercials, just music. However, I'm too cheap to retain the dealer's subscription so when that runs out, I'll revert to my iPod or CD's. And even then, I'll be something of an old fogey!
CD's are on the way out as audio entertainment. As soon as this model year, there will be more than 330,000 cars sold with no CD player! It's last century's technology. John Canali a research analyst predicts that by 2018 more than 12 million vehicles will be sold that have the potential to interface with a driver's smartphone, enabling the Pandora (and others) application through the car's stereo system. Why is this happening?
The optical drives currently installed for CD players' use are expensive, and Canali opines that it's mostly "older motorists" who still use CD's anyway. Wow! That's harsh...but then, I don't have a smart phone, but all of our children do as well as most people under 40, I would presume. I just don't want to be THAT connected. I need my space; however, I AM getting up there. Maybe Canali figures I'll be dead by 2018.
But then, who'll want all my old CD's and iPods?
Perhaps the Museum of Natural History. They can be exhibited right next to the cave men.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Anticipation is Greater Than Participation

The Real Macaw?

One of the wonders of the world everyone is supposed to visit before death is the temple area of Angkor Wat in Cambodia: supposedly one of the first settlements of a million people back in the 12th century or so. I managed to get there about 10 years ago before the "tourist companies" discovered it's value. Now, apparently, hotels and five-star restaurants abound throughout the area, and tourists are carrying off chunks of the temples as souvenirs. I am glad to have seen it "before."
Key West was another one of those places I'd always wanted to visit...not so much for the "Margaritaville" atmosphere but for the chance to see water, wildlife and sunsets unparalleled. While I knew the place had undergone tourist-type expansion over the years, I did not expect to be buffeted (pun intended) by people at every turn and see more T-shirt shops than anywhere I'd ever been previously.
Door County, Wisconsin on crack.
The Key West mystique diminished somewhat when I discovered that there was NO sand on the island except what had been brought in from other places. No beaches other than the man-made ones by the hotels. Hundreds of plants and trees, but only a few were native. Take the palm trees: all imported and growing in holes dug out of the coral and filled with soil. The luster dimmed considerably when I found that out though it was mitigated somewhat by exploring that coral reef with fins and a mask.
Getting there was NOT half the fun, either: a four-hour ride from Ft. Lauderdale in an uncomfortable shuttle that dropped riders off at various spots seemed much longer. In the dark, it was hard to see the natural beauty that I knew to be there.Fortunately, there were a couple of bathroom stops! Flying in was an option, but the price was exorbitant.
On the other hand, the sunsets were stunningly everything I had hoped for and more. Bands played at all hours in almost every bar, street performers worked the crowds, and there was no end to the odd and unusual...just as I expected. It was small enough to walk/bike everywhere, and the hotels are most accommodating with free shuttle rides all over the island.
The temperature never varied much: mid to upper-70's during the day and only a few degrees cooler in the evening. Perfect for January in Wisconsin! Snorkeling, kayaking, cycling (with the exception of wayward handlebars) were exceptional. Following dolphins while they gamboled in the crystal clear water: priceless.
All in all, while the sojourn was not exactly a secluded "my island only" trip (unless 3 cruise ships per day at dock equates seclusion), it definitely was something to savor.
Despite being a dream fulfilled, the trip to Key West was nothing like the visit to the Greek Islands, though. I think I've been spoiled and will compare everything I will ever see to that area.
But I will keep on searching for the next best place.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

There's No Escape...

My parents always thought it was simple carelessness on my part. I'll admit that sometimes that might have been true, but I have had numerous examples since the early days to make me wonder: are bicycles out to get me? Are they some form of alien life sent here to drive me (somewhat) into an early demise?
I've never been hit by a car, although I have run INTO cars twice. Fortunately, neither of them was moving at the time. Put those down to carelessness on my part. I ran into a swinging sign at a gas station once while waving to a girl across the street; mark that down to the love vapors swirling around me. In addition, I have run inadvertently into the back wheel of another rider in a paceline (now THAT will stop anyone on a dime) and had any number of other accidents caused by muddy/icy conditions, but those were not my fault. Nor was the latest incident to be laid on my shoulders.
Our hotel-not-to-be-named (Marriott) in Key West rented bikes for the day as most hotels do. They were, of course, the infamous beach cruiser type of bike made for people three feet tall so that no matter how high one jacks up the seat, the pressure on a normal-sized person's knees is painful. Also, since there are no gears on these things, it is impossible to spin the crank backwards while idly cruising along without engaging the brake...another pain-inducing possibility. The high-rise handlebars are designed to be as unattractive as possible on a geek factor of 10+, but at least they stayed attached to the bike itself...unless I happened to be riding.
Yes, it's true. We were idly biking down a relatively busy sidewalk/street section of Key West and moving through an intersections toward the cutout on the opposite curb. A tourist couple, unsure of just which way they wanted to go, stopped in the cutout section just as I approached in the intersection. Naturally, I swerved to the right and lifted the handlebars to negotiate the curb without bending the rim...bad move.
To my astonishment, I found myself on the pavement (still in the intersection) with my partner piled up immediately behind me (also in the intersection) while the tourist pair gawked in amazement at the handlebars in my hand: handlebars that were no longer attached to the bike. Apparently, whoever serviced the hotel bikes did not regularly check the tightness of the handlebar stem; mine was less than tight as evidenced by the fact that they came right out, causing a near catastrophe.
Funny? Not so much.
As luck would have it, the occurrence was on the doorstep of a service station; the attendant loaned me an allen wrench, and I reattached and secured said handlebars so we could continue, bruised and somewhat battered on our daily adventure.
There's no way IO can take the blame for that.
Aliens must have loosened those handlebars just before I got on.
Fortunately, it is now winter in Wisconsin so slipping on snow and ice-covered roads is perfectly logical.
I'll show those alien creeps!

Thursday, January 05, 2012

The Latest Communist Purge

Stressed Out in China

It would appear that it's harder to be the world's leading economy than one might think. Stress levels are at an all-time high, apparently. So the Chinese have decided to do something to relieve the stress: real-life angry birds.
Of course, no animals, avian or pig were harmed by participants at this attraction, a part of a larger theme park named Window of the World. After all, that's lunch we're talking about...even in China. However, for a mere $14 US, attendees can use real life slingshots and catapults as a "method for people to purge themselves and gain happiness," according to an unnamed park administrator. This section of the park was built as part of the monthlong Stress-reducing Festival in Changsha, and is but a small part of the 400,000 square meter theme park.
Stress must be a big deal. Still, I wonder how a player can get the little blue ones to separate into four or five before crashing into the target, or how one makes the red ones go faster and hit with more power. Perhaps the thrill of launching something at a target is the main idea. Eclectic entertainment seems to be popular in China. After all, this is the country that is buying up outdated military equipment from the soviets and turning a Soviet aircraft carrier into a top-flight hotel (opening in 2012).
Those wacky communists. Can Sino-Disney be far behind, or an Asian Girl franchise featuring dolls made in America?

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Softening the Blow

Put a slice on the slice!

And you thought the bacon fad was over~ Not so. People are going hog wild for the latest bandage idea: smells-like-bacon adhesive bandages. Now you, too, can be enveloped in that hickory smoked flavor of bacon, even when you suffer the misfortune of slicing open a finger, a toe, an ear...whatever. I would also suspect these could be used as a sleep aid as well: just stick one on your upper lip, and you'll have a pork-filled slumber that is pleasant AND filling. (unless you wake up hungry as a result!)
In addition to the wound covering, this company also make bacon-flavored toothpaste (perfect for those mornings when you are too rushed for breakfast!), bacon-flavored mints (the perfect after-onion mint) as well as bacon-flavored gumballs. Just imagine: bacon, morning, noon, AND night. Incredible.
Not a real bacon lover? Not to worry!
Made by a company named Accoutrements, these blood-stoppers come in other "flavors." For example, there's mac and cheese as well as pickle-scented bandages (I cannot use "bandaid" because that's a trademark).
At $6.99 for a tin of 15, these might be the best bargain in minor wound coverings, and if the container is accurate, you get a TOY inside each container...and here I was...satisfied with a pig aroma...AND a toy. Wow!
Now these are the kind of accoutrements the French never produced!

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Save the Brandy!

Not Exactly A "Can of Corn."

I'm not sure exactly where the fruitcake got such a bad reputation. I mean, it's dense, sure, but with fruit, nuts, jellied things, imbedded in a cakelike substance soaked in brandy for weeks, it can't be THAT terrible. Yet, it seems that the once royal fruitcake is now longer perched among the upper crust (so to speak) of holiday treats. And the folks in Manitou Springs, Colorado, have a rather unique way of displaying their distaste (as it were) for the now-disgraced edible (in a manner of speaking) concoction.
On January 14th, the good citizens will host, for the 17th consecutive year, the Fruitcake Toss in which contestants vie for awards based on the distance they can heave a one-pound fruitcake. It is supposed that part of the prize is that the contestants will not have to take said fruitcake home with them.
As one might suspect, over the years, new ways of moving the product (so to speak) have been devised. Now, in addition to the basic toss, there exists the Fruitcake Launch, an event which allows participants to use mechanical devices like catapults and pressurized air guns to propel a two-pound fruitcake across vast distances in an empty field. The current record stands at 1500 feet, a feat accomplished by a team of Boeing engineers last year.
Of course, there is also the Catch the Fruitcake competition as well as one featuring accuracy of projecting a fruitcake at targets between 75 and 150 feet away.
The entry fee is a non-perishable food item (not including fruitcakes) to be donated to food pantries nearby, and is open to all comers...who are encouraged to bring their own fruitcakes though a number of them are available for rent, having survived the landings of the previous year.
You still have time to make this the highlight of your new year.
Make a fruitcake.
Leave out the brandy.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Maybe the Math Thing?

I read...a lot. From September to June, it's textbooks as I attempt to work with college students. During vacations and the remainder of the summer break, I read for fun...a lot. since class ended a week ago, I have read four books and will finish yet another before the week is out; today, though, I began to feel like some kind of anomaly. I don't think publishers realize that I want to read, and the non-bookstore outlets certainly don't believe I'm at all interested. This is how I know:
We were wandering through a general-type big box store today looking for saline and other travel necessities, and my sweetie decided she needed a book for the trip. We proceeded to the book area, and I was amazed to find that there were not more than fifteen or so of the more than a hundred titles that were not obviously aimed at women! From hardbound to paperback, the vast majority of books was aimed at satisfying a female's need for solving relationship issues. Shelf after shelf was lined with Jody Picoult/Nicholas Sparks-type novels, and the only ones I could find potentially aimed at other readers were either biographies or Clive Cussler cookie-cutter novels (if you've read one, you've read most all of them).
It made me think that publishers as well as media outlets figure that guys don't read or that they simply don't sell enough books to guys because of the limited selection: it's a chicken-or-egg kind of question.
Or maybe, men have proven too cheap to actually buy books, preferring the library to bookstores. News that major booksellers are going under might be the result of such a thing, and I know that my local B&N has added toys and a Starbucks and all sorts of non-book items just to stay relevant. Whatever the reason for this kind of expansion, I'm all for it; otherwise, if B&N goes the way of Borders, I will have fewer literary choices (E-readers notwithstanding...I still like to turn pages, and it is said that one reads 25% slower online).
So...maybe it's not that guys don't read...perhaps there's something else at work here. Maybe the rest of them are off solving intricate math problems because that's what guys are supposed to be good at, leaving reading and the other side of the brain to women.
Or maybe it's just me. I've got two more weeks before the semester starts up and it's back to textbooks.