Thursday, June 29, 2006

A Smart Idea

I read this week about Daimler-Chrysler's plan to start selling Smart cars in the U.S. in the near future. (Go here to visit their American website and see a picture of this unusual little car, which is only nine feet in length, but gets up to 69 miles per gallon on the highway.) I saw quite a few Smarts on the streets of Montreux, Switzerland when we took the college jazz band there in 1999, and everyone got a kick out of their compact size. (Several people made the crack that the car looked like something that George Jetson could fold up and carry in his briefcase when he got home.)

At any rate, the cars are very much European in look, so it would be interesting to see them on our American streets. I'm not sure I'd feel safe sharing the road with eighteen-wheelers in one of those, but the gas mileage is certainly impressive.

Oh, and I had always heard that the Smart was originally called the Swatchmobile, as it had been developed by the Swiss watchmaker, and the story on the Smart website seems to bear that out; Swatch was indeed involved in the production, with Mercedes-Benz its corporate sibling.

Fry Street updates: I haven't chimed in on the Fry Street story for a while, so I thought I'd link two recent updates from the Denton Record-Chronicle and CBS-11 respectively. Also, the Save Fry Street! site has undergone a makeover; check it out if you haven't been there recently.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Not a Smoking Gun, But Still Good News

I was happy to read the latest report from the Surgeon General today, because it supported something I've believed all along:
The U.S. surgeon general handed advocates of smoke-free public places new ammunition Tuesday – a report declaring that separate smoking sections don't protect bystanders from the hazards posed by other people's tobacco smoke.
While not a smoking gun – it's actually a compilation of the best previously done research on secondhand smoke – the report is expected to serve as fresh fodder in a debate that has already led to restaurant smoking bans in states including California, Florida and New York and cities such as Dallas and Austin.

[...]The new report was described as the most comprehensive federal examination of the topic since the last surgeon general's report in 1986, which declared secondhand smoke a cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers.
Tuesday's report concluded that there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke.
Read the whole thing. The report itself doesn't guarantee that any new laws will be passed, but it does provide the incentive for various government entities to do something about the problem. Cities like Plano, which have had separate ventilation systems in restaurants that still maintain a smoking section, are now being told that even that may not be enough.

There are a lot of angles to this story, but I can only speak from a personal one: I'm allergic to the stuff. It may not have shown up on my allergy tests (I'm not sure that I was tested for it, although, oddly enough, I was tested for both cockroach venom and cow dander), but I know what happens to me when I'm around it for any length of time: Watery eyes, sneezing, nasty cough. And I'll never forget the year when I went to TMEA convention and I was given a smoking room at the hotel; that was very much against my wishes, but I didn't raise a stink because its effects weren't apparent until after I got home. But the long and short of it was, I was sick for two weeks afterwards, with what many people described as a "smoker's cough." It wasn't fun, and I would definitely do something about it if a hotel ever pulled that again.

Sure, I feel for the people who have to stand outside in the cold, rain, or whatever to take a cigarette break, but the fact is, smoking is unique among all the bad habits in that it can directly affect the health of others. Some have compared it to, say, drinking, but there's no way that someone drinking across the room can directly harm someone else (and I'm not talking about drunk drivers; I'm obviously totally against that practice). And as far as I'm concerned, there's no excuse for parents smoking in the house when children are present; that back porch is there for a reason.

I'm usually not a big fan of excessive government regulation, but something clearly needs to be done here. I know that the restaurant and convention industries are resisting this (though the article above points to many situations where a smoking ban has had only a negligible effect on business...and this was just outside Las Vegas!). As one of those people who is made sick by smoke, not to mention someone who wants to play a wind instrument in a smoke-free environment, this report only serves to justify what I've experienced in my own life; your mileage may vary.

This idea got neutered pretty quickly: It seemed like a good fundraiser at first: Hold a bikini contest at a popular chain chicken-wing restaurant to create awareness of the necessity of spaying and neutering pets. But the event's title, Hooters for Neuters, raised the ire of city officials, so the Los Angeles Animal Control decided not to accept any proceeds from the contest.

At least it wasn't "REDRUM" or something: A woman in Arkansas was concerned when worms got into her tomato garden, and became even more so when the worms wrote "Hi"on one of the tomatoes.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Virtual Yearbook?

The Internet and computers have combined to supplement, and sometimes replace, more traditional entities. This is certainly true in the area of publishing (let's face it; how many of you would be reading my musings if I had to, say, scrawl them down in a spiral notebook?), where news sites, blogs, and even the newspapers' own sites have replaced the "dead tree edition" for many readers. But would it work with the high school yearbook? A couple of enterprising teens think it can:
John Shin refuses to buy a copy of his high school yearbook. Instead, he's turning to the Internet to preserve and share memories of his sophomore year.
The 15-year-old has posted a collection of school-related photos and videos, as do many of his classmates. They're able to exchange virtual notes, vote for the most likely to succeed and take part in other yearbook traditions.
The Tuckahoe High School student is trying to persuade as many as his friends as possible to sign up at - and save some money, too.
"I'm going to bring everyone who matters to me to MyYearbook," said John, who attends school in Eastchester, a suburb just north of New York City. "I'm confident in that, and besides, they're like $70."
MyYearbook, founded by New Jersey sibilngs John and Catherine Cook, has just now started to raise revenue, thanks to banner ads on the site. But the founders think that their idea will fly with the plugged-in generation.
"We just think yearbooks are obsolete," said Catherine Cook, 16. "If you think about it, all you're going to do with it is put it on the shelf and never really look at it." allows users to create a profile with separate sections for high school, college, graduate school and professional life. Students who sign up are automatically linked to others at their school.
Acting as their own editors, they can select friends from their classmates.

Members can "autograph" each others' yearbook pages. The site also connects students through school club and sports pages. Like other so-called social-networking sites, it allows members to upload photos and post messages.
Students have access to multimedia and interactive components that old-fashioned yearbooks can't offer, including a place for creating polls and storing music and videos.
The multimedia portion seems like a cool idea, especially the music part. After all, music functions as a (literal) soundtrack to one's life, especially in a time like high school or college, so having it there would only serve to enhance the memories. (Of course, having music there could also serve as one more way--along with clothing and hairstyles--to embarrass parents whose kids found their yearbook..which seems a lot easier if it only involves a few clicks of the mouse. Imagine a parent who went to school in the '70s having to own up to not only wearing, say, a leisure suit, but having "Disco Duck" playing in the background.)

Granted, the dead-tree yearbook companies aren't exactly quaking in their boots over this yet...
[S]keptics wonder if the free Web site can ever truly replace the traditional printed chronicle of high-school memories - even for the generation that's grown up with the Internet.
"Students continue to say they prefer print yearbooks for obvious reasons," said Rich Stoebe, director of communications for Jostens Inc., which sells yearbooks, class rings and other scholastic memorabilia.
After all, will anyone want to haul a laptop to the 25th class reunion? And what happens if the technology changes, or something happens to the dot-com?
Jostens and other yearbook companies have responded to changes in technology by offering a supplemental DVD offering student-compiled music, photos and video.
The Cooks are contemplating offering a print-on-demand version for those who want a hard copy, though they're not sure how much their generation will want such a thing. Besides, they have their sites set on loftier goals: attracting more members than MySpace (which currently numbers more than eighty million). A pipe dream, you say? Perhaps...but then, who had ever heard of MySpace a few years ago?

So, here's the question of the day: If you're in high school or college, would you buy a virtual yearbook instead of a traditional one? If you've been out of school a while, do you wish your book had some of the features that MyYearbook offers? Feel free to chime in using the comments.

Maybe they need a Smokey Bear merit badge: A teenager who tried to set a museum building on fire was stopped by a group of Boy Scouts who just happened to be nearby.

And we wonder why America is too fat: As if the fried Twinkie at the Texas State Fair was not enough, there's now a a Twinkies cookbook which has everything from Twinkie burritos to Twinkie lasagna (someone tell Garfield!), I can feel my arteries hardening just thinking about it...but dang, I bet some of that stuff is good.

Monday, June 26, 2006

More on the New Toy

The new computer is still awesome, of course. I'm getting used to the setup of the laptop keyboard, so there aren't quite so many typos anymore, but it's still an adjustment. Here are some random thoughts I've had about it in the past few days:
  • Man, is this thing fast. Blazingly fast. Unfreakinbelievably fast.

  • The new format allows pages to load a lot more fully than on my old machine, so there's less time spent scrolling up and down, resizing windows, etc. Besides the fast processing speeds, it's taking less time to do everything I do strictly because of layout alone.

  • The flip side of that is that the text is a bit smaller than before--very much so in Word docs, but also obvious in IM's and even blog posts. The question a few months ago may have been Laptop or Contacts?, but it's looking like I'll need to invest in the other half of that equation pretty soon as well.

  • Did I mention how fast this thing is?

  • I haven't warmed to iChat yet; I liked the control I had with AIM--window placement, familiar alert sounds, all that--but when I tried to install AIM on this machine (a version which hasn't been upgraded in two years--the same one I had on the old computer), it quit three times in a row and even detached its icon from the Dock. I guess I'll have to put up with the quirks of iChat for a little while, though I'll try to do AIM again; maybe I just had a bad download.

  • As tempting as it is to just stay on this thing for hours on end, I'm almost totally set up now, so I should be spending less time on the computer rather than more (and once I get an AirPort setup, I can use it while watching TV and get twice as much stuff done at once). At this point, I have no worries about getting addicted to it, the way some people have gotten with video games.

  • Before I got OS X, I felt like I was on the other side of a big chasm, since I couldn't get the coolest new software updates; they simply didn't work with OS 9. Now that I've bridged said chasm, I realize that the bigness goes both ways; not a single thing from my old computer was able to be successfully transferred. I kept my files (such as Word docs and my iTunes library) in separate folders from their original applications, and they'll work on the new software, but everything I had before doesn't work in the new OS. It really was an "extreme makeover" on Apple's part.
  • '
  • Oh yeah, have I told you how really fast this thing is?
I suppose I'm back to posting on regular topics tomorrow, but since this computer has consumed a big part of the last several days...well, that's what's in my head right now.

Oh, and thanks to all those who left comments on the Tasha post, especially the visitors from Althouse. It's still weird here without her, but it's getting better.

You've been slimed: Have an unruly mob on your hands? Don't want to use rubber bullets or tear gas? Now you can use a goo shooter on them.

A penny saved is way more than a penny earned, in this case: A tenant leader in New York who has been campaigning against drug dealers found her house on the receiving end of a bullet recently, but the damage was minimized when the bullet was stopped by a jar in which she was saving pennies.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Remembering Tasha

I knew this day was coming, but I was hoping it could be put off for a long time: My cat, Tasha, had to be put down today. She was sixteen years old and not in good health at all; she'd been losing weight for quite some time, despite having a ravenous appetite. Still, she had continued to be her old self until about a month ago, when she just withdrew from the world, for the most part. She stopped being interactive, and it looked like it even hurt her to get petted. (We won't even mention the fact that she used the entire house as her litterbox lately.) Mom had been agonizing over the decision all night last night, but after she witnessed Tasha have a seizure this afternoon (and the results, which included her food bowls being strewn around the kitchen, made me realize that they'd been happening for a few weeks without my seeing them) pretty much sealed the deal; there wasn't really anything that could be done for a cat that old and that sick.

Usually, a tribute such as this one would go on about what a loving, loyal and joyful pet the dearly departed was. However, saying that about Tasha would be a pretty liberal stretching of the truth (and would elicit howls of laughter from anyone in my family). She was not really a "people cat" at all, though we found a bond over the years. She couldn't stand to be held (until quite recently), she would only let herself be petted down to the middle of her back, where the line of licked-off fur started (that's Fun Facts #10 if you're playing along at home), and sometimes she'd just take a disliking to someone and would hiss at them for the severe infraction of...looking at her. Yet somehow, she managed to claim a little piece of my heart in the process.

Tasha started out as a stray; she "adopted" my sister, whose then-boyfriend lived on the property of a bunch of horse stables, at the end of college. For her first year, Tasha was a normal cat, but something happened after that which made her turn more psycho as the years went on: the hissing, refusal to be held, and so on. (We used to joke that perhaps she'd gotten kicked in the head by one of the horses at the stables as a kitten. However, last summer, the sister of a student of mine took a look at her and noticed that her two eyes were slightly different shapes; evidently this is indeed a sign of previous head trauma. Who knew?)

When my sister was in grad school, she had a female roommate with a female cat of her own, and we figured that, while the girls were gone, the two cats just got together and formed their own Man-Haters' Club of sorts. (There was a time when my dad became a regular victim of the getting-hissed-at-for-looking-at-her thing.) When my sister was out of town, my parents might cat-sit for a week, and Tasha would hide under the bed for the entire first day. A socialite she wasn't.

Five summers ago, I was given the job of cat-sitting as my sister and her family were in the process of moving to Austin; she had the tendency to bolt out an open door at first opportunity, and they didn't want that to happen when the Realtors were showing the house. After that, well...the sitting job became permanent. There were already two adults, a baby and two Sheltie dogs in their house, and Tasha always did better as an "only pet." Suddenly, my household grew by one; she followed me from the rental house over to Casa de Kev, where tonight will be my first night without her.

She definitely had her quirks: Licking all the fur off her stomach, coming to me when I whistled "Joy Spring" (but only in the right key), and her recent habit of standing atop the saxophone case of every student who came in here--to show them whose territory they were entering, of course. She also had this thing with switching her sleeping place on an almost weekly basis--on top of my CD racks, on top of my laundry basket, on top of the TV, on top of me in my bed; in the final days, it was behind the dryer. It didn't matter how much it might have inconvenienced me--she was going to sleep where she felt like it, and that was that.

But still, despite her sour nature, we bonded. Sure, the first day she came to my old house, she hid under the bed all day. But she realized pretty quickly that I was the Dude With the Food, and I was OK in her book from then on. She even showed affection at times; sure, it was always on her terms, but she let herself be petted, sat on my lap (usually while I was on the computer; there were plenty of times when I had to apologize for an instant message saying something like "hfjaskjgkl" by saying "sorry, cat typing again") and waited for me to come home every day.

She was also the master (mistress?) of stealth. I remember several times when my sister owned her and we thought she'd gotten lost; one time, at a gas stop, we thought she'd bolted out the door despite my opening it ever-so-slightly; it turns out that she'd been hiding underneath the passenger seat the whole time. On another occasion, I was getting the living room furniture from my sister's old apartment (she was getting new stuff when she got married) and we thought Tasha had escaped as we brought the sofa out the door. My friend and I looked for her around the complex for at least half an hour, only to find out that she was sitting on top of a cabinet in the upstairs bathroom. When she lived here, she'd try to go out the front door whenever I answered it, but as I found out one time, when the door was accidentally left unlocked and later blew open, she did in fact have a homing instinct, as she came right back in (chronicled here). I guess she knew where the food was coming from and decided to stay there.

I couldn't bear to go to the vet with Mom and Dad today; Mom's done this for a previous cat and a dog, so I stayed home and remembered the past five years. This house feels pretty empty right now; sure, it's cleaner than it's been in years, but it's not the same. I already thought I heard her meowing tonight, but I'm at least relieved that she's not suffering anymore.

Of all the animals that are out there, it's amazing how a select few species can come into our lives and be like famliy. We give them food and shelter, and whatever they give us back, whether it's love and affection or mostly indifference and occasional acknowledgement, it's always hard to let them go.

Today, I raise my glass (OK, it's late, so it's really a Dasani bottle; you get the idea) to Tasha. If there's a special corner of heaven reserved for pets, I hope you're having fun finding weird places to sleep as the jazz angels play "Joy Spring" on their harps. And tell Zip, Sinbad, Mr. P.C. and Sassy that I said hi.

I have a picture of Tasha sleeping in a funny place; I'll post it here once I get my digital camera software figured out on this new computer.

UPDATE: Here's the picture:

I've also submitted it to a most-appropriate website, May she live on via the Web...

Friday, June 23, 2006

Up and Running

The new computer is really cool, needless to say. I'm happy to report that I only stayed up until 3:00 last night getting it set up. (If you've missed the previous posts, it's a MacBook Pro, the 15" model, and it's so much faster than the Ancient and Venerable iMac that it's not even funny. I'm still working on getting all my files switched over from there to here, and I'm taking a bit of time to get used to the laptop's keyboard setup (there were typos out the wazoo last night, trust me), but overall, things are going well. I should be back to normal, link-filled posts by tomorrow. Oh, and thanks to Shawn for helping me in the ways of OS X and all the new Mac apps last night.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

It's Here...

This will be a short post, because the new computer has arrived, and I'm going to start figuring out how to set it up. With any luck, I'll be online with it (and maybe have all my files transferred) by sometime tomorrow, when blogging will resume. I'll have many more details then.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Coffee Over-Achievers?

I've been hearing a lot about the new Folger's Coffee commercial, and I finally got to see it tonight. Go to the website appropriately entitled Tolerate Mornings and click first on the shade and then the TV to watch the ad. It's a rather unusual combination of let-me-sleep types and way-too-happy morning people, and the latter look like an even-more-psychedelic (and very yellow) version of The Polyphonic Spree. I'm not sure how much coffee it will sell, but it's definitely amusing.
(Hat tip: Althouse, where the commenters have fun with it as well.)

UPDATE: Link fixed; thanks to Nate for the heads-up.

After what I just watched tonight, all I can say is: wait'll next year.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Today Was All About the Music

There won't be a regular post today, because my birthday packages from Amazon came today (and before you say "But wait, Kev, your birthday was over a week ago!" let me explain: I get a gift certificate from Sis and Bro-in-Law pretty much every birthday, and the stuff just arrived now). So instead, I'll list what I got and come back with little blurb-reviews later:
  • Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band: The Phat Pack. (Previewed here last week.)

  • Chick Corea: Return to Forever

  • Chick Corea and Return to Forever: Light as a Feather

  • Pat Metheny Group: We Live Here DVD (Live in Japan). I've wanted one of these things since the most recent time I saw them on tour.

A new definition for World Cup, maybe: Around a thousand fans showed up for a recent Ivory Coast match in the World Cup wearing special orange pants--a promotion for a Dutch brewery. Since it wasn't the "official" brewery (which itself is Anheuser-Busch, much to the dismay of many Germans), the fans were required to remove the offending trousers. So they did, and watched the game in their underwear instead.

Yes, you really can find anything on the Web if you try hard enough: Would you believe that there's a site for cats that look like Hitler?

I love you gallons and gallons, or this romance is for the birds: A peacock in England has apparently fallen in love with a gas pump.

(Hat tip for all three stories today: Dave Barry's Blog)

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Funny (But, Unfortunately, True)

I ran across a recent post on James's blog that was so spot-on (as they might say down there) that I decided to post the entire thing over here:
Today we mourn the passing of a beloved old friend, Mr. Common Sense.

Mr. Sense had been with us for many years. No one knows for sure how old he was as his birth records were long ago lost in bureaucratic red tape. He will be remembered as having cultivated such value lessons as knowing when to come in out of the rain, why the early bird gets the worm and that life isn't always fair. Common Sense lived by simple, sound financial policies (don't spend more than you earn) and reliable parenting strategies (adults, not kids, are in charge).

His health began to rapidly deteriorate when well intentioned but overbearing regulations were set in place. Reports of a six-year-old boy charged with sexual harassment for kissing a classmate; teens suspended from school for using mouthwash after lunch; and a teacher fired for reprimanding an unruly student, only worsened his condition. Mr. Sense declined even further when schools were required to get parental consent to administer aspirin to a student but could not inform the parents when a student became pregnant and wanted to have an abortion.

Common Sense lost the will to live as the Ten Commandments became contraband, churches became businesses, and criminals received better treatment than their victims.

Common Sense finally gave up the ghost after a woman failed to realise that a steaming cup of coffee was hot, she spilled a bit in her lap, and was awarded a huge settlement.

Common Sense was preceded in death by his parents, Truth and Trust, his wife, Discretion, his daughter, Responsibility, and his son, Reason. He is survived by two stepbrothers, My Rights and Ima Whiner. Not many attended his funeral because so few realised he was gone.
I kept the Aussie spellings, but I think the point gets across in any dialect.

Getting your goat, part 2: In Friday's post, I noted that a guy in Manhattan, Montana was forced to get rid of his lawn-mowing goat after getting complaints from city offcials. Maybe he should just move somewhere else in the state--specifically Virginia City, where the town employed an entire herd of goats to do the exact same thing.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

The Tongue That Binds Us

I've been meaning to do this post for about a week now, but other stuff kept coming up. You've probably heard the story of the English-only ordering policy at a Philly cheesesteak restaurant:
Bistec con queso? Not at Geno's Steaks.

An English-only ordering policy has thrust one of Philadelphia's best-known cheesesteak joints into the national immigration debate.

Situated in a South Philadelphia immigrant neighborhood, Geno's - which together with its chief rival, Pat's King of Steaks, forms the epicenter of an area described as "ground zero for cheesesteaks" - has posted small signs telling customers, "This Is AMERICA: WHEN ORDERING 'SPEAK ENGLISH.'"

"They don't know how lucky they are. All we're asking them to do is learn the English language," said Geno's owner Joseph Vento, 66. "We're out to help these people, but they've got to help themselves, too."
Is this a mean policy, or is Geno's really doing these folks a favor? Vento notes that his own parents--Sicilian immigrants from nearly a century ago--also struggled to learn English when they first got here, but it appears that they learned it by immersion, which is the exact same method that Vento wants his customers to employ.

Geno's employees will happily take the time to coach those with limited English so that they can get their desired order across, and nobody has ever been turned away because of language. Still, a Hispanic activist group leader noted in the article that they might try to send in people to order in Spanish and pursue litigation if the "undercover customers" were not allowed to do so. Is that really the thing we need here--more lawsuits?

As many people have noted, most of us came here from somewhere else (we'll dispense with the notion of legality for the moment, since I've stated my thoughts in an earlier post). However, our forefathers and -mothers didn't have much of a choice but to learn English when they got here, and I believe that we're doing people a disservice by coddling them the way we are now when signs, government documents, and yes, even restaurant menus are printed in more than one language. Many studies have proven that immersion, rather than bilingual education, is the way to go, and if places like Geno's are showing a little bit of "tough love" to those who would rather have us cater to their ways in our own country, this doesn't strike me as a bad thing. (And think of how much money would be saved if things only had to be printed in one language.)

Few things unite a culture like language. One only has to look as far north as Quebec to see what happens to a nation which becomes linguistically fractured. If an American went to live anywhere else in the world, he or she would be expected to learn the native tongue of their new land; why should we expect any less of those who come here?

But I have to end this on a humorous note:
Of course, it's not as if native Philadelphians speak the King's English either. A Philadelphian might order a cheesesteak by saying something like, "Yo, gimme a cheesesteak wit, will youse?" ("Wit," or "with," means with fried onions.) To which the counterman might reply: "Youse want fries widdat?"
Yes, it's a colorful tongue that we have.

Oh, I only make the laws: The mayor of an Ohio city sent out an email promoting his son's business to city workers, in clear violation of a policy he helped write.

To badd tha adultz arn't gud spellrz two: Caitlin Campbell of Amarillo was among the top finishers at this year's National Spelling Bee, so she was honored with a billboard in her hometown. Unfortunately, that billboard misspelled her name.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Quite a Site to Behold

Nearly the entire time I've been blogging, I've mentioned off and on that my website is pretty lame...or, if not lame, at least rather plain, vanilla, ordinary--you get the idea. What started out as a very small GeoCities "homepage" (as people tended to call them in 1999, when I started the site) hasn't really changed much over the years. I've admittedly put way more energy into this blog (and even, much more recently, my MySpace page), but I decided that, since the website did show up back in April as the number one hit on Google for "kevin mcnerney" (and after a quick visit, I'm happy to report that it still is), I should definitely get the place spruced up a bit.

And now, I'm happy to report that we're almost there. There are still some finishing touches to be added, and I need to go through the mechanisms of actually transferring all of this to the domain (the trick here is deciding who will do my webhosting--do I continue with Yahoo [who's the parent of GeoCities and has been problem-free for these past six years] or try someplace else that's cheaper but unproven?), but you can take a sneak peek by going here. Thanks to Nate for all his hard--and fast--work on this; we've had a few late nights this week discussing all the changes over AIM, but it's been totally worth it. I'll post an update when the site actually gets switched over to my domain, but the new one will be parked at the link above until that time.

(Oh--I also noticed that The Musings does appear in Google now, at #16; the post that made it, appropriately enough, is the one called Go Google Yourself!)

Now the yearbook has a dress code, too: School officials in New Jersey ripped a page out of hundreds of yearbooks because a student's underwear was partially visible in a picture on that page.

Grads gone wild: Students in Wisconsin decided to relive the "Animal House" experience for their graduation party, but eighteen of them were arrested for underage drinking when all was said and done. Ironically, the site of the party was a restaurant owned by the guy who played Niedermayer (the ROTC commander) in the movie. (Whoa--he's 60 years old now?)

The town council really got his goat...literally: A man in Montana had the perfect solution for keeping unwanted grass and weeds out of his yard: He bought a goat. But the council decided he couldn't keep it, or everyone would want one. (He had kept 13 different sheep on the property over the years for the same purpose, and he noted that "[t]hey were a real babe magnet...It's the way I met half of my ex-wives.")

Thursday, June 15, 2006

A Cool Class Discussion

This evening, I posed the following question (to be answered one at a time) to the members of my college combo class: What is the one tune in the Real Book that you think everyone in the room absolutely has to know? (We then played the tune after someone gave his/her answer.) I thought it would be cool to ask that same question of the jazz-inclined readers of this blog.

The tune doesn't necessarily have to be a personal favorite per se, but rather a tune that you feel is essential for any gigging musican to know; I'm asking them for their "desert island tune"--i.e. their favorite from the Real Book--in a few weeks,

This combo is a 13-tet, so not everyone's tune got to be declared or played tonight, but I'll post their responses after next week's rehearsal.

(Cross-posted at The Green Room and my music MySpace)

The king can swing: This past Monday was not only Chick Corea's birthday, but it was another noted jazz anniversary as well: The King of Thailand, Bhumibol Adulyadej, celebrated sixty years on the throne on that day. If you're wondering about the connection, well...the king is a serious jazzer who plays the saxophone and has jammed with the likes of Benny Goodman, Stan Getz and Lionel Hampton. He's also written nearly fifty compositions, one of which was played by the One O'Clock Lab Banda few years ago (they also got to jam with him on their Thailand trip that year).

Fun With New Media

OK, I had this good idea for a post ready, and my blogging totally got derailed this evening (in a good way), when Jordan brought this over. Fans of Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band were looking forward to yesterday's release of The Phat Pack for quite some time, and from what I've heard, the CD delivers as promised. Since Goodwin has plenty of experience writing for films and television, he's earned the right to do sequels, and the new CD contains "Count Bubba's Revenge" and "Hunting Wabbits 2 (A Bad Hare Day)," the follow-ups to two of his most popular recent compositions.

The DVD is really cool too; not only do they have the whole CD in surround sound with a slideshow of sorts, but they've also included little extras like concert video footage, bios of all the players, and a really interesting feature called "Choose Your Own Mix" where you can listen to either of the "sequel" tunes by isolating any section (or individual rhythm instrument) in the band. Hearing the saxes do "Count Bubba's Revenge" all by themselves is pretty amazing.

Anyway, that's why my "post of substance" will be delayed again; I've had quite a bit to do so far this summer, but at least I'm not bored.

These researchers may be pulling the wool over our eyes: A group in Australia is conducting a study to find the nation's ugliest sheep. I wonder if James (my Australian blogger buddy) has run across these guys yet; imagine them passing by a meadow, holding up rating cards like Olympic judges do, but for the sheep.

Our tax dollars at work: In recent days, word has gotten out that some people in the hurricane-hit coastal areas of last summer have been seriously abusing their FEMA funds, using them to foot the bill for divorce, football season tickets and even a sex change operation.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Here We Go Again

It's amusing to me that I've been getting most of my news about questionable decisions by school administrators from a humor site--Dave Barry's Blog--but that's been my source recently. Here are two more gems:
  • Some schools are allowing students to earn extra credit by storing up unused restroom passes:
    Even though Daniel Thornton occasionally needed to go to the bathroom during his AP history course last year, he also needed a B on the midterm to maintain his grade. So he did what lots of students at Forest Park Senior High School in Woodbridge do in their Darwinian pursuit of academic success: Thornton endured a full bladder and instead hoarded his two restroom passes, which, unused, were worth six points of extra credit.

    It was enough to bump the 18-year-old's midterm grade from a C-plus to a B.

    "Occasionally it made days unpleasant, but I was just very careful. I would try to go in the five minutes beforehand or afterwards, between classes," said Thornton, who will graduate this month. "Some of my classmates definitely had a lot of trouble. People around me would fidget, especially girls."
    Wow. Sure, plenty of students will abuse their restroom breaks (I hate to say "privileges"--is it really a privilege to answer nature's call?), but "holding it" on repeated occasions to bring up a grade? That's bizarre to me. Thankfully, others agree:
    Although advocates say the passes -- which can be used for numerous destinations -- maximize classroom time, critics say it is unfair to give anyone an academic advantage based on something as unacademic as bathroom habits.

    "What's the correlation between holding your urine and succeeding on a history test?" asked Kevin Barr, principal of Georgetown Day School, a private school in the District. "My basic assumption is always that kids need to be comfortable and safe to excel in the classroom."
    Agreed. Needless to say, Dave Barry's commenters have fun with the subject.

  • The other one's more serious: A student in San Antonio (whose graduation had been in doubt, thanks to multiple failures of the TAKS test) was removed from her graduation ceremony for the "offense" of waving to the crowd and pumping her fist into the air when her name was called:
    A Warren High School senior was not allowed to walk across the stage to receive her high school diploma recently because she violated Northside Independent School District policy when she waved and pumped her fists in the air at the crowd.

    "I was just walking and I looked up and I (waved)," she said. "And I just felt a tap on my shoulder."

    The tap was Medina's cue to leave Saturday's ceremony at the Alamodome.

    "I'll never forget her face," said Michelle Medina, Samantha's mother, about her daughter's reaction to being asked to leave. "It hurts that she didn't get to walk that stage. They took that away from us."

    [...] According to Northside ISD policy, students must keep their hands by their side at all times and not bring them above waist level until they receive their diploma.

    The school district handbook also states that "students who raise their hands above their waists for any reasons other than receiving the diplomas or shaking hands may be removed from the graduation ceremony."

    "She was twirling in the line," said Northside ISD spokesman Pascual Gonzalez. "She was waving. She was not acting like she was instructed to." Gonzalez said that Samantha will eventually receive her diploma.
    Twirling? Oh no, please, anything but twirling...

    As you can imagine, Barry's commenters are all over this one as well...and while several people point out that the student should have followed the rules (and plenty of others hope that this will not result in a lawsuit), the question is raised many times as to why such a silly rule was instituted in the first place. Oh, and lots of commenters from Texas get to goof on the TAKS test, which of course deserves all the ridicule it can possibly get.
I have a feeling this won't be the end of these stories...

One school decision with which all sane people can agree: A pair of teachers at a Tampa middle school have resigned after students saw them having sex in the classroom. (And no, I'm pretty sure it wasn't a classroom demonstration like in Monty Python's The Meaning of Life.)

Blowing out the candles: Happy 65th birthday to a jazz legend, Chick Corea. At least somewhat in honor of this occasion (and because I liked the music), I bought his latest CD yesterday.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

I Have Only One Thing To Say Tonight....

Go Mavs.

It's starting to get exciting around here. Sure, there are two more games to be won before the Mavs can claim their first-ever title--and if they're the next two, or even two out of the next three, they'll have to be done in Miami. But still, you can start to feel the electricity in the air, just like back in '99 when the Stars won the Stanley Cup (ahh, what a great summer--hockey parties at my house for every game, with Star Wars Pod Racer on the Nintendo 64 during the intermissions...good times). If the Mavs take it all, this city's gonna go nuts (but unlike, say, Detroit, I don't think Dallasites will burn down parts of their own city). Add that to the Rangers still being in first place, and this has a "sporting chance" of being a summer to remember.

They made the rockin' world go 'round without me this year: Last year, I witnessed the Burlington, Vermont leg (and other body parts, both desirable and otherwise) of the World Naked Bike Race, and it went on again this year as well. Here's a report from the Mexico City edition. Key quote: "We don't pollute," from one of the riders. My reply? Umm, that depends on what you ate for lunch...

It sounds like Tasha has a cousin in Jersey: The owners of Jack the cat always knew he was ornery, but the extent of that wasn't proven until recently, when Jack treed a black bear in his yard not once, but twice.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

A Toasty Day

Last year at this time, my birthday was rung in by the clock tower at City Hall in Burlington, Vermont. Last night, midnight was much more subtle; I was at a party with friends in Denton, and I just happened to notice that my watch was approaching midnight in mere seconds, so I stated this fact. Cheers were expressed; glasses were clinked.

Today, I'm gathering a bunch of friends from around here to go have (what else?) a Trifecta in honor of the day. Once you get past 21 (or maybe 25--cheap auto insurance, after all), it's not so much about counting the candles on the cake (the exact number of which is not a topic of discussion on this blog--if you have to assign a number to me, make it 29, being aware that many other people's candle counts get stuck at this number as well), but just about being around friends and/or family. The last two weeks included family at some point (and Mom and Dad will be visiting here in a week or two, hopefully with the new computer in tow), so today is all about well as being thankful for good health, a reasonably prosperous business, and all that. Later on in the day, it's off to Ft. Worth to see a fraternity brother get married; he'll never forget my birthday after this, and I'm likely to remember his anniversary as well.

Speaking of toasty....daaaaang, has it been hot here lately! I think we actually get a reprieve from the triple digits for the next few days, but I've been glad to be teaching here in the cool confines of Casa de Kev instead of going from school to school to school, wearing long pants in the process. I wonder if we could get a little rain for my birthday?

For those of you who can't be Trifectologists today, I hope you're having a great day as well.

Rock beats paper, but gavel beats them all: A federal judge in Florida grew so tired of the opposing attorneys' inability to agree on even the tiniest details of a lawsuit brought before him that he ordered them to solve it by playing a game of rock, paper, scissors.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Fun with the Babelfish II

I keep receiving this (rather obviously spam) email in Portuguese from an address with a Brazilian domain name. Today, I decided to paste the entire body of the email into the translation engine known as the AltaVista Babelfish and see what it actually said...sort of. Here's what it came up with:
Olá, Carol visited the site [name] and sent a card to it. The code of its card is [code here] To read it, it follows the procedures: 1. It has access this address: [address here], Salve its virtual card in its computer. 3. Later, it is enough to execute it. The [name] is adopting the Politics of Security to send the virtual cards. In this way, the users are protecting against virus and Spam. This card will be available per 30 days. If it does not forget to repay the card that Carol sent for you. The [name] will have the biggest pleasure in delivering its cards. One I hug, [name]
(I deleted the name of the site and the URL for the "card" from this post for reasons that will become obvious in a moment.)

This is funny stuff; I especially like the statement that the site is "adopting the Politics of Security" to send their cards, and you have to love the salutation "One I hug" at the end. Incidentally, I did try to click on the link for the "card" just to see if it really was one; I got a dialog box from my computer asking me what I wanted it to do with what turned out to be an ".exe" file. I may not be a PC guy (either in terms of Windows-run personal computers orpolitical correctness--heh), but I've read enough virus alerts to know that .exe = bad in 95% or so of all instances. Thankfully, when a Mac gets an .exe file, it just scratches its virtual head for a moment and goes "Huh?" until the user, seeing that it's that type of file, goes immediately for the cancel button. That's just one more reason I'm glad I'm a Mac owner.

If you're a new reader from within the past few years (and haven't checked out Past Posts of Note on the sidebar), I should mention that I've had fun with the Babelfish before; the previous time also involved Portuguese.

The delivery guy always "rings" once: A furniture delivery man in Guilford, New York, saw a diamond ring sitting on a dresser while making a delivery yesterday afternoon, and, wanting to take it but not get caught, decided to swallow it. He was caught and arrested anyway, and now authorities, while waiting for the ring to pass through his system, have charged him not just with larceny, but also with "criminal tampering." Umm, yeah, when that ring comes out, it will definitely have been "tampered with," that's for sure...

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

...And in Other Anniversary News

Several recent posts have dealt with my parents' anniversary last weekend and my sister and brother-in-law's the week before that. Today, I was doing my occasional Technorati search to see who might have linked here recently, and I was surprised to find this post from a site which evidently blogs about blogs; it included The Musings in a list of blogs which had celebrated "blogiversaries" recently (the ones on this list were, like mine, from the first portion of April). I don't know how I made it onto this list (perhaps they just did a search within Technorati for the word "blogiversary"), but it's cool to be included. (My blogiversary post can be found here.)

Not a Sign of the Apocalypse

OK, so today is 6/6/06, and people are either freaking out about it or having fun with it. Some mothers-to-be have been trying like crazy to not have their babies today; there's an online wagering site where you can bet on whether the world will end today (the good news is that the oddsmaker gives the world a 100,000-to-1 chance of making it to tomorrow...but if you bet against the world and won, how would you collect?); there's a site called RaptureReady that has a "rapture index" of sorts; and in big media, both a new book in the Left Behind series (called, naturally, "The Rapture") and a remake of the movie The Omen are being released today.

It all got started with a verse from Scripture:
"This calls for wisdom: let him who has understanding reckon the number of the beast, for it is a human number, its number is six hundred and sixty-six.
--Revelation 13:18
However, many scholars note that the number of the Beast (also known as the Anitchrist) could have been a coded reference to the Roman emperor Nero, and most of them believe that the number has to do with a person and not a specific date on the calendar. (As I've noted before, some manuscripts refer to 616 instead of 666, which amuses me, because the former is included in my cell phone number.)

At any rate, while some people are either celebrating or panicking today (one of the bigger celebrations is taking place in the town of Hell, Michigan today), most of the world is probably treating today just like any other day. I doubt I'll be able to go see the movie tonight, but I'm reasonably sure there will be a world on whose Web I'll be posting again tomorrow.

The other side of the coin: The "666" phenomenon is creating a totally different sentiment in Malaysia, where ethnic Chinese were clamoring to get married today; the number six is pronounced like the word "luck" in the Hokkein dialect of Chinese, so a wedding today was expected to bring the couples triple luck.

Not-so-happily ever not-so-after: A bride- and groom-to-be had to cancel their wedding after being involved in a fistfight the night before; conditions of their bond prohibited them from being close enough to each other to go through with the ceremony.

Monday, June 05, 2006

More School Silliness

In just this one day, I've learned of more idiotic actions by school administrators; oddly enough, both of them came to me via a humor site, Dave Barry's Blog:Be sure and read the comments from Barry's Blog readers to both posts; you might notice that most of the really good ideas expressed by the readers wouldn't work within the current system *sigh*. Oh, and I really like this comment from reader "randomthunking" regarding the cookie story:
Frankly, I subscribe to the "let the crime fit the punishment" school of thought in cases like this. If the "staff member" in question is OK with a punishment of suspension, that's OK. But the particular staff member better not leave any more food lying around, or get accustom to booger-flavored cookies (or worse, a lot worse).
I've mentioned before that I have zero tolerance for "zero tolerance" policies, and such policies seem to be what were used in both situations. Administrators really need to develop the courage to think independently and weigh each case on its own merits rather than hiding behind one-size-fits-all regulations that rarely fit anyone.

Oh, and I can't talk too much about my proposed solution for education...

His day totally went to "pot" after that: Out in the Denton suburb of Oak Point (where a friend of mine used to be the mayor), a construction worker was using a portable toilet when the structure was hit by a truck carrying a wide load; the truck's driver just went a little too wide on his turn.

I hope he's not having to pay "pooch support" now: A court in Spain has ruled that a man can no longer make unannounced visits to his ex-wife's house to visit their dog, of whom he was denied custody in their recent divorce.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

A Celebration of Time and Love

I'm back from my parents' anniversary reception, and I have to say that the whole thing was great. Everybody really liked the band; the standards that we played actually had some meaning to the mostly-older crowd, because a lot of it was the music of "their day." It was a challenge to keep focused sometimes, because a lot of my parents' friends (many of whom I hadn't seen since my sister's wedding ten years ago) came up to talk to me when I wasn't soloing; this resulted in some longer bass solos than expected, but it was all good.

I met some people who had spent quite a bit of time involved with music, including a former big-band tenor player who had toured with some "name" bands and even fronted his own for a while, as well as a guy who sang in a rock band for 28 years. I also had at least three people tell me that they had a daughter who used to play tenor in school but had given it up to concentrate on piano or changed interests or whatever.

But the coolest thing about the reception was just getting to celebrate Mom and Dad. Everyone who's met them always commented on what nice people they are, and the 100+ people who descended upon the country club over those three hours to celebrate with them are living proof of how many lives they have touched. Seeing some of the fruits of their time together--such as my sister with my two nephews and one more "in the oven," as Dad said, and me with my music, the training for which was heavily bankrolled by Mom and Dad--just drove the point home even more that these were two people who were meant to be together for all time.

We got some serious chill time at Mom and Dad's house afterwards, and then we had to leave way too early this morning so one of the guys could go play another gig; another guy had one a few hours after we got back, and I was off to an alumni meeting; the life of a musician rarely involves lots of measures of rest, as it were. But even though it was a whirlwind trip of sorts, there wasn't any other place that I would have been yesterday, and it was a privilege to participate.

Summer teaching starts in the morning, but I also have lots of topics to post about, so expect some new stuff on a daily basis for a while.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Good as Gold

Happy anniversary to Mom and Dad! I look forward to celebrating with them tomorrow in Sugar Land, and it'll be really great to play for them and their friends again (their friends haven't heard me since my sister's wedding reception, and that was ten years ago). Since they helped me follow my dreams, bought me instruments, and all that, the least I can do is give a little bit back and provide the band that comes with me.

This post also serves as a Travel Advisory, though it'll be a short trip; I'm back sometime after lunch on Sunday.

The Food Police May Be Making Kids Fatter

Last month, I wrote about the seeming pointlessness of taking soft-drink and snack machines out of public schools when the desired effect is to prevent kids from being overweight. Now a recent New York Times article (hat tip: Instapundit) suggests that the problem has gotten even worse:
Earlier this year, our small Midwestern school district joined the food wars, proposing a new policy that would discourage all food in classrooms, ban nuts and sugary foods and do away with vending machines.

So much for peanut butter sandwiches, snacks for kindergartners and birthday cupcakes.

Like the policies put in place by school systems around the country, this one was driven by anxiety — about food quantity, quality and safety — and by the ever-increasing pressure for children to look a certain way and to weigh a certain amount.
But wait--it gets even worse:
I fear there's something else at work — a fear borne out by a flier my fifth grader brought home saying that at the monthly pizza hot lunch, no child would be allowed to buy a second slice of pizza. The district says the new ruling is to avoid bad feelings caused by "inequities": if everyone can't have extra helpings, no one can.
Oh, brother. And now the federal government is getting involved, and that can't be good...
Leading the way is the Child Nutrition Promotion and School Lunch Protection Act now before Congress, calling for updated definitions of "minimal nutritional value" of foods served in schools, including those sold in vending machines and at fund-raisers.

In theory, such legislation would improve the nutritional options. In reality, it sounds like another call for the food police — highly fraught and bound to backfire.
They'll never learn, will they? But at least we don't live in Arkansas...
A look at what's happening on the state level confirms this. In Arkansas, for instance, children's report cards now include their B.M.I., or body mass index, along with their grades. The governor, Mike Huckabee recently lost more than 100 pounds and is passionate about stopping the "obesity epidemic." Maryland is considering a similar standard.

Never mind that B.M.I. is only a measure of height against weight and does not take into account muscle mass, body type or other factors. (Tom Cruise has a B.M.I. of 31, which puts him in the "obese" category.)

"You're setting kids up to feel bad about how they are," says Dr. Nancy Krebs, chairwoman of the American Academy of Pediatrics' Committee on Nutrition and an associate professor of medicine at the University of Colorado.

Such efforts usually fail, making weight problems and eating disorders worse. A recent Internet discussion board among families with anorexic and bulimic children identified middle school health classes, which focus on weight, as the No. 1 trigger for their teenagers' disorders.
Did you catch that? Bulimia at the middle-school level? Maybe the schools should stick to, oh, I don't know, trying to teach reading and math and science and fine arts (oh, and maybe offer regular physical education classes) instead of trying to be the food police; besides, as the article points out, most of the studies involving low-fat, low-calorie school lunches show no difference in the weight and body-fat percentage of students on the special diets vs. those who had traditional school lunches.

Ellyn Satter, the author of "Your Child's Weight: Helping Without Harming" and a nationally recognized nutrition expert. notes in the NYT article that, rather than getting caught up in the cycle of deprivation and bingeing, parents (and, by extension, schools) should be doing all things in moderation:
Ms. Satter recommends giving children regular access to treats, at school and at home, by including those foods with more nutritious choices at meals and snacks. "Avoid either extreme of forbidding snack-type food or letting children graze on them," she says. "In the long run, this makes children eat more, not less."
There are some great comments on this subject in a recent post at Althouse, and Instapundit has links to more stories here and here; one of the commenters in the first article tells the scariest story so far:
In New Jersey we just received a note from our daughter's elementary school telling us that the new law means that we cannot send unapproved foods (which includes chocolate)in our kids' lunches. In other words, they mandate what is acceptable for us to feed out kids.
Lord help us all...

And in a related story... A school principal in Pennsylvania suspended a student for sharing a piece of caffeinated gum with another student. (hat tip again to Althouse)

Thursday, June 01, 2006

They Can't Take That Away From Us

Jordan and I went to Denton tonight for the first of what will most definitely be many Tomato runs this summer. We would've done it anyway on general principle, but with the recent news about the likely demise of Fry Street, the trips should definitely increase.

Driving in from the Square (since we also paid a visit to another iconic Denton spot, Recycled Books and Records), a few things occurred to me: First, that the large block in question really won't hold that much of the "upscale retail" envisioned by the developer; and second, without this area, and particularly without the Tomato, Denton will be a lot less Denton and a lot more like everyplace else, and that's just not right.

As we ate our pizza (I got the same thing I have for years: Slice Special, Gutbuster [yes, I still use the old-school name, and everyone knows what I'm talking about], garlic butter for the breadsticks...and a portion of said butter always ends up on some article of my clothing), I tried not to think the unthinkable, that this place was likely not to be there this time next year. On this night, I decided instead to revel in the sameness of this place over the years: the loud music, the funky furniture (many of the old wooden chairs have broken and been replaced with plastic lawn chairs, of all things), the smell of smoke in every section except the one where I sat (I used to prefer the upstairs, but sometimes the smoke is just a little too much), "watching the world go by" out the window, and, most of all, the sounds of people having a great time. I just can't understand how a developer thinks he'll profit by bringing in Walgreens, Borders, Urban Outfitters or Starbucks. Does Denton need places like that? Sure, but not here. Out by the mall, maybe, or on University Drive, where they have the acres o' parking to sustain such businesses. A college town needs its little collection of homegrown, student-friendly stores in order to be someplace special. I'm all for progress when it actually does move a city forward, but this is a step in the wrong direction.

As a former resident of Denton, I can't do a whole lot as far as the political process goes, but I do plan on writing a letter to developer Buster Freedman of United Equities, the Houston-based company that plans to do the Fry Street "makeover." (I'm sure I'm not the only UNT alum who'll be doing so.) I hope that Freedman realizes that he still has a chance to be a hero to the whole UNT community by integrating some of the soon-to-be-displaced businesses into his master plan, giving them breaks on the rent, etc. There are plenty of places that will be affected, but to me, the Tomato is a home away from home, and I think that Denton will take a serious cultural hit if this place is gone.

Let me post the websites in support of the preservation effort once again:
Save Fry St. on MySpace
Preserve Denton on MySpace

UPDATE: I also found another very informative site during the creation of this post: Check it out; it has some great pictures and stories.

Incidentally, if you are in or near Denton, there's a public meeting tomorrow (ok, later today if you want to get technical) that you might want to check out. And me, I'll be at the Tomato again in a week.