Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The iDeaf Generation?

Yes, I'm posting during the day. Hell has frozen over, no doubt (look over there--Lucifer is adjusting his parka!). But no, actually, it's the end result of two students being out sick (that's a safe guess, since they usually don't skip school in middle school). That launched the lunch hour early: Free Potbelly, as mentioned yesterday, during the heart of the busy hour, yet the line wasn't bad at all. Got to take The Walk™ during daylight--it was an unexpected treat.

So I guess that I'm one of the only people left on the planet who doesn't own an iPod (or an iRiver, an iDontcarewhatbranditis, a uCanhearmymusicinthenextcounty, or anything of that ilk). Though I do have an iPod on my Amazon Wish List, it's actually way down on the list of "must-have" gadgets, far behind the new TV, the entertainment center in which to put said TV, and of course the eventual replacement for the Ancient and Venerable iMac, which I plan on "driving until the wheels fall off." Admittedly, an iPod would be cool for things like long plane trips, since I wouldn't have to carry my Discman and all those CD's anymore, but it's not like I have to have one tomorrow.

And maybe that's a good thing. An article in today's DMN talks about what many people have been suspecting all along: Improper use of personal stereos can cause excessive hearing damage, especially in young people:
Audiology experts agree that hearing loss is increasing in the United States. According to widely cited figures from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, the number of Americans age 3 and older with some form of auditory disorder has more than doubled since 1971, from 13.2 million to about 30 million today. Of those, one-third are said to be people with noise-induced hearing loss.

The trend clearly predates the iPod; in fact, it traces its roots to the dawn of the industrial age, according to Pam Mason, ASHA's director of audiology professional practices. These new devices merely add to a daily din of environmental noise that includes traffic, construction, jets and leaf blowers.
The experts admit that iPods themselves are too new to have made an appearance in the testing done on personal stereo users, especially since noise-related hearing loss develops over an extended period of time. Still, if tests done on Walkman and Discman users are any indication, the headphones can certainly pack a wallop if used to extremes:
In the case of one brand of player matched with a particular brand of earphone, he found that listeners could get a sound dose as high as 120 decibels. This is comparable to the sound level at a loud rock concert or sandblasting; it could lead to risk of hearing damage after 7.5 minutes of exposure.

Preliminary data on iPods and similar devices have found lower maximum levels – above 100 decibels (the noise volume of a chainsaw; risk of hearing damage after two hours), but not higher than 115 decibels (a football game in a loud stadium; risk of hearing damage after 15 minutes), Dr. {Brian] Fligor [director of diagnostic audiology at Children's Hospital in Boston] said. To fully understand the potential impact of these devices, it is important to know that the sound travels a tiny distance from earbud to eardrum rather than being diffused in a football stadium or concert arena.
The article also notes that regular headphones are less likely to do damage than earbuds (all other things being equal), and that a good way to tell if your music is too loud is if someone three feet away from you in an elevator can hear your music, or if you have to turn the music down to understand someone who's speaking to you--that makes sense to me.

Besides the obvious fact that, as a musician, I need my hearing for my livelihood, I have another reason to be careful in this area: I'm pretty sure I've had some hearing loss already. One semester at the college, while filling in for my colleague on sabbatical, we were moved to a new rehearsal hall before the soundproofing had been completed (it used to be an art studio before it was given to us). That meant that the room was LOUD, and on one day of the week, I had to direct two big bands and two combos in that room. I've had a slight ringing in my ears ever since, but even though I don't think my hearing loss was excessive (in other words, I don't have to have people speak up in order to understand them, nor do I have to turn my TV up to a ridiculous volume), I still feel like I "took one for the team" that semester. I suppose that, if the damage had been profound, I would have gone after the company doing the soundproofing, since the work they promised would be done in August wasn't actually done until April. Still, I really need to get up to that musician's health clinic at UNT and get fitted for some custom earplugs before long; they let you hear the good stuff and keep out the bad stuff. (John Murphy and others discuss this topic recently (scroll down a few posts) at the new Green Room site.)

At any rate...the jury's still out on what iPods might do, but the potential for damage is there, so--like most everything else--let's use a little common sense, OK?

QUOTE OF THE DAY (added later): This one could go lots of bad places, so I'm just posting it as is...
ROOMMATE NEEDED
$300 A MOUTH

At least he spelled ROOMMATE correctly; I've seen lots of signs looking for a ROOMATE. On one of them when I was in college, a wiseguy wrote in, "To share a ROO?" But I guess that only happens in Australia, after said Roo is finished grilling on the barbie. (Sorry, James, I couldn't resist. Feel free to post a Texan joke on your site or something.)

Monday, January 30, 2006

Free Food Tomorrow!

With a headline like that, I could probably post about anything, since I almost certainly have your attention now. Except that the subject actually is free food tomorrow, assuming you're in my part of town. The new Potbelly in Firewheel Market is giving out free sandwiches tomorrow to anyone who makes a donation to Habitat for Humanity. The promotion runs between 11 and 3, but if you're reading this, please try to avoid being in line around 1:20, so I won't have to wait too long (kidding). I'm not sure how much the donation is required to be, but I'm assuming it's somewhat more than a penny and somewhat less than the actual price of the sandwich. At any rate, it's good food for a good cause.

And I thought Bruce Hall was bad back in the day: Hard to believe, but over at Yale, the university with a $15.7 billion endowment, they're finally supplying soap in the dormitory bathrooms. Hopefully, nobody will post urinal signs telling people to use the soap.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

While I Was Out...

All the news that's been fit to blog about for the past few days, except I haven't had time yet:I had more stuff to blog about, but it's escaping me at the moment, so I'll try and catch up some more in the week ahead.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Notes from the Road (Stephenville Edition, Part 3)

For some reason, this particular trip always generates some blogworthy material; here's the latest collection:
  • While passing through the town of Tolar on the way there, I saw a place called "Aloha Donuts." That made me laugh, because the first place everyone thinks of when buying donuts is Hawaii, right?

  • In that same town, there was a closed gas station that still had its prices posted. The price for regular unleaded was listed at $1.08 a gallon. I wondered how long it had been since gas was that cheap...

  • In the nearby town of Bluff Dale, the sign at the entrance to town read:
    PRAY FOR RAIN
    BURN BAN ON
    PLEASE NO HOT PANTS
    I wonder if the younger citizens even know what "hot pants" are...

  • Evidently, a lot of local elections are coming up, and I saw some campaign signs for people named "Tonna," "Donlita" and "Chili." I think Chili (which was a nickname, but I've forgotten his real name) was running for district attorney, and I was wondering if that name made him any less threatening to potential criminals.

  • Bumper sticker of the day:
    YES, THIS IS MY PICKUP
    NO, I WON'T HELP YOU MOVE
    (Seen on--of course--a pickup truck that also had a Domino's sign on it. No wonder he didn't want to help anyone move; he drives enough as it is.)
This continues to be my favorite roadtrip, driving-wise, of all my chapters, probably because it's the only one that's not almost all freeway. It's nice to stop and smell the proverbial roses for a while, especially when some of them are so colorful.

Previous Notes from the Road (Stephenville Edition):
Part I
Part 2

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "You can't catch old."--One of the guys at the workshop, when we were discussing performing at nursing homes and how some college students seem reluctant to interact with the residents, as if they were contagious or something.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Travel Advisory

I'm off to Stephenville again, this time for a fraternity workshop; I'll leave after school tomorrow and get back by around dinnertime on Saturday. I'll do the usual stuff, partake of the local delectables (Dublin DP, Hard Eight BBQ, etc.) and enjoy the trip; it's always a nice drive, as I've noted before. Sure, this time is expected to have rain for most of the weekend, but that's OK--we need it, badly. I've allowed myself plenty of time to get there as well. (Oh, and hopefully there won't be a barking dog in the next room at the hotel like there was last time. You might finally get to read that elusive MAN BITES DOG headline if that were the case again.)

There should be multiple posts (or one gigantic one) when I get back; there's been lots to talk about and no time to commit it to the keyboard. Everyone be safe and have a relaxing weekend till then.

The Thai's that bind: To most teenagers, getting braces is a sign of impending uncoolness; in Thailand, it's a popular fad, so much so that kids are even getting fake ones. Now the government is threatening people who make or sell fake braces with fines and prison time.

You gotta fight for your right to...wear a skirt to school? This guy in New Jersey did, and he won his case.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Mr. Clean Goes Overboard?

(Sorry that this is a day late; Blogger was down for most of last night and this morning...)

Not much time for a post today, but I had to pass along this quick anecdote from one of my schools. It seems that someone at this school started a campaign to get people to wash their hands after using the bathroom. (This is a good thing, as far as I'm concerned; watching someone leave the bathroom--especially the stalls--without washing always triggers the "eww" reflex in me, and I'd never skip this task myself, especially at school, since I may have to adjust someone's reed during a lesson. I've even been known to carry around those little towelettes that you get from chicken-wing restaurants if I know that a certain school won't have soap in its facilities.)

As part of this campaign, signs were posted everywhere: on the walls, above the sinks, on the paper towel dispenser....in the urinals. That's right, there were signs in the urinals, practically blocking the bowl in one case. I guess that's one way to get people to be sure and wash up--rig it so they actually pee on their hands in the course of doing business. Again I say, "eww."

(And I'd hate to be the custodian who had to remove those signs at campaign's end...)

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Pa-Rant

I've been meaning to write this post for quite a while, but this morning was the deciding factor. Here's the situation: I teach a couple of before-school lessons at a middle school a couple of mornings a week. The Wednesday ones end before the 8:40 go-to-class bell rings, so I miss the crowds in the hallways, but I do run into (not literally, of course) some parents dropping their kids off in front of the school, since the only exit from the faculty parking lot funnels through that way. The Tuesday lessons, however, end right at that bell, so I do catch the hall crowds. But by the time I get to my car, there are maybe five minutes before the first-period tardy bell rings, so one would think that all the kids would have been dropped off by then, and I would have the front drive all to myself, correct?

Umm, no. Not by a long shot.

I can't remember a Tuesday morning all year where there weren't at least ten cars dropping kids off with less than five minutes before class. Even today, when they were giving a state "benchmark" test all day (and, no doubt, emphasizing the importance of being on time today for the past week or so), I saw the same number of late kids being dropped off. What gives?

It's one thing if a kid is late to high school, because he may have driven him/herself there. But these kids are late because their parents made them late. That's just so wrong, I don't even know where to begin.

Granted, it's not like I'm memorizing license plate numbers or anything; it could be the same ten parents who are late every week, or it could be different people each time who are having their one bad morning of the year. My "statistics" are anything but scientific. But it still blows my mind that more than one or two parents would allow this to happen. If they're the ones who are supposed to set the example for their kids, what kind of a chance do the kids have in this case?

I guess I hold parents to a really high standard. My own parents, whatever their shortcomings, set the bar pretty far up there. They did what they were supposed to do, when they were supposed to do it. I was never late to, or unprepared for, anything on their account. (Ironically, the one time my dad forgot to turn in a piece of paperwork on time, it was the application for a college scholarship through his work. But hey, that penalized him more than it did me, because he was paying for my undergrad school as it was.) They never cursed in front of me, except for the time or two when they were doing so at me, and on those occasions, I deserved a tongue-lashing, trust me. Even if I disagreed with them on something, I always respected the way they conducted themselves when they were raising me.

Sure, the standards had their downside: Mom and Dad weren't (aren't?) always easy to please. I'll admit to some self-esteem issues over the years because of that. But again, they always had my respect, and not because they demanded it (a futile undertaking, in my opinion, unless one is in the military), but because they earned it. I just can't see these slacker parents earning too much respect from their kids; they may well set high standards, but those requests will fall on deaf ears if the parents don't live up to the standards themselves. "Do as I say, not as I do" doesn't fly once a kid hits adolescence.

Am I being unreasonable here? I have always thought that being a parent is a special calling (and by this, I mean a true parent, not just someone who's a sperm-donor or birth giver and isn't living up to the title of parent). I've said on occasion that it would be nice to have some sort of test that couples had to take before being allowed to conceive, but 1) several of my friends would never have been born if that were the case, and 2) naaah, too Third Reich, methinks. I'm also sure that plenty of parents got off to a rough start but eventually "got it" as time went on.

And sure, some people would bash me for even talking about this, because I'm not a parent yet. They'd say, "You don't know how hard this is, Kev." My reply would be, no, not first-hand, but then nobody ever said it was going to be easy...and besides, maybe one of the reasons I'm not a parent yet is precisely because I didn't think I was ready. (The other reason, I guess, would be a lack of dates. D'oh.)

So maybe it is just the same ten bad parents every week who drop their kids off late. And maybe this one thing isn't indicative of a larger problem, but the sad truth is that it probably is. Anyway, I've gone on way too long with this post, so I'd like to hear from you, especially my fellow educators. Do parents today seem to live up to the standards set by our own parents, or have you seen a drop in this area? The comments are open...

Monday, January 23, 2006

"Kev vs. the Cold" Update: So Far, I'm Winning

A few months ago, I noted that, even though I'm no fan of cold mornings (and, true to form, I've been pushing waaaay too many snooze alarms lately), I still felt that it was necessary to try keeping the thermostat at 68 degrees this winter due to the prospect of high heating bills. Even though we've pretty much had a warmer-than-usual winter thus far, there were still a lot of people suffering from "sticker shock" from their December bills, which included that little icy snap a few weeks before Christmas. So even though the gas company is saying that any spike would be short-lived, I was still uneasy when I opened my latest gas bill today. But while several people (with around the same size house as mine) were quoted in the paper as saying that their bills were in the hundreds of dollars, mine was a very palatable $69.62--not much more than during the height of winter last year. I breathed a sigh of relief.

So one thing's for sure: The 68-degree thing evidently works. The little adjustments I've had to make to keep warm inside--wearing a hoodie, wearing socks more often, sleeping under a comforter--have been totally worth it. And I'm sure that the new heating and cooling system that I got this past spring has been a big help too. I shudder to think how much energy my tired old system and its tattered ductwork would have been wasting this year. So it may not have been the most exciting birthday present, but it's turning out to be the gift that keeps on giving.

Grandma didn't really get run over by a reindeer...but in Australia, she got bitten by a snake while watching TV. (The venom didn't actually enter her bloodstream, so she was OK.)

What is it, girl? Grandpa Timmy fell down a well?: Also in Australia, a 90-year-old farmer was rescued by a cattle dog whose name actually is Lassie.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

A Little Relief

That mysterious wet stuff was coming down from the sky on my trip home last night, and it continued on throughout most of today (in fact, at one point, they gave a most unusual weather forecast on the radio: 100% chance of rain). It won't be nearly enough to even put a dent in the drought conditions around here, but every little bit helps; maybe we can go a day or two without having a grass fire warning for once.

I would have actually had a post of substance this weekend, but I got caught up in two very interesting discussions of the Venus-vs.-Mars variety:
  • Over at Althouse, the subject was the "gender gap" in education, which now appears to be swinging in favor of girls, since schools today tend to favor the sit-down-and-listen approach that doesn't work so well for boys...who then tend to get over-diagnosed with ADD and ADHD and medicated into submission (I'll elaborate more on this subject in a later post).

  • And over at Dr. Helen (a.k.a. the InstaWife), the discussion is about why some men are reluctant to marry; one of the big reasons is that the divorce laws are often stacked against them, no matter what their personal situation.
I'm doing a lot of planning for my fraternity workshop this coming weekend, so posting may be sparse for the next few days, but I'll try to pop on with at least a little something here and there.

Jazz has a sense of humor: Yesterday's comics pages contained not one, but two references to jazz artists: B.C. included Maynard Ferguson in its punchline, while Pearls Before Swine touted Chick Corea and included a very funny misunderstanding of his last name. (I'll admit that, as a kid, I used to think his first name was "Chuck.")

Friday, January 20, 2006

Strike Up the Bands

I attended the local All-Region band marathon tonight; it's five bands (freshman band, 4A band, and three 5A bands) back-to-back in four hours. Since getting there required a trip north on Central Expressway during afternoon rush hour (and since my nap lasted longer than I'd anticipated...d'oh!), I didn't quite make the entire freshman portion, but I did hear their last number in its entirety. So today's post is just a collection of some random thoughts that occurred to me during the concert:
  • Once I arrived, I was there for nearly the entire thing, as I had students in every band except the 4A one (since all my schools are 5A now). During that time, I took a dinner break; if nothing else, I felt like I was opening up a seat for some 4A kid's Aunt Edna who might not have gotten a place to sit if I'd stayed.

  • The concert ran extremely efficiently, with no band starting more than a minute or two after its posted time. I've seen this concert run as much as thirty minutes behind in the past, and it makes for a long night for the directors and everyone else involved. This one was obviously set up very well, and the auditorium was big enough that nobody who went in the side entrances was left without a seat (though it did bunch up a bit in the middle).

  • Perhaps this was a direct by-product of the need to keep things on time, but one of the only negatives of the concert was that none of the conductors spoke a word until right before their band's final number. I thought at first that perhaps it was just each director's individual personality, but after three bands did that in a row, I decided that it must have been by design. I'm not saying that everyone needs to be as big of a chatterbox as I am onstage (a holdover, no doubt, from my college radio days), but when the program says "to be selected from the following," I always want to know what I'm hearing as I hear it.

  • Going to a band concert always reminds me why I'm not a band director. This isn't as negative as it might sound: I enjoy listening to the concerts, and I enjoy working with students one-on-one, as well as with jazz players in groups, but conducting a large classical ensemble really isn't my thing (though, if a college job came up that involved directing one classical ensemble along with several jazz ones, I know I'd have the wherewithal to make it "my thing" in short order). Even with the exciting new music being written for that medium today (more on that in a moment), I still heard some pieces that I had played in high school. and they were done pretty much the same way as they were when I played them. I like the freshness and unpredictability of jazz; even when I'm programming a tune that I've done before (and veterans of my combos--especially the afternoon one--will tell you that there are certainly plenty of "Kev Classics" out there), it's a completely different rendition each time because of the elements of interplay and improvisation.

    I totally appreciate the work that band directors put into their craft, even as I totally realize that I'm not the right person for that job. Again, that's not a negative at all; it just means that I know I'm in the right place.

  • Tonight also reminded me once again how much more I like "wind ensemble" music than traditional "band" music. Sure, I'm a sucker for a good march (which makes sense, seeing as how my first two widely-performed compositions were marches), but the more orchestral style of wind writing that's employed today just draws me a lot deeper into the music than most of the old band "warhorses" do. (It doesn't hurt that a lot of wind ensemble writing draws heavily from the modern film-scoring sound...which reminds me--sometime soon, I need to write the post about "How Film Scoring 'Saved' Modern Classical Music.") The effective use of the different colors of the winds, along with the expanded percussion section, really heightens the overall appeal of the genre. I wasn't familiar with a lot of the compositions I heard tonight, but I would definitely acquire some of them on CD for when I'm in a classical mood (yes, it happens).

  • I was also reminded of the importance of not judging a proverbial book by its cover. One of the bands started out by playing three traditional "band" works; it was well-done, but I was wondering if the director was just old-school and maybe a bit stodgy. Then, for their last number, they did a piece that evoked a New Orleans jazz funeral, complete with a small combo up front, mass singing of "When the Saints Go Marching In," and a finale where everyone busted out party hats and noisemakers and dumped confetti on their fellow bandmembers. It brought down the house, and it was certainly an unexpected finale to their portion of the program.

  • This may sound sappy, but it's always cool when they recognize the teachers before every band (by having all the directors and private teachers of the students currently on stage stand up for a moment). Most of the work that my colleagues and I do is behind the scenes, and that's ok; the real reward is watching them progress over the years and develop a love for music that will hopefully last far beyond their public schooling, no matter what their major will be in college. But I'd be a liar if I said it wasn't nice to be among those standing up every year.
A few people are always surprised to see me at this concert, but they shouldn't be; I'm all about supporting the students whenever I can. And while I'm never able to make every concert at all eight schools during the year, the Region concert is one I try never to miss, since the people who made it to this stage have put in even more work than usual to get there. In return, I can certainly sacrifice a Friday or Saturday evening to hear the fruits of their effort.

(I also blogged a Region concert a few years ago; in that one, several of the participants were also in some of our college ensembles, so the post took on a bit more of a personal flavor.)

Before long, they'll be jammin' from the womb: A few days ago, I noted the presence of a 10-year-old trumpet prodigy who was at IAJE last week. Hot on the heels of that story comes the news of another tiny trumpet titan, and he's only four.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Energized

I have a lot of things I want to blog about, but they'll have to wait till the weekend. As you can see from the time stamp, it's pretty late, and I've only been home for slightly more than an hour.

Seeing as how I started teaching at 7:30 this morning, I should certainly be completely exhausted by now, but I'm not. Why? Because this is my long day at the college--two jazz combos, plus a decent-sized dinner break in between. Instead of being spent when it's over, I'm usually energized, because I just love teaching college in general, and I really enjoy working with these two groups (especially the night group, which I only see on Thursdays). I really feel like this is where I need to be, and I'm glad to get to be there twice a week.

Anyone else out there have, or had, a job you totally love?

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Unlike Santa Claus, They Made a List Without Checking It Twice

I know that bulk-mailed items can sometimes really miss their targeted demographic, but these two are crazy:
  • An 87-year-old Dallas grandmother received a recruiting notice from the Army. (She's of course too old to enlist, but if she did, the phrase "your grandmother wears Army boots" wouldn't always be an insult anymore.)

  • On the opposite end of the spectrum, a two-year-old girl in Massachusetts received a summons to jury duty. Upon finding out, the county gracefully decided to give her a "16-year deferral."
Our tax dollars at work...

She'll face the wrath of many for this: Remember that woman in France who had a face transplant a few months ago? Well, now she's used her new lips to take up smoking again, much to the chagrin of her doctors.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The Walk™

Today was the first day of college classes (everything went fine), and I found myself just finishing dinner and errands at around 8:30 tonight. Most normal people would then go home--especially people with syllabi to revise. But anyone who's read the last two years and nine months of The Musings knows that this is no normal person. I had one more stop to make. Why? Because I'm addicted to The Walk™. (Is it possible to "trademark" a physical activity? Sure, why not--especially considering I did the same thing to a social event a few years ago.)

As I said at New Year's, my non-resolution is for there to be a little bit less of Kev within a few months, and what's left of me wants to be a lot more active and fit. The possible deterrent to this is that my schedule will allow me maybe two days at the gym at most (it would be three if it were still open on Sundays), so I decided that, weather and operating hours permitting, I would go to Firewheel and do The Walk™ on as many non-gym days as possible.

For those of you familiar with the layout of the place, I walk the entire "streetscape" portion, adding "bonus sections" if I've been at one of the Market food/drink places up front. I don't do the dorky swingy-arms thing like "power walkers" do, but my pace is faster than it would be if I were just shopping. I've been known to drag friends along on this if we're up there for some reason, but if it's just me, that's cool too. Even if I feel creaky from a day of sitting down in cramped practice rooms, I always feel better after walking. Oh, and I can't imagine doing this at an indoor mall, where I'd be the only one doing so who didn't have grandkids. There's something about a (simulated) small town setup that just makes it eminently...walkable.

Anyway, that's a quick update on progress since New Year's; I also have continued the crunches every morning. I don't weigh myself every day, or even every week, but I'm starting to feel smaller and definitely feel better...and that's what counts, right? So even when part of me is begging to go home for the day, The Walk™ is 20-25 minutes well-spent.

And turning to sports: In college hoops, your final score is Duke 3,688, North Carolina 3,444. But lest you think that both Coach K and Coach Williams completely forgot how to coach defense all of a sudden, you should know that the game was played by regular students from both schools, and they set a new world record after playing for 58 straight hours, raising some money for charity in the process.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Kevmobile 1.2 Dodges a Metaphorical Bullet

(No, nobody shot at my car. That's why it's a metaphorical bullet, ya see.) Anyway, my recent automotive woes have been well-documented, so I was more than a little alarmed when the temperature kept rising and rising on my way home last night. I even had to stop a few blocks shy of my neighborhood just to let it rest for a second, but it shot up again right away upon restarting. I was encouraging it on--"Come on, make it home, you can do it!"--which would have been funny to anyone who had passed me, since the window was open at the time. I got into the garage before anything blew up, waited quite a few minutes and carefully opened the hood. Weird-smelling steam billowed out for quite a few minutes; I was content to let it do so before I checked the contents of the coolant reservoir, which had gotten rather low. The radiator had just been replaced last spring, so I was hoping that, if it was indeed the problem, everything was still under warranty.

So I woke up much earlier this morning than I wanted to on a holiday (8:00), and then hit snooze alarms for the next hour and a half, thus actually getting out of bed at about the time I wanted to in the first place. Upon taking the car in, I found out that it was nothing but a bad radiator hose. Whew! Now all they had to do was get the part in...

That was the only downside to this whole thing--because of the holiday, the parts vendor was understaffed, so it took a while for them to get the hose over there. I lingered at Fuddruckers for a good hour or so, but the part had still not arrived. Seasons changed, empires rose and fell....and there I sat. (I would have gone across the street to Firewheel save for the fact that this unusual wet material was falling out of the sky this morning--I'll have to investigate this further at another time--and the only way across the George Bush was rather muddy.) I was happy to find out that the engine did pretty well on the "block test" and showed no real damage; the only thing that happened was that the steam coming out of there last night did a beautiful job of cleaning all the little sedimentary deposits off the engine. So even though it killed part of a holiday (just like back in October, but with a much cheaper bill), the car is in good shape again. Now, if it can make it to December (the date of my last payment) relatively unscathed, I can start saving up for Kevmobile 2.0, maybe sometime in late 2007.

Cream of viper? Feeling cold and in the doldrums this winter? How about some snake soup? They swear by it in Hong Kong... (via Dave Barry's Blog)

Belly up to the counter: On the subject of food that actually tastes good, the new Potbelly opens today in Firewheel Market. They do have soup, but snake is not among the choices...

Sunday, January 15, 2006

A Tribute to the Masters

The National Endowment for the Arts bestowed its latest round of Jazz Masters awards in New York at the International Association for Jazz Education (IAJE) convention yesterday (some of you already know that I almost had a chance to attend that convention as a substitute chaperone for one of our college students who made an all-star ensemble, but that didn't work out). Among those honored at a Friday concert during the convention were Chick Corea, Tony Bennett, Ray Barretto, Bob Brookmeyer, Freddie Hubbard, and John Levy (a bassist who was also the first African-American promotional manager).

Each Jazz Master gets a one-time fellowship of $25,000 and has the opportunity to participate in a tour program covering 75 cities and all 50 states. Dallas is not one of the participating communities, but the tour does go through UT-Austin. A list of previous winners is here.

Oh, and aspiring jazz trumpeters should evidently watch out for this kid...

What's in a name, rap version: It's interesting how rappers who use pseudonyms sometimes end up in legal trouble pertaining to their stage names. A few years ago, C-Murder was charged with murder, and now Juvenile has been arrested for issues with child support.

At least she doesn't look like Triumph the Insult Comic Dog: Finnish president Tarja Halonen is getting a lot of publicity for her re-election campaign from the Conan O'Brien show, of all things. Why? Because they look almost exactly alike. (UPDATE: She'll be in a runoff, so Conan can keep up the gag for a while.)

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Are We As Mean As They Say We Are?

There was a report in the news the other day that listed Dallas as the sixth-"meanest" city in the nation in regard to how it treats homeless people--this according to a survey by several national homeless advocacy groups. Cities were ranked based on the number of "anti-homeless" laws, enforcement of such laws, the general political climate towards homelessness and how the city deals with the issue. The ranking comes despite recent passage of a $23.8 million bond issue to build a homeless center in the downtown area.

So let's pore through the report for a moment and see what kinds of restrictions are being put in place that these guys consider to be "mean":
  • No panhandling within (15-25 feet) of an ATM. I don't see a problem with this; I don't want anyone near me when I'm using an ATM in an urban area, except one of my friends who's "got my back" in this situation. In fact, I try to use the drive-through machines whenever possible.

  • No panhandling within (15-25 feet) of a sidewalk cafe. Nobody wants to be bothered during dinner (except by their server, of course, but even some of them overdo it); this one makes sense to me.

  • No panhandling within 15 feet of a public toilet. Umm, yeah. That just falls under the category of "personal space."

  • Church/charitable groups getting fined for feeding the homeless outside specially designated areas. On the surface, it seems like this is a little unnecessary, but, as downtown residents and merchants have pointed out, those paper plates and plastic cups can stray quite far away from their original areas, and suddenly there's trash everywhere. (I'm also a fence-sitter on the subject of requiring anyone who feeds the homeless to take a food-handlers class similar to the one taken by restaurant workers. On the one hand, that makes sense--just because they're homeless, they don't deserve to get sick from tainted or poorly-prepared food--but it also just seems like a big load of bureaucrap.)

  • Removing a shopping cart from its owner's property. Hmm, the last time I checked, this was called "stealing." And they have a problem with this being outlawed?

  • Urination/defecation in public. You've. Got. To. Be. Kidding.
Call me cold-hearted, but those laws don't sound all that bad to me. I've certainly been among the many people who have had a trip to downtown Dallas made unpleasant by constantly being accosted by homeless people begging for money, and those who have businesses there certainly have a right to conduct business without their patrons going through this on a daily basis.

There have been plenty of stories over the years about the public library in downtown Dallas scaring off "regular" patrons because of the large concentration of homeless people, and no doubt the advocacy groups would consider the library's recent odor ban to be an act of meanness as well. But the code also prohibits sleeping, eating, drinking and bathing at the library--by anyone, regardless of residential status. While library officials concede that it's doubtful anyone will be asked to leave because of an overwhelming odor of, say, Chanel No. 5, they also will not invoke the odor rule without first having heard specific complaints from other patrons.

The root of the homeless problem, as far as I see it, has nothing to do with the temporarily down-and-out--the people who are actually trying to find work and a place to live. These individuals tend to stay in shelters, take assistance when they can, and follow the rules, and they often return to the working (and sheltered) world after a time. The problem lies with what could be called the "chronically homeless"--the ones who are either suffering from mental illness or simply don't want to live anywhere besides the streets. (I recall the story years ago by the Dallas Morning News's Steve Blow, who interviewed a man with a "will work for food" sign set up right across the street from a McDonald's with a "help wanted" sign. Steve put two and two together and asked the guy why he didn't just go across to Mickey D's and apply for a job, and the guy said something to the effect of "too many rules, don't like to get up early, don't want to stop drinking" and so on.) Perhaps the solution ultimately lies in the construction of more mental hospitals to get the "worst of the worst" off the streets, but in the other cases, it's hard to help people who don't actually want to be helped. The advocacy groups say that Dallas is being "mean" by passing these laws, but I say that we're just regulating behavior that shouldn't happen to begin with...and these groups, instead of actually helping the homeless, are instead being "enablers" and perpetuating the problem.

Does that make me a "meanie?" So be it, I guess...

I'd like the Bandit Platter, please: Running for office in Arkansas? You'd better be prepared to eat some raccoon.

Hot for teacher's assignment: An Ohio high school's research project on Internet porn has been cancelled after complaints from parents.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Bureaucrap

I think I've invented a new word today:
bu-reau-crap (by├╗ru`krap): [n] The unfortunate treatment by, or a bad situation in dealing with, a public or institutional official who gives rules a higher priority over people.
I had to deal with a bit of bureaucrap today. Due to the fact that the incident in question took place at one of the myriad educational institutions at which I am gainfully employed, I'm not going to reveal the actual nature of the bureaucrap, but let's just say that it's the equivalent of an entire report or proposal being rejected by virtue of an undotted "I" or an uncrossed "T." So even though I've already posted about local government bureaucracy, federal government bureaucracy and bloated school-district administrations, today's event was enough to launch at least one more general rant on my part:
  • If a rule doesn't actually help people (at least the people it's intended to serve--not just the people making/enforcing the rule), the rule should be abolished as soon as possible.

  • Until said rule is abolished, it should be bent as much as possible by all reasonable, thinking people in positions of power.

  • Those individuals in power who give rules a higher priority than people (i.e. acting without thinking because "the rules [or "the boss"] told me to do so") should be removed from a position that interacts with the public as soon as possible. Whenever feasible, the bureaucratic position should be eliminated and the bureaucrats replaced by computers.
OK, I've ventured off into an imaginary world here, but, to quote a tune on the Jazz Camp CD, I can dream, can't I? The notion of one-size-fits-all simply has no place in a sane society. As I said in an earlier post,
The problem is, one-size-fits-all thinking just doesn't...fit all. Never has, never will. It's just easier (lazier?) to hide behind a set of rules and not take the time to consider each case on its own merits. It's also a quick and easy way to avoid having to make difficult decisions, or (heaven forbid!) stirring up controversy. Why do any work when you can sit back and let the rules do the work for you?
Or maybe what we really need is a "B" Ark. In the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy trilogy, Douglas Adams spins the tale of the planet Golgafrincham, where the leaders announced that the planet was doomed and it had to be vacated; they promptly divided the populace onto three giant spaceships to go and resettle on another planet. The "A" ark had the thinkers: the leaders, the scientists and the great artists and so on; the "C" ark had the doers: the people who made things and did things. Aboard the "B" ark were all the middlemen: consultants, account executives, etc. The "B" ark did find it puzzling to note that they had lost contact with the other two arks shortly after takeoff; what really happened, of course, was that the Golgafrinchans had found a way to rid themselves of the entire useless third of their population by blasting them out into space. Sounds like a good solution for dealing with bureaucrats, although I'm sure that a few would also respond to rehab or reprogramming sessions and eventually lead useful, productive lives.

Anyway, I'm just venting; thanks for listening. I hope I never have to post about this again, but I bet I will...

Triskaidekaphobia? Not here: Did any of you do anything in the least bit differently today because it was Friday the 13th? I heard on the radio that nearly $2 billion in commerce is lost on any given day like today because of superstition. There were no black cats in my path today (Tasha is a tabby), no ladders under which to avoid walking, and I only talked to one person named Jason.

Yay, we win: This is a headline we thought we'd never see: Garland leads region in retail growth for 2005. Take that, Frisco! (Don't worry, Gary, you guys will probably reclaim the top spot this year, but Garland was tremendously under-retailed before this year, so we had to catch up in a big way.) I said before that Firewheel was going to transform this city, and it's doing so...and there's plenty more room to grow.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

They Still Don't Get the Picture

Despite many concerns raised by privacy advocates, red-light cameras seem to be popping up everywhere in the Metroplex. They were pioneered here in Garland, and several other suburbs followed suit. Now, Dallas is looking to install them pretty soon, and TxDOT (the Texas Department of Transportation) is seeking a legal opinion on whether or not they can be installed along state highways.

I've stated my opinion on this subject a few times already, but let me distill it down to a few main points:
  • It's all about revenue, not safety. If nothing else, these cameras have proven to be a cash cow. According to this article,
    Since 2003, Garland has taken in more than $2.5 million in fines, [Garland "Safe Light" program employee Teresa] Pollock said. Garland pays about $28,000 a month to ACS State and Local Solutions, which operates the cameras. The rest of the money goes into a public safety fund, she said.
    Among other things, the city is evidently planning on using some of the camera revenue to buy a police helicopter, which seems to stray from the originally-stated mission to pour such revenue back into traffic-safety improvements. As the letter-writer points out, what will happen if the cameras are later outlawed, if the city has poured a bunch of this revenue into other things?

  • There's too much potential for abuse. Where do I begin here? Am I being too far out in left field to expect that some city, noticing that its coffers are getting smaller, might decrease the length of yellow lights to raise more cash? It also seems seedy that law enforcement (even though, admittedly, the tickets are civil citations) is being ceded to private, outside companies. I think Ernie Brown nailed it today when he said that the cities should be the ones doing this particular task themselves rather than outsourcing it. If nothing else, it comes down to a matter of trust:
    "The question is the extent to which the government is allowed to use this technology against people," says Eric Skrum, a spokesman for the National Motorists Association (NMA) in Waunakee, Wisc. "All these things start off in the guise of safety, but in reality have the potential of being used against you as a revenue generator."

    Indeed, the NMA says the cameras put an undue burden on motorists' presumed guilt rather than common-sense solutions, such as increasing the duration of yellow lights. The organization has put out a $10,000 reward for communities that solve red-light problems through engineering rather than enforcement. (source)
    I totally agree; who among us really trusts the government to err on the side of caution when revenue enhancement is a possibility? Also, it's not often that I agree with the ACLU on anything, but I do here:
    "There's an equal-protection problem," said Scott Henson, director of the organization's Texas Police Accountability Project. "You might run a red light [with a camera] and get a $75 civil fine. I can run one [with a police officer] and get a $200 criminal violation."
    He's got a point there...

  • In fact, the cameras might actually decrease safety. I might have a bit of a bias against these cameras because of a personal experience--namely, my wreck from nearly two years ago. In that instance, I had a light turn yellow as I approached the intersection, but I decided to go ahead and stop because 1) I knew that Garland had some red-light cameras in use (though I didn't know at the time that each one has specific signs announcing its presence) and 2) there appeared to be nobody behind me...which didn't stop an uninsured soccer mom from plowing into me a short time later. (Now, I might well be likely to run the light if someone's behind me, because $75 is much less than my insurance deductible, which I had to pay to fix my car because said soccer mom eluded everyone for a year. But why should I have to make the choice between doing what's safe and doing what's legal?)

    Don't get me wrong--I understand that accidents involving drivers who run red lights can be horrible for all involved. Garland has reported a 21 percent decrease in red-light violations since installing the cameras, but what I want to read is the corresponding statistics for the number of rear-end collisions at those same intersections, because in places where the cameras have been installed in the past, such collisions have actually increased. I'm also concerned about this one intersection in Rowlett that just got a camera; it's not even a major street, just a residential side street, and it's in the middle of a 20-mph school zone. What happens if the light turns yellow while you're plodding along at 20 miles an hour and you can't even make it through the intersection before it turns red?
I haven't seen anything yet that would make me deviate from my original thought that this is just a bad, bad idea. Maybe the Legislature will see the light in 2007 and vote to ban them...and in the meantime, I'll be looking over my shoulder for errant soccer moms whenever the light turns yellow.

Blowing out the candles: Happy birthday to my protege Aaron (I enjoyed the cake), and also, a few more candles for Doug, a onetime protege as well, now getting ready to tie the knot in a few months. (Birthday fun facts: Aaron and Doug share their special day with Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, actress Kirstie Alley, and two radio hosts: Howard Stern and Rush Limbaugh.)

Point to Ponder

Mehmet Ali Agca, the would-be assassin of Pope John Paul II, was released yesterday, and is now a free man in his native Turkey. Wouldn't it be ironic if, upon his return to the general population, he ended up contracting the bird flu, which has started to become a problem over there?

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

A Jazz Horror Story

This was audition day at the college (that, and a zillion other things, explains the sparsity of posting so far this week), and during the process, I heard a horrible story for the first time: Evidently, when Michael Bolton originally recorded "Georgia On My Mind" (and no, Bolton isn't the scariest part of this story), the solo was recorded by the legendary Michael Brecker (anyone caught an update on his health recently?). But some sort of record-company PR person wanted to be able to have the solo performed live on tour. When they realized that Bolton was about to go on tour with the G-weasel, they had Brecker's solo scrubbed from the recording (!), and the G-weasel went in to cut another one instead, just so they could play it together on the road.

My response to that: The record-company person should be summarily executed for crimes against humanity. Oh, and wouldn't replacing Brecker with the G-weasel be like taking the filet mignon off your banquet table and replacing it with peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches on moldy bread?

(Who is the G-weasel, you may ask? I'm not gonna slam him by name in print, because I'm sure he has better lawyers than I do. But Pat Metheny did, which increased my respect for Pat a thousandfold. A few of my friends coined the term "G-weasel" a few years ago, and I liked it, so it stuck. I'll also refer to him in the same way that Hogwarts students refer to Voldemort--He Whose Name Must Never Be Spoken. Heh.)

Spin cycle: A guy in Australia had to be rescued after getting stuck in the washing machine while playing hide-and-seek with his kids.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Two More Reasons to Go Postal?

I wrote a while back about my occasional frustration with the Postal Service, and this week, two more coals have been added to the fire:

1. They lost a package. I got a delivery notice on the Saturday before New Year's that they had tried to leave something in a "large envelope" for me, but they did so during the one hour I wasn't home that afternoon. I don't know why they didn't just leave it in the same place they usually leave packages, but at any rate, I had to go in there on Tuesday and wait in a really long line, only to wait even longer to find out that....they don't know where it is. They were suggesting that maybe it got sent out with the carrier again (even though the notice clearly stated that I could come pick it up that day), but it didn't show up in my box that day, or any other day since then. The weird thing was, the people in the line next to me were waiting for an equally interminable amount of time because their parcel was lost as well (this left only one clerk to help the entire rest of the line, which went out the door by the time that I left). They took my name and number and photocopied the delivery notice, but I have yet to hear a thing from them. I hope whatever it was wasn't important.

UPDATE: I received a call the next day telling me that the parcel had, at last, been found. That's a week later, if you're keeping score at home. I wonder where they finally found it, and I wonder what stories it could tell if it were an animate object.

2. The new postage-rate fiasco. As you may know, the rate of a first-class letter went up today, from 37 cents to 39. Is anyone surprised that, at least from where I'm sitting, it could have been handled much, much better?

First of all, the post office I visited on Tuesday said that they were out of one- and two-cent stamps (needed to make the old stamps still good) and would have some "soon." However, they didn't bother to say exactly what day the new rates took effect. You'd think there would be a huge poster on the front door of every location, but no luck. I finally heard on the radio that the new rates would take effect "this weekend," so I figured that I could easily get some one- or two-cent stamps and be on my way. Now, understand one thing--I almost never have stamps left over (since one of the few "letters" I mail is my house payment, just because it costs extra to pay online), but I did have quite a few remaining from my Christmas cards a few weeks ago. I didn't want them to go to waste, so I decided to just get the cheap stamps and go from there.

You would think that, on the weekend the change took effect, every post office would have one- or two-cent stamps in their machines in generous quantities. You would, of course, be wrong--just as I was for being optimistic in that way. On my way home last night, I visited six post offices (including the "main" branches for several suburbs), and all of the small stamps were gone; several of their machines didn't even have a designated space for them. I was smart enough to buy a couple of the new stamps from one of the machines that still had them, but I had already affixed the old ones on my two items.

Since the night was getting late, and my items had deadlines (one of them was my house payment, the other was a get-well card for an ailing friend), I finally bit the bullet, removed the old stamps and sent them out with the new ones. And even though it was only 74 cents that I'd wasted (and the gas going to the different post offices), I was not happy with them on general principle: They knew the rate increase was coming, they should have known that many people would have old stamps and need the one- or two-centers to augment them, and they were woefully unprepared for the amount of business that came in this weekend. Here's hoping that, with the increase, we'll at least get two cents' more worth of service from now on.

The 12 15 days of Christmas? Anybody else notice that not only are people's Christmas lights still up this week, but they're still on as well? I could understand if people were celebrating the proverbial twelve days of Christmas, but that would have ended on Thursday. I'm not totally complaining--I really like Christmas lights, as you may know--but it's weird to still see them turned on this far into January.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

#777

I noticed today that this is the 777th post to The Musings. Granted, there are a few posts that have been started and not finished yet...but they will be; as anyone who's ever held a conversation with me can attest, I may get off on tangents, but I always make it back eventually. In a way, that number shouldn't be amazing at all, since the blog's been going for nearly three years now, but I just pause and think for a moment: Man, that's a whole lotta writing. Still, I enjoy this outlet very much, and I hope that you enjoy reading it as well (yes, even you lurkers who never comment, heh heh).

So how did the gig go, you ask? It went well. I posted about it at the Team Demon/Dingus blog, so I'll send you there instead of turning this post into the Department of Redundancy Department.

Stupid criminal story of the day #1: A guy tries to rob a pizza delivery driver, forgetting that he had given out his own phone number when he placed the order. (It was pretty easy for the police to track him down, needless to say.) This is almost as dumb as the guy a few years ago who wrote a bank holdup note on the back of one of his own deposit slips...

Stupid criminal story of the day #2: A guy robs a bank and races away in his car...which has the vanity license plate "FINDME." I suppose nobody would be surprised to hear that it was, in fact, easy to find him.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Remembering a Great Man of Music

My fraternity lost one of its finest members earlier this week, and the music world at large lost an unsung hero. Unlike some of our brothers, this man's name was not so well-known outside the fraternity, so I wanted to mention his passing in the hopes that a few more people might be aware of him:
SINFONIAN ICON DAVID PLANK DIES AT 85

David T. Plank, Beta Phi (Baldwin-Wallace) '40, known by generations of
Sinfonians around the country, passed away on Sunday, January 1, 2006.
He was 85. His daughter, Stephanie Plank Livengood, reported that
Brother Plank passed away at 3:00 p.m. "as he listened to his favorite
music on the Moody Bible Broadcasting Network out of Chicago."

Plank was a regular at Fraternity events such as National Conventions
and Conclaves, and was known by many Sinfonians for his classic,
music-related puns, which he would "pun" off on unsuspecting souls in
rapid-fire succession. In February 2000, he led several hundred Brothers
in song during the largest annual gathering of Sinfonians, the Texas
Music Educators Association (TMEA) Sinfonia Sing, in San Antonio.

Plank was the composer of many Sinfonia songs, three of which are
featured in the current edition of Sinfonia Songs:
Sinfonia (Sing, Brothers, Sing) (p.26)
Sing of Sinfonia (p.30)
Sinfonia Grace (p.85)

National President Richard Crosby commented, "This is truly a sad day
for all Sinfonians. No Sinfonian lived and breathed music every day of
his life more than David Plank. He will be sorely missed - but even
though he has left us physically, his spirit will be with us always
through his fraternal songs. I will always remember his spirit when I
sing 'Sing of Sinfonia.'"

Executive Director Ryan Ripperton added, "David has always been the most
unconditionally enthusiastic Sinfonian I've ever met. Never one to be
involved in politics or policy, David showed up under the Sinfonia
banner over and over again, there simply to share his love of Phi Mu
Alpha Sinfonia."

Read the rest of the story here; it includes pictures as well as his obituary notice from the Wooster (Ohio) Daily Record.
I had the privilege of getting to know David Plank at several national fraternity events, and I got to spend quite a bit of time with him when we had the national convention here in Dallas in 2000. (Among other things, I had the distinct pleasure of introducing him to my own chapter's icon, Robert J. Rogers; among other things, both were initiated in 1940, both played piano, both had a wicked sense of humor, and both had contributed tunes to the fraternity songbook.) He needed a ride to the airport, and another brother and I happily obliged. It was back in the days before 9/11, so we were allowed to go to the gate area with him, eat lunch, and hang out with him until he got on the plane. For my part as the driver, he gave me a custom-made black tie with the letters "FMA" on it. I always get a lot of comments about it whenever I wear it to fraternity events, and I'll wear it with even more pride now.

Godspeed, Brother Plank. You will be missed, and your legacy will live on through your music, as well as the memories of all the brothers whose lives you touched.

(See a PDF of my favorite Plank song, Sing of Sinfonia.)

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Everything Came Up Roses for Them

Wow. This particular Aggies fan was totally pulling for Texas in the Rose Bowl tonight, and the Horns didn't disappoint. (Actually, I was secretly rooting for them during the A&M-Texas game as well, because I wanted to see tonight's matchup--shh, don't tell my sister!) There were some nervous moments at different times in the game, but in the end, it was Vince Young carrying the team, as he's done all season. A great matchup, and a game that lived up to its billing--all in all, it was a great way to cap off the season.

And after four and a half hours of watching football, I'm tired. More tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Cross-Cultural Capers Resume

About a year ago, my Australian blogger buddy James and I started a blog called American Australian Fun, where we compare and contrast different things between the two countries.--traditions and customs, laws. holidays, whatever. It had lain dormant since April, since we both had a pretty busy year, but we talked about reviving it over the holidays, and there have now been two new posts in the past week. One of them deals with drivers' licenses, and it's really fascinating how many restrctions they have over there compared to here. Drivers are tested more often, there are restrictions on both the maximum speed and the kind of car driven by younger drivers, and you don't get the "full" license (or licence, as they spell it) until you're at least 20. Another one deals with the weather; even though they're in summer and we're in winter, our temperatures haven't differed all that much at times. They've even had some dangerous grass fires out there as well.

Anyway, I just wanted to point everyone out there who hadn't read it yet; I'm hoping we'll post a new topic at least once a month, if not more. (It's also my excuse for not doing a uniquely new post here today.) Oh, and the way it's set up, if James makes a post, my response shows up in the comments and vice versa, but the comments are done in drop-down style, so you don't even have to wait for a page to refresh or anything.

Back to the grind: The bulk of vacation is over after tonight, as the public schools start in the morning. I got a slight reprieve for tomorrow morning (the two brothers I teach before school decided to wait until next week to start back up), but otherwise, it's full on during the week again, at least until M.L.K. day in a week and a half. I loved the time off, but the wallet was starting to feel lighter, so I guess it's time to get started again.

"Can you catch me now?": A man in Sweden answers a cell phone he had just stolen and then leaves it on long enough for authorities to hear every detail of the cab ride he's taking for his getaway. They catch up to him and take him in.

Eine kleine Sch├Ądelmusik: Scientists may have found Mozart's skull, just in time for the celebration of the 250th anniversary of his birth.

Monday, January 02, 2006

I Hereby Resolve...

...umm, actually, as I hinted at yesterday, I don't really do full-blown "New Year's resolutions" per se. It seems like people can put a lot of undue pressure on themselves, especially during a holiday season. After all, it's all well and good to make a bunch of grandiose plans for the year ahead, but it's also quite easy to fall off whatever wagon you've hitched yourself to for the new year within a few days...and then what? You feel guilty for the next 360 or so. No thanks.

But I'd be lying if I said I didn't in some way use the changing of a year to take stock of my life and figure out things that could be improved. Everyone knows the obvious topics--the ones that come up in year-end surveys like this one: Lose weight, exercise more, handle finances better, quit smoking, etc. I definitely don't smoke, and I think I'm way better with money than I was five years ago, but the first two are of interest to me. I would like for there to be a little less of me, and I feel better when I'm active (though the place-to-place demands of a job with ten different work sites never truly renders me "sedentary"). The gym at school is free, but it's sometimes a challenge to schedule, because it doubles as a classroom (which limits its availability) and I work long hours elsewhere. I'm also the first to admit that not every food item I eat is at the top of the "healthiest" list, and my work hours and locations pretty much require me to eat out a lot.

However, if I came on here and said "I'm going to lose ____ pounds by ____ (month)," my plan would be doomed to failure. So why set myself up like that? Instead, I'll just say that I plan to make incremental changes over a period of time which should pay off in the long run. Will I trade in my beloved Chipotle burritos for wild nuts and berries? No, but I'll eat the salad instead of the burrito more often, and have tea more often than Dr Pepper (for that matter, doing the refill as tea even on DP days). Will I resolve to go to the gym three times a week? Nah, that's not practical...but there is a great retail area in the shape of a small town not five minutes from home, and I walk the entire streetscape whenever I'm there for any reason (and sometimes will go just to do the walk). And I will wake up one snooze-alarm earlier each day to do a gradually increasing series of crunches and push-ups. Will I set a deadline? Nope, that adds too much anxiety to the mix. Will I count calories? No freaking way; I have no desire to be that anal again. And if I fall off the wagon on any of this, I will re-board said wagon the next day.

I think that's the secret to all this--rather than making grandiose plans that are almost certain to fail. it's better to give yourself a series of short, attainable goals that can be expanded once they're in plain sight. Also, this is probably the last time I'll mention any of this on the blog, unless and until something major is completed. Is this way for everybody? Probably not, but it works for me.

Oh, and to all my friends who live nearby: Pleeeeeeeeze come over and help me eat the barrels of candy and cookies that students and their parents gave me for Christmas. It's great stuff, but if I eat it all by myself, I'll need to walk to every school I visit just to maintain the status quo.

UPDATE: Lileks weighs in on the futility of resolutions.

You're gonna rain on my parade? Who cares--we'll go on anyway: I woke up to watch the Rose Parade this morning; it's been a personal tradition since I was four years old and actually attended the thing. It was raining for the first time in 51 years, but the parade went on as scheduled. Of local interest was the presence of the Allen Escadrille, the marching band and drill team (of more than 600 members!) from a few suburbs up the road. I have a student in that band, and he told me that, in order to get there, the band put 200 people on a charter flight and spread the rest among 7 or 8 other flights (!). They actually got some decent face time on NBC when they stopped for a moment in front of the cameras.

The floats were their usual amazing selves, and everything seemed to hold up pretty well despite the weather. I can imagine that dry cleaners and instrument repair technicians will get a lot of extra business from this parade, considering all the wet uniforms and horns that I saw (of course, I felt especially bad for the saxophonists in that weather).

There was also an interesting political angle to the bad weather: Today's grand marshal was soon-to-be-retiring Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. The last time it rained on the parade, in 1955, the grand marshal was Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren. Hey, organizers--let's leave the justices in Washington for a few more decades, OK?

A long read, but worth it: Dave Barry may not be writing regular columns anymore, but he still has his Year in Review.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Happy New Year!

I just wanted to chime in for a second and wish everyone a happy 2006, with best wishes for the year ahead. More later.

LATER: I think everything else I want to say today is little stuff that could be lumped together in the form of a cornucopia...or maybe a mishmash, potpourri or smorgasbord. (Way to go, Kev--use up all the synonyms for the entire year on January 1--Ed.) I guess that means it's time to do one of those bullet-point thingies:
  • Coming home from the Final Burrito of 2005, I took a glimpse of my street. It was dark--too dark. Why were all the streetlights out? And for that matter, why were all my Christmas lights out? As I pushed the remote button for the garage door, it hit me: Crap. the power's out on the entire street. Sounds like a wonderful way to ring in the new year. But wait--as if magic, just as I was about to get out and try to open the garage door manually, Kev's Winter Playland (a.k.a. my little illuminated reindeer in a "fence" of lights hanging from candy-cane-striped poles) came to life once again. Crisis averted.

  • I think I'm going to have a party on April 15. After all, it only makes sense, seeing as how I did my taxes last night (not the whole thing, mind you, but I did compute the whole year's worth of earnings). I'm at the point in life where I don't necessarily mind staying in on New Year's Eve if I'm not gigging, and I figured that I might as well do something productive. (And no, I normally wouldn't save the whole year's worth of computations until the end, but I lost everything up through August in the hard-drive crash back on Labor Day, so I was in fact "rebuilding" the entire year last night.) Doing that much math at one time is a real beating for me, so I'm glad it only happens once a year or so.

  • Oh, and for those of you who've visited me recently, you'll be happy to know that Mount Boxmore--the big pile of shipping boxes that was threatening to eat my living room--has been dismantled. I don't think Tasha was too happy about that, since she'd taken to sleeping there recently. It seems odd that I slacked supremely this entire past week, and here I am getting all this stuff done on what's supposed to be a holiday.

  • It feels weird to be cheering for the Philadelphia Eagles this afternoon, but that's exactly what I'm doing. Evidently, they need to beat Washington in order for the Cowboys (who will then subsequently need to win their own game tonight) to make the playoffs.

  • While taking the usual afternoon walk at Firewheel (and what a great day for it, with temperatures nearing 80), I was surprised to notice that a store had already gone out of business there (it was this place, in case you're curious). I'll admit that I never actually went in there (though I'd planned to eventually), but it always smelled interesting and had some unusual-looking stuff in the window. It's hard to believe that it didn't even hang in there for three months.

  • Speaking of Firewheel, I don't think that there's been a car-pedestrian incident yet (I guess people from the 'burbs have actually figured out how to behave--as drivers or walkers--in a pseudo-urban situation), but I almost saw an SUV-motorcycle mishap today. What was interesting was that after the near-miss, the motorcyclists (a guy and presumably his wife) went up alongside the SUV and started shouting at the driver, saying that someone could have been killed. I wasn't close enough to ask this--and probably wouldn't if I had been, since both riders were pretty big--but the though did occur to me that, if they were so worried about being killed, why weren't they wearing helmets?

  • I really need to reset my sleeping habits, starting tonight. I've fallen back into my natural night-owl ways--staying up till 4, sleeping till 11--during this break, and Wednesday morning will hit me like a lead balloon if I don't start getting back to "normal." I did make about half of church this morning; I was impressed that the worship center was over three-fourths full, though the freeways on the way in were nearly deserted.
Oh, and as for resolutions--I don't really do 'em per se, but next time, I'll talk about what I would resolve to do were I so inclined.

UPDATE: In case you weren't able to enjoy the real thing last night (perhaps because of grass fire danger, like out here), Dave Barry's Blog once again links to a cool online fireworks display.

QUOTE OF THE (YESTER)DAY: "Maybe Y2K finally happened, six years too late."--Dingus, upon our arrival at my darkened street.