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.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Talk, Talk, Talk.

I discovered today that Facebook has yet another way to intrude into my life: it's called a "Talk Meter," and it rates the topics users discuss on the site. Of course, it's not really intrusive, but still, it seems a little bit creepy to me. I'm surprised that anyone would have use for information concerning the most talked about items on a social networking site, but I guess they are.
Facebook's Talk Meter rates the amount of conversation on the site from one to ten with a ten meaning that the topic is a matter of national obsession and one indicating, say, how much people are talking about me.
Anyway, the topic came up because messages concerning the Frankenstorm Sandy generated a rating of 8.34 to finish second (thus far) this year. In comparison, the first presidential debate weighed in at 8.18; the vice-presidential debate scored  a somewhat less impressive 6.79, edging out the Academy Awards as a topic of conversation at 6.74 (seems about right).
Both of those eked out a "win" over the San Francisco Giants capturing the World Series at 6.71, and on down the line we go with Hurricane Isaac finishing out the list provided by CNN at a measly 5.24.
This year's winner thus far has been the Super Bowl featuring the Patriots and the Giants that garnered a number of 8.62.
To be honest, I doubt I even discussed ANY of these events on Facebook. Come to think of it, I'm not sure WHAT I discuss on Facebook...mostly, I make comments on other people's posts.
Maybe I don't need it at all.
But then, what would other people discuss?

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sound Off...or Not...It Depends

For some reason, my ears have been ringing for the last couple of months...well, not ringing, exactly. It sounds more like cicadas in the summer just as the sun is going down. WebMD indicates that I have tinnitis and suggests a white noise machine or someone babbling incessantly to drown it out. It appears to be somewhat common: about 20% of people in my age category suffer from it. (all that headbanging music through in-ear phones, don't you know!) Mostly, it's not too irritating unless I'm trying in vain to fall asleep...and it's not an unpleasant sound...not like nails on the chalkboard anyway; a sound which, according to researchers, isn't even the most annoying sound there is!
Said researcher did comparisons of 74 distinct sounds and arrived at a list of both pleasant and annoying sounds as judged by the human amygdala which controls our emotions as well as response to sounds. Let's start with the annoying list...or at least the top five:

5. Fingernails on the chalkboard.
4. A ruler on a bottle.
3. Chalk on a blackboard (thank God nobody uses THAT anymore!)
2. A fork on a glass.
1. A knife on a bottle.
To be honest, I have heard only a couple of these, and I cannot imagine being in a position to hear someone take a ruler or a knife to a bottle.
Not so mysterious, though, are the top four ( I don't know why only four made the list) most pleasant sounds:

4. Flowing water.
3. Thunder
2. A baby laughing.
1. Applause
Again, I'm a bit puzzled by the list, but I can definitely see that there would have to be categories such as "Best sounds for falling asleep" or "Most pleasant sound for a babysitter: "We're home!" Well, you get the picture.
Just the thought of water running makesme want to go to the bathroom, though.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

"Boo!" as in Boo Boo

Most people would not name Hallowe'en as their favorite holiday, and I guess I might not, either, but every year I sit home and hope that the candy bowl still has something left at the end of the night. I have never shaken down any kid, but it's hard not to like the treats since apples and oranges went out as favorites, thanks to deranged folks who delighted in tricking kids.
I doubt we ever had costumes...maybe grabbing some of Dad's clothes and going as hobos, but that was about it. Mom would never have bought a costume, and I don't remember her ever making one, but it was still a favorite time of year. Now that the kids are no longer living here, it has lost a bit of the zing for me...but then, I'm the only one here who doesn't absolutely hate this particular holiday. Not so for most Americans, though.
According to the National Retail Association, $2.87 billion (yes, BILLION) will be spent on Hallowe'en costumes this year! A surprising $1.4 billion of that will be spent on adults' costumes, $1.1 billion on kids' costumes, and...$370 million will be spent on pets' costumes...that's right, PETS. On average, an American will spend $28.65 on a costume, whether bought or home made.
So...what types of costumes are we buying?More than one million adults and kids will dress up as an athlete, and almost that many will don something related to politics, though the standards are always a favorite.
The top three choices for kids are princess, Batman and Spiderman with a few Honey Boo Boo (?) thrown in. Superheroes like the Avengers will be a hot costume as well (not surprising that Eric Cartman went at The Hulk)
Adults show even LESS creativity:
the top choice among adults (probably female) is a witch with 6 million pointy-headed people bobbing for apples or whatever. The second most popular choice (3.2 million) involves vampires...the obvious allure being the opportunity to bite people in the neck, I suppose. finally, pirates seem to be still in vogue, coming on the heels of national "Talk Like A Pirate Day" and all.
There are dozens of cost-effective, cleverly designed options out there as well.
On the cheap, I will paint a "BO" on the right side of my face, and an "OK" on the left side of my nose and go as "Facebook." It was not my idea, but it is both clever and cheap...and I try to be both.
"Treat or treat" No apples or oranges, please.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Dumbbell? You Bet!

Hopefully, the spectre of Alzheimer's Disease is not hovering over me at this very moment; one never knows until...well, until he or she DOESN'T know anymore. The fact is that this disease is something we all hope to prevent. Sadly, there is no certain prevention, but researchers have recently uncovered facts that seem to repudiate what we have been told in the past about staving off Alzheimer's: brain games and intellectual stimulation work, but not as well as exercise!
In a report published recently in Neurology, researchers detailed an experiment that included 700 people in Scotland between the ages of 70 and 73. Beginning at age 70, participants recorded their leisure and physical activity levels and also rated how often they engaged in various social and intellectual activities.
Three years later, an MRI was done on each participant to check biomarks. Interestingly, those who had higher levels of physical activity also were deemed to have less brain shrinkage (it DOES that?) and fewer white matter lesions, both of which are commonly associated with Alzheimer's disease. As a result, researchers postulate that intellectual and social activities were helpful, but not AS helpful as exercise in preventing onset of the disease.
So, what type of exercise should one begin? Another study, albeit a small one, submitted to the Alzheimer's Association's International Conference in July tested specific types of exercise with women between the ages of 70 and 80. Weight training, walking, and balancing exercises were tested, and the one deemed most effective was weight training. I was a bit surprised. I've heard that weight training is great for bones in older people, especially women, but I would have thought walking might do more. Obviously more study needs to be done, but for a person who reads a lot and does crossword puzzles or Sudoku, this might be useful information.
As it is, it's time for the Nintendo to hit the closet and the dumbbells to come out.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Yeah, I Kind Of DO Miss You Now!

As if standing in line for almost two hours to get free tickets to hear Bill Clinton speak wasn't long enough, today we spent two and a half hours outside waiting to get in. Jackets, hats and gloves were necessary, though we were early enough to be under the overhang when it started pouring. since I had homework to do, I dragged two chairs from my office outside and sat in relative comfort while others stared enviously. To compensate, I gifted them all with lemon drops so they couldn't be too angry. It was quite a convivial crowd, but I've never seen anyone so excited to meet a politician than the young woman standing next to us in line. At 21 she was a military veteran, and she stood clutching a book authored by Bill Clinton that her dad had gotten signed some time ago. "I've wanted to meet Bill clinton since I was eight." She was so nervous, in fact, that she thought she might throw I judiciously let her in front of me in line.
While we clambered onto the bleachers (yes, BLEACHERS in a seldom-used gym that seated fewer than 2,000 people), she rushed the stage and was lost in the throng. Student volunteers tried to pump up the crowd by chanting slogans...fortunately, nobody started the wave. The crowd was middle-aged to older, I would say, with a smattering of college-aged students: a good crowd, really, but watching the elderly folks trying to negotiate the bleachers was nerve-wracking.
Following all the preliminaries (I STILL wanted to shout "play ball" after the National Anthem), Clinton took the stage and just wouldn't let go. As an "elder statesman," he was knowledgeable enough to make sense of the Medicare claims and falsehoods being bandied about; he had enough experience as the man with the last balanced budget to speak clearly about what is actually going on; and, of course,he cited statistic upon statistic to prove that the Democratic platform best answered the needs of college kids, women and seniors. Very believable, but to be fair, he was "preaching to the choir."
At times folksy, at times funny, and at times very serious, he led the crowd through an interesting maze of national politics as it exists today: it was not a pretty picture.
I was more than a little surprised that he didn't pause during bouts of applause but continued with his speech. He didn't respond to single shouts from the crowd that he must have heard, and he used the pauses he DID engage in to dramatic effect.
REO Speedwagon for the end music was an interesting choice, but I don't think he was there to set the tone of energized youth as President Obama did when he appeared on campus four years ago...he was very much in charge of an urgent message, and he delivered it.
I may never get to see a president again, but if offered the opportunity, waiting in line is a small price to pay.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Doing My Civic Duty

The economy is about to take another hit in three weeks when all the PACs and the Koch brothers will have nothing more to spend their money on until the next election cycle. I would imagine that most people feel the same as I do about robo calls, flyers on my doorstep and incessant posturing using glib sound bites that are repeated so often that I doubt if the politicians even hear themselves speak.
However, I did spend a couple of hours in line tonight to get free tickets to hear a former president speak on campus. Had it been a concert or a sporting event, fans would have been cursing and throwing things. Standing for well over an hour to get the line moving, then having only one computer to "register" folks for the ticket, and THEN starting 20 minutes late...well, you can imagine what the crowd's reaction would have been had we been tailgating prior to assembly. Steven saved my night, though.
We had beent here for what seemed like an eternity when a staffer offered us a chance to move to the front of the line with the promise of volunteering for the party at some point. Steven, a self-proclaimed philosophy major and third-party devotee replied, "So you expect me to do something for you just because you're holding a ticket over my head? What if I say "yes" then don't help"? The young lady looked positively affronted and said, rising to the challenge, "We'll keep calling" to which Steven said that he could turn his phone off.
"Well, if you're THAT kind of person," was all she could muster before moving off. It's ironic, but I was thinking the same thing...what a clever marketing tool/devious way to defuse a long wait. Steven became ny friend at that moment...mostly because I, too, was irritated at having an event so poorly organized: I mean the whole student union building was bulging with those who desired tickets...and on a school night!
As a postscript, having procured the desired pasteboards, I jokingly offered to sell them for a nominal fee, but college students were just too poor. A former student was at the end of the line, and I told him that if the 2,000 ran out before he got to the head of the line, I would consider lowering my asking price.
The tickets ran out.
Now, I'll have to stand in line for another chance to get into the building on the night of the event.
And me with a recently-repaired surgical knee.
What I give for my country.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Die Is Cast

I have no great world dominating ideas like Julius Caesar had when he crossed the Rubicon. Nonetheless, for the second time in my life, I have crossed a boundary over which there is no return...and I'm just a bit nervous about this one.
Six years ago, I retired from my career as an educator in a public school system, and I knew the day I handed in the letter affirming that fact that I would never again have the opportunity to go back. thomas Wolfe noted that one could never go home again, and the realization was a bit unnerving. No public school system would ever hire me given my years of experience and advanced degree; even my own school where I had been named the state PE Teacher of the Year in 2006 wasn't sad to see me go...all the administrators saw were the dollars that my replacement would NOT cost them. I knew it, and I didn't was simply the way of the world.
Today, however, marked the second line in the sand, and this one gives me much greater pause: I applied for Social Security today. I can never go back to being anything less than an "old person'" despite my still-youthful appearance (see photo above) and energetic personality. I will soon join the ranks of those for whom life is inexorably changed...some for the better, and some for the worse.
Still, looking at the beer glass as half full...
1. I will get discounts on a lot of things for which I paid full price.
2. No matter what any new (or existing) administration does, I will be "grandfathered" in and get paid...I think.
3. Everyone will now treat me with the respect that wisdom encourages.
4. I have had all the knee operations I am going to have, and my cardiologist is but a memory.
5. If I don't spend extravagantly, I should have enough money to live as long as I want to or am able to...given the odd bike/bus accident or electrical storm while wearing muy iPod.
6. Since all major expenditures (cars/house/kids) are paid off, IT'S ALL MINE! Of course, I will spend it on traveling to see the kids and extravagant gifts for them, but still...
7. I'll get to have my own booth at McDonald's for morning joe with the other regulars.
8. I will be able to get new walking shoes every year for my laps around the mall.
9. I won't have to shave or get a haircut unless I absolutely want to...saving me at least $100 a year (at my current rate of spending on such items).
10. I can now do just what I want to...when I want to.

"Would you like a cart with that, ma'am?"

Monday, October 15, 2012

What's A Few Calories When You're This Big?

I rue the day that Krispy Kreme left the Fox Valley dur to too-rapid expansion and a populace with a too-rapid beltline expansion. It used to be my birthday treat: a dozen here, and a dozen there...but who's counting? (something like birthdays, as a matter of fact).
It would appear that the astronauts in Los Angeles got tired of the space ice cream that comes in the little foil containers and decided to get some real food. While it doesn't look like the "hot now" sign is on, I'll bet they still get a free one when they walk in. Los Angeles is probably one of the few cities in this country that could accommodate a trailer-loaded space shuttle rolling down the street.
Yes, those little pleasures in life can be the most gratifying, but it seems like there is always a price to pay for the guilty pleasures like Krispy Kreme and anything with saturated fat or alcohol in it. Still, we flock to these things like lemmings to a cliff...finding out only later that there really IS a cliff, and it's called "a stroke!"
When you think about it, eating really healthy food all the time gets a bit tedious so the occasional KK isn't too bad.
Never having one, however, is a crime in my book. It's a good thing they're still out there somewhere.

Monday, October 08, 2012

The Power of Non-Advertising

Market Force Information has just released a poll of 7,600 customers of traditional burger places ( not the hoity-toity gourmet places, though) and arrived at something of a comprehensive list of favorite places to nosh on that most American of foods: the hamburger...supposedly invented in Seymour, Wisconsin, though I have some reservations about that.
You want last place in food quality and cleanliness? Go to a Jack-in-the-Box.
You want the worst service? Hardee's is your place.
You want to be waited on in an establishment that has the lowest rating for customer satisfaction? Go visit the guy with red hair and big clown shoes.
In fact, of the 16 notable chains surveyed, both McDonald's and Hardee's came in dead last for overall value though Dairy Queen finished at the bottom of the bun when it came to overall responses.
Since we've gotten the places that we DON'T want to go out of the way, where SHOULD one go to satisfy that hunger that only beef can satisfy?
Of the top five choices by respondents, I have eaten at three of them so I am not qualified to judge the finer points of dining at a Smashburger or an In-and-Out Burger, though the former sounds good to me. A+W got enough plaudits to place it at #4 on the list, and Fudruckers topped out at #3. Both are OK with me, but I give the nod to the root beer place for cheaper prices (87 cents on Monday if Jordy Nelson catches a RD pass on Sunday) and, of coure, they have great root beer.
The top choice sounded so good after I read the story in the LA Times that we ditched our Panera Bread plan for Sunday and chowed down at 5 Guys Burgers and Fries: the #1 choice overall. Free peanuts while you wait, burgers made fresh and to order, a ginormous amount of fries (even in the small-sized order) right off the tater: what's not to like?Topping it off, this popularity was generated ONLY by word of mouth...5 Guys do not advertise in any medium other than on the tongues of satisfied customers.
However, if burgers are not your choice of casual, take-the-kids dining, Papa John's gets the nod for best pizza, according to the American Consumer Satisfaction Index.
Bon apetit!

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Searching for Sixto

Would you be willing to wait almost 50 years for your 15 minutes of Andy Warhol-inspired fame? Most people wouldn't, but then, most of us will NEVER get our fifteen minutes or even close to that.
Sixto Rodriguez didn't bother waiting for fame, but it has found him almost fifty years later.
Of course, being me, I was almost the lat person to know...but most Americans weren't too far ahead of me in finding out about this man's incredible talent.
Signed by Motown in the 60s as a Bob Dylanesque singer/songwriter, Rodriguez made two albums, his first being Cold Fact. Both were critically acclaimed, but audiences weren't interested so he just faded away and worked at manual labor all his life, living in a rundown neighborhood in Detroit.
But it turns out that in South Africa, he was a bigger music sensation than Elvis or The Beatles! Sixty Minutes compiled a documentary on the man, and I was stunned. To people in South Africa, he was, "the voice of our youth"in the face of apartheid and social unrest (did I say Dylanesque?), but in no other part of the world was he even a blip on the musical radar screen. It was rumored that he had died a self-immolation on stage death (better than Hendrix lighting a guitar on fire) so when he was "discovered" recently and made a trip to South Africa for sold-out concerts, it was akin to Lazarus returning from the dead. Concert goers wept, screamed and sang along to every song.
At 70, he doesn't see well and has an unsteady walking gait, but he can still play and sing. A young Swedish movie maker looking for a story found this one in south Africa, tracked the man down and made a movie ON HIS iPHONE that even led off the renowned Sundance film Festival. It's an amazing story.
Spotify has everything he's ever done, and some videos are on YouTube.
Searching for Sugar Man. Check it out when NetFlix releases it. I have it on "Save."
What a story!

Friday, October 05, 2012

Stupid Is As Stupid Does

I just heard the news that Apple has released the iPhone 5, a huge upgrade over the iPhone 4,3,2, and 1, I suppose. Already, there are problems that R&D didn't discover, like the map feature was whack or purple wasn't a great color for photos. Seriously, who tests these things before releasing them. Clearly, stupid people are behind this SNAFU.
While I applaud the company's dedication to upgrading the most necessary technological item of my lifetime, cars having already been invented (though just barely), I still just shake my head in wonder. Seriously, all of this technology advanced just so a college football player can tweet the following tweet that appeared just today:
"We ain't come to play school. Classes are pointless."
Of course, this is at a major educational institution where the football coach makes a gazillion dollars more than the highest paid professor, and said coach by the way, would have us believe that he "didn't know" that game tapes he was required to send opponents were doctored by eliminating footage of important motion and formation items. Riiiiiggghht!
Stupid on two counts--three if you actually believed him when he said it.
But, back to the phone thingie. I have a stupidphone, and I might be the only one in the universe who does with the exception of some long-lost aboriginal tribe in sub-Saharan Africa. My phone will do amazing things like call people without being attached to the wall and receive calls any time, any place under any condition. I can also send text messages if I want to contact someone to whom I'd rather not actually speak. It probably also takes pictures, but I have a new-fangled thing that does it better. I call it a camera, and it's not much bigger or heavier than my phone.
Of course, my phone has a calendar and a calculator, but it doesn't have a corkscrew or a sharpened blade that might come in handy. Truth is, I'm perfectly happy with my stupidphone.
I am not bothered day and night with stupid tweets from people who have no business being left alone.
I don't have access every second to the latest depressing news from around the world or down the block.
I don't have the temptation to run into things while watching a video or falling off my bike while accessing my phone as Bobby Valentine did the other day just before he got fired. Besides, I run into plenty of things when I'm paying attention to what I'm doing.
In fact, I only have the darn thing because the students whom I tutor will no longer reply (or even look at) an email. They will respond to a text in a timely manner so I suppose it is handy, but even then, I get calls from them at hours when I'd rather be watching The Simpsons, so all is not roses...even for us stupid people. We just don't know what we don't some "student" athletes.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Taco 'Bout Some Good Eatin'

National taco day

Today is National Taco Day. I find that amusing: a food that isn't strictly speaking American gets a "day" in this country. I would guess there probably is not such a day in Mexico for the same reason there is no Kids' Day in North America ("Every day is Kids' Day," according to my mother).
At any rate, I chose to celebrate because I like tacos, especially the new ones made with Doritos shells. Of course, as one might figure, the ahrd shell taco is a North American concoction. In Mexico, corn or flour tortillas are used to handle the stuff inside. A taco bowl? Not south of the border, amigo(a).
Jeffrey Pilcher has even written a book about this world-favorite food: Planet Taco: A Global History of Mexican Food. Heck, the name, while originally Mexican in origin, doesn't even come from a food source, according to Pilcher. Eighteenth-century silver miners in Mexico used to wrap small dynamite charges with paper before setting them off. The reason why is unknown, but the similarities in the wrapping gave rise to the name for the food that is sold in various forms by street vendors the world over. Sadly, now there are even gourmet varieties appearing for the sophisticated palate tired of filet mignon and shark fin soup.
Me? anything at Taco Bell under $1.20 is just fine, but I would hope for something in a corn tortilla instead of the flour ones. For that, though, I have to go to any of the authentic Mexican restaurants.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Protecting My Brain Cells

I will freely admit to having a bias when it comes to wearing a bicycle helmet; this bias is not the result of unsafe practices on my part (though I HAVE had several spills over the adult years). I base my opinion simply on the fact that my head is, generally speaking, the one part of my body that cannot be "fixed" easily. I realize that in any confrontation with several thousand pounds of onrushing steel coming from either the front or the back I will lose. That's a given...much like motorcyclists who admit that if they hit the pavement at 65 m.p.h. a helmet won't be enough protection to save them.
Does it look dorky? probably. does it mess up my hair? probably, but since I cannot see it, I don't worry about it. So, for me, it's a no-brainer, so to speak.
Not so for proponents of worldwide bike sharing programs who contend that forcing folks to wear a helmet actually discourages them from riding. Possibly. In almost every European country that utilizes citywide bike rentals, no helmets are required. In this country  however, people who ride sans helmet are seen as irresponsible (much like smokers). Naysayers believe that helmets promote a fear of unreasonable magnitude with regard to the actual dangers. Heck, in New York last year, there were only 21 fatalities so how dangerous can it actually be to ride without a helmet. 
While cycling has long been touted as a great way to lose some pounds without the stress and strain of running or the fear of judgment at the gym...and if wearing a helmet prohibits someone from getting exercise, maybe it's OK to ride without noggin-knocking protection.
We here in Green Bay have a bigger issue with bike sharing than helmet laws, though. The city tried the program a couple of years ago utilizing refurbished bikes from the police auction. I thought it was a great idea and felt proud that we were on the cutting edge, helmets or not.
The bikes were trashed or stolen.
At least we didn't have to pay for lost and/or destroyed helmets.
However, for those of you out there who ride with your children: making them wear a helmet while you do not sends, in my mind, the wrong message, much like making the kids buckle up in the car and you neglecting to.
Share the road.