Thursday, March 29, 2007

School Bored?

No matter what your profession, I think everyone has been to a meeting like this--one where we secretly wished we could play a game like this for real:

Do you keep falling asleep in teacher meetings and in-services?

Here's a way to change all of that.

1. Before (or during) your next meeting, in-service or staff development, prepare yourself by drawing a square. I find that 5" x 5" is a good size.

Divide the card into columns-five across and five down. That will give you 25 one-inch blocks.

2. Write one of the following words/phrases in each block:
* no child left behind
* test scores
* core competencies
* communication
* standards
* multiple exposures
* benchmarks
* proactive
* win-win
* think outside the box
* action plan
* result-driven
* assessments
* knowledge base
* at the end of the day
* touch base
* mindset
* differentiated
* retention
* skills
* background knowledge
* effective learning
* exemplars
* implementation
* reflection

3. Check off the appropriate block when you hear one of those words/phrases.

4. When you get five blocks horizontally, vertically, or diagonally stand up and shout "BULLS---!"

TESTIMONIALS from satisfied "Bulls--- Bingo" players:
-- "I had been in the meeting for only five minutes when I won."
- Adam W., Atlanta

-- "My attention span at in-services has improved dramatically. " - David T., Orlando

-- "What a gas! Staff development will never be the same for me after my first win." - Dan J., New York City

-- "The atmosphere was tense in the last in-service as 14 of us waited for the fifth box." - Ben G, Denver

-- "The speaker was stunned as eight of us screamed 'BULLS---! for the third time in two hours. The Bulls--- Bingo Championship will be played at the next inservice." -Rod H., Nashville
(Hat tip: M.C. And sanitized for your protection.)

Since my particular teaching job doesn't require me to go to either in-services or staff meetings at the moment, it's been a while since i've had to experience this sort of thing. (The big problem I can see with making music teachers go to "regular" in-services is that so much of what they do doesn't apply to us and vice versa.) At any rate, I got a laugh out of the above; feel free to share your own in-service or business meeting stories in the comments if you wish.

It's a dog's life, part 1: A Maryland woman started choking on a piece of fruit that became lodged in her throat, but her dog saved her life by standing on her chest and attempting a canine version of the Heimlich maneuver. The woman "still has pawprint-shaped bruises on [her] chest" but is otherwise fine.

It's a dog's life, part 2: A pair of formerly-abandoned Labrador retriever siblings who were adopted out to separate families became reunited while at doggie day-care recently. Key quote: "Mack and her husband Curt said they're hoping to set up play dates outside the daycare for the two long-lost Labs."

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Spam? A Lot!

I'm sure that anyone who has even a single email account (and especially those like myself, with four or more of them) have seen quite a bit of spam lately. I don't get a lot in my individual account, but I'm also the listowner for two fraternity listservs, so I get to reject all the stuff that gets caught in the blocking software. One thing that I've noticed lately is that the subjects of these emails are getting funnier and funnier, and more than a few of them seem to follow a certain formula: Preposition/(occasional verb)/preposition/noun. But all of them are nonsense, which is at least amusing. I was saving these for that proverbial rainy day, but today (a day when most of my time is spent preparing for jazz festival) sure fits the bill. Here goes:
  • In banish from mitten

  • At whoever cutlass

  • Or gloucester so numb

  • Of cadaverous till campanile

  • It bookie on care

  • Have of reptile

  • Have excruciate a counselor

  • As monologue my shin

  • To at zucchini

  • My author my campbell

  • He sharpshoot at sieze

  • Of no barracuda
Ever get an email like that? Add to the collection in the comments.

Panda express, part 1: Researchers in China are using panda excrement to make paper (don't worry--they thoroughly clean it first!). Now say this ten times fast: "Panda poop pulp paper."

Panda express, part 2: And over in Thailand, a zoo's male panda, who's been having trouble mating, is watching panda porn in an effort to both get in the mood and figure out how he's supposed to go about things. (If I'm reading this story correctly, this is the same panda who was deemed too fat to have sex a few months ago, as chronicled in a previous post.)

Monday, March 26, 2007

One More Channel on the "Expanded Basic" Menu

Yesterday, I continued my consistent clarion call for music to be considered part of a "basic" education. There's at least one other subject that's been given short shrift in these TAKS-ing times in which we live: Civics. At least one state is trying to do something about that:
Since the federal No Child Left Behind law was passed in 2002, schools have focused on reading and math, and that has squeezed out other subjects like arts, music and civics, educators say. So lawmakers in Tennessee and other states have proposed bills this year to save civics.

A bill from state Sen. Rosalind Kurita would require the Tennessee Department of Education to create a separate civics course in at least one grade between fifth and eighth grade.

"We have responsibilities to our community and to other people to be good citizens," said Kurita, a Democrat. "And I think that civic classes are a way to teach how comprehensive this responsibility really is."

Kurita said teaching students about voting and citizenship rights is just as important as math and English. Ted McConnell, director of the Campaign to Promote Civic Education - an initiative of the Center for Civic Education - agrees. "Study after study shows that when our youth are exposed to effective civic education courses, they're not only more likely to vote, but they're more likely to get involved in their communities and work toward solutions to societal problems," he said.
Read the whole thing. And again, I implore the powers that be to remember that man (and kids) cannot live by math and science alone; civics would be another great addition to the mix. (And here in Texas, please keep working on that bill that would do away with the TAKS test, OK?)

Hello, Pizza Hut? I'd like one Deadbeat Lovers' Pizza to go: Customers of suburban Cincinnati pizzerias are getting a bonus with their pie--pictures of parents who are behind in paying their child support slapped on the box.

The senior citizens' equivalent of "the dog ate my homework," I suppose: "A mouse stole my dentures."

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Another Case of "Noteworthy" Education

I can never write enough about the importance of music in the schools. At a time when standardized tests are the rule rather than the exception and people are always talking about getting back to the "basics," such a list far too seldom includes the arts. So I wanted to share a great editorial by Dallas Symphony president Fred Bronstein about the orchestra's outreach program. Here's a sample:
The Dallas Symphony Orchestra has a long-standing commitment to exposing children throughout our community to music. From youth concerts that bring close to 50,000 young people each year through the doors of the Meyerson Symphony Center to ensemble visits in schools, the DSO is working to create inspired citizens of tomorrow while building a love of music that will fill our halls with music lovers for years to come.

One terrific example of music's life-changing ability as articulated in the DSO's mission "To Entertain, Inspire and Change Lives through Musical Excellence" is our ground-breaking Young Strings program. Young Strings has become a national model that identifies gifted young African-American and Hispanic students and provides them with instruments and lessons with the goal of increasing the diversity of our performers in the classical music world as well as in our audiences.

Children who received their start in this program have gone on to graduate from schools like Julliard and Yale.
Keep up the great work, folks. And as I've said a few times already in recent months, we music educators must remain vigilant to help Those In Power understand that any "basic" course of education must include music and the other fine arts...period, end of story.

Bad behavior, Level 1: A Wisconsin fire marshal was forced to resign after he admitted to contacting psychic readers from his computer at work on government time.

Bad behavior, Level 2: A Connecticut man is in trouble with the law after he installed a small camera in a bottle of shampoo so he could watch his female roommates showering.

Bad behavior, Level 3: A Brazilian woman was convicted of murder for killing her husband, chopping him up into tiny pieces and frying him in a pan.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Notes From The Road (I-35 Triangle Edition)

It's been quite a few years since I've done a Notes from the Road post for a trip to Waco. Perhaps that's because not much has changed since the last time, or maybe I had other stuff to talk about. At any rate, here's a collection of random thoughts, for the low, low price of free:
  • A long time ago, I saw a truck trailer parked in a truck stop parking lot near Hillsboro; its sign read "Bread of Life Mobile Ministry." Four years later, it's still there; does it still qualify as "mobile" anymore? It also has a counterpart about twenty miles down the road that doesn't appear to have moved in a while now either. (And have I blogged about this already?)

  • Allow me a Restau-Rantlet here: I don't eat at Mickey D's very often, but on these Waco trips, I tend to have a hankering for McGriddles for breakfast. This time, since I was done with my business on campus the night before, I decided to avoid the downtown outlet (which tends to not be too clean and often has an over-concentration of homeless people) and go for one a few miles up the road. Arriving at 10:15 (breakfast goes till 10:30), I figured I had plenty of time, so you can imagine my dismay when the manager-looking person switched the menu board over to lunch at 10:22 and told her cashier (the onlhy one working in a pretty crowded restaurant) that there would be no more breakfast after the next people in line...who were the ones right in front of me. I didn't raise a fuss, but you'd better believe that I won't be back to that store, and someone's getting an email from me. And someone buy that manager a watch...

  • After all that, I ended up with a better breakfast anyway, at the Czech Stop...which still doesn't accept checks. Heh.

  • I ended up making a third stop, at the Hillsboro Starbucks that used to be a Burger King. I've always been intrigued by how big it must be, but when I stopped there, I noticed it was pretty much regular-sized; it turns out that they're only using the front half of the building, and the back part is still for lease.

  • My trip back would take me through an unusual part of the I-35 triangle, as I was headed to Ft. Worth to hear one of my schools play at the TCU Jazz Festival. That put my gas stop in Itasca, just north of the split on 35W. Itasca is home to the Wampus Cats, perhaps my favorite high school mascot of all time, and the gas station where I stopped had a statue of the cat in its parking lot. Of course, I got a picture, which will be posted once I figure out how to get photos off a RAZR using a Mac.

  • Why I'm glad I'm a teacher, part 1: While in Waco, I got to visit with a former student of mine who's about to graduate with a business degree. He's stayed in jazz band this whole time, though, and is even taking an improv class this semester. I don't see him stopping playing anytime soon, and that's what we music educators try to do--instill a love of music in everyone, no matter what profession they pursue.

  • Why I'm glad I'm a teacher, part 2: Getting to hear my protege take muitiple solos and quote some of my own signature licks on multiple occasions. Imitation truly is the sincerest form of flattery...

  • I read the story in the paper today about how Carrollton is finally going to paint that ugly rainbow-colored grain elevator that's been a source of civic embarrassment for years now. On my way home, I could see it from miles away on the George Bush, and I totally agree that a more normal color will be a big improvement.

  • Finally, a few miles later on the George Bush, there was a sign that said LANES CLOSED MON THUR FRI. I'm sure they really meant Monday THRU Friday, but, as it read, it made me wonder what kind of a cushy job it was when the construction workers got Tuesdays and Wednesdays off.
And the trip is not likely to be over yet; I'm probably headed back to TCU to see the concert with Andy Martin tonight. Just call me a drivin' fool...

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "The Texas Motor Speedway is over that way, dude."--Me, to the driver of a car who passed me going about 90 in north Ft. Worth. (Of course, he couldn't hear me; I wonder how many more road-rage incidents would occur if the other drivers actually knew what we were saying about them...)

Friday, March 23, 2007

Travel Advisory

I'm off to Waco for a fratenity chapter function tonight; back sometime tomorrow. Sorry for the lack of posts this week.

From the world's smallest horse... Check out the story of Thumbelina, the 17-inch-tall horse who's raising big bucks for charity this year. the world's most expensive cat, in a way: A Michigan man received an award of over $122,000 in damages after being bitten by his sister's cat. (That has to make this coming Thanksgiving dinner a bit less fun, though...)

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Bread and Jam

There may be a few days like this in the next week and a half: I come on, say "yo" for a second, and post the cool links and weird news stories. Until then, there's a Mintzer concert to prepare for, so I'm trying to keep my computer time down to a little less than usual.

And if you're wondering about the odd title of this post, it doesn't mean that I'm starving myself; it simply denotes the two things I did once I got home: Earned money by teaching a few people (bread), went to Potbelly with friends (more bread) and jammed a bit with some of those same friends (self-explanatory). So enjoy the links and stories and I'll likely pop on in the same manner tomorrow.

They have the right to "wine" about this ruling: A Utah driver was denied the chance to renew his vanity license plate that read "MERLOT" because an anonymous tipster informed the state that the word means an alcoholic beverage and not just the type of grape from which said beverage is made. (The driver is appealing the decision.)

So now you tell me: A man dropped by his old high school to get a copy of his transcript for a new job training program, and the office informed him that he still had outstanding fees left over from before he 1977. (it's a good thing they didn't charge him interest.)

Funny video of the day: Rachmaninoff had big hands; yours are small. So how do you play some of his more challenging compositions? Here's one way.

These shoes raised a big stink...and it was a good thing: The Odor-Eaters company recently held its 32nd annual Rotten Sneaker Contest for kids; the winner was a 13-year-old girl.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

I Can't Get Started

OK, quick straw poll: Has anyone else who was on spring break this past week just had the worst time getting back into the swing of things? I know that I sure have. Granted, the trip to Houston and back in one day on Saturday for the SFJAZZ Collective concert didn't help things, but I've just found myself stuck in neutral all week so far. (By the way, a review of that concert will be posted in a day or two.) Students at all levels seem to be in the same straits, and I've heard from some of them that their other teachers are like this as well. Give us a few days of freedom and some nice weather, and the whole train just flies off the track. At least I have "second spring break" (a.k.a. the dreaded week of TAKS testing next month) to look forward to, though my wallet will not be so happy with the idea.

The long and short of this is that, even though I always have plenty to say on this blog, any posts of substance will have to wait at least one more day while I try to get back on a regular schedule again. The funny news stories, of course, continue unabated, much like the news itself.

Kids 1, Adults 0: On the new Fox reality show, "Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader," the kids are winning so far.

UPDATED SCORE: Kids 2, Adults 0: When a mother started dealing drugs recently, her six-year-old daughter turned her in to the cops.

But the adults strike back: At some shopping malls, including Minneapolis' famed Mall of America, kids under 16 are not admitted without a parent or guardian after 4 p.m. on weekends.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

An Unusual Power of Music, Revisited

I've discussed the use of classical music as a deterrent to crime in a previous post, but I wanted to revisit the subject for a second. Yesterday, I heard a feature story on the radio about a judge in Miami Beach who's found an innovative way to do a similar thing: Give noise-ordinance violators the chance to listen to a few hours of opera in lieu of paying a fine.

He's been doing it for a few years already; while researching this post, I found this story from a few years ago. Here's an excerpt:
Michael Carreras didn't think his stereo was that loud.

After all, it was only the stock radio in his Jaguar, not a custom job with subwoofers in the trunk.

But one night in last month, he and some friends were cruising Collins Avenue at 5 a.m. on a Sunday, checking out girls and chatting about the nightclubs. The sunroof was open, the windows were down and they were listening to rapper 50 Cent on the CD player.

Next thing he knew, a police officer was handing him a ticket for violating the city's strict noise ordinance. In Miami Beach, if cops can hear your stereo from 100 feet away, they can charge you.

The officer told Carreras he would have a choice: pay a $500 fine, or listen to opera.

"Opera?" Carreras wondered. No way, he thought.

But it was no joke.

Last week, the 32-year-old club promoter found himself listening to La Traviata in Judge Jeffrey Swartz's chambers.

It was opera as punishment, for 21/2 hours.

"You impose your music on me, and I'm going to impose my music on you," Swartz told Carreras.
Like in the earlier story, I'm sure that some musicologist out there might get his/her panties in a wad about using classical music as punishment, but let's give the judge some props for originality. Having to have a style of music that you don't like imposed on you might very well drive the point home that it's no good to do that to others as well. (Besides, after two-and-a-half hours, who knows--the opera might even grow on the listener and build a new fan in the process.) And in the radio report, done by KRLD's always-entertaining Mike Rogers, the judge noted that if someone actually got cited for playing their opera too loud in the car, they would be sentenced to listen to several hours of gangsta rap. It works both ways. (And read the earlier post linked above for my thoughts on "used music.")

She's not glad they had this time together: Carol Burnett is suing the producers of Family Guy for the use of her "charwoman" character in a 2006 episode. You'd think that a comedian would be familiar with the concept of satire...

Weird headline of the past few days: Malaysian Police Detain 'Midget' Gang. Evidently, the smallest gang members were chosen to slide through small spaces in order to gain entry into houses.

What do the following items have in common: Dentures, a bowling ball, an amplifier, musical instruments, a prosthetic leg, a pet goldfish...a daughter? Answer: They're all items which have been found on buses and trains in big cities.

Friday, March 16, 2007

St. Patrick's Eve Was Mean to the Green

When the clock moved to 11:30 this morning, all activity of the house-fixing-up variety stopped for me. My visiting parents continued their quest, but they understood why I went in and planted myself on the couch: My alma mater was playing in March Madness for the first time in 19 years.

Unfortunately, as you may already know, it didn't work out this time. The Mean Green actually led by as many as six points in the first half, but things fell apart before halftime, and UNT ended up losing to Memphis, 73-58. That was three points better than their 1988 loss to North Carolina, but this time, the Green were actually in it for a large portion of the game.

I think this bodes well for the future. Johnny Jones appears to have built something good in Denton, and not all of the top players are seniors this time around. I congratulate them on a great season (which included the most wins in school history), and I'm hoping they can build on this year and do something unprecedented in '08: Make it to the Big Dance for a second straight time.

Coin without a face: I have yet to personally received one of the new presidential dollar coins, but I've heard that some of them had small defects, such as the words IN GOD WE TRUST being missing from the side. But Billy Idol could indeed write a song about the Colorado couple who found one that had nothing at all stamped on either face.

Good sport of the week: A Pennsyvlania nurse, listening to her landlord testify in court in a complaint against her, ended up performed CPR on the landlord when she began exhibiting signs of having trouble breathing.

To protect, to serve...and to smell lemony-fresh: A town in India is commissioning new uniforms for its police officers to help them to emit a pleasing and sweat-free scent when interacting with the local citizenry.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Beware the (Skinned) Hides of March?

Once I read this, it didn't matter whatever it was that I was going to blog about beforehand; this was so hilarious that I had to post it: Today was the fifth annual International Eat a Tasty Animal for PETA Day. If you think that PETA (which some have joked stands for "People Eating Tasty Animals") is way over the top in its views (pretty much wanting everyone to be vegan and not have pets) and tactics (including comparing the killing of animals for food to the Holocaust), then you'll probably get as big of a kick out of this "holiday" as much as I did. (I got a real laugh when I read that the author's friend's daughter refers to beef as "yummy cow." That goes nicely with the time a few years ago when my middle nephew called milk "cow juice.")

Read the whole thing, as well as this follow-up post, where several readers (including myself) posted their menu choices for today. (The ironic thing in my case is that I didn't even know about the holiday until I got home tonight, but upon reading the posts, I found that I was pretty much in full compliance.)

Hat tip: Tom Maguire, guest-blogging at Instapundit.

But you're only supposed to eat tasty animals; A middle-school student in Colorado found a mouse inside his bag of barbecue potato chips, and it appears not to have been a prank.

This animal should not have been eaten: A hunter in Austria mistook a housebroken pet pig for a wild boar and shot it, but he did return the carcass to its owner, who was forgiving enough to share the meat with him.

But these animals tried to turn the tables: Two stray cats got into a house in Nebraska and attacked three people inside.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Happy 3.14; Have a Piece of Pi

Those of you who know me well are very much aware that I'm not in any way a math geek, but I did get a kick out of this story: Fans of the number known as pi will meet today at just before 2 p.m. local time (get it--3.14 at 1:59?). Read the whole story, which includes some amazing feats of people reciting pi to a large amount of digits in a fairly short time. It also notes that people at places like M.I.T. will actually wish each other a "Happy Pi Day" today. (UPDATE: I also found out that Pi Day has its own website; I shouldn't have been surprised.)

One time last semester, I went to a new music concert at my college, and one of the pieces involved a guy who translated the various digits of pi to musical sounds, which was quite fascinating. I can't remember the exact number of digits he had programmed by concert time, but I recall that the piece ran for about fifteen minutes before crashing the computer (d'oh).

I may not get a chance to eat any pie today, but I did get a jump on the holiday by having some for dessert last night. And to top this all off, here's a poem that a guy wrote wherein the number of letters in each successive word correspond to the digits of pi.

(Also, this post is being written at 1:59 if you're out in the middle of the Atlantic somewhere...)

They ate the zoo: The locals in Hibernia, Indiana were happy to find out that raccoon has been returned to the menu of their annual local fundraiser.

She taught the zoo: Authorities coming to the aid of a teacher in New York who was involved in a car crash on her way to a wildlife lecture were surprised to discover her collection of critters in the car with her. They included a boa constrictor, turtles, frogs, small mammals and a monster toad.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

I Made Quite a Racquet Today

After several near-misses, I finally got to play racquetball again today, for the first time since last summer. I'm happy to report no broken bones, contusions, muscle pulls, etc. (though my friend whom I was playing got banged up a few times). I lost all three of the games, but got better each time; I only fell short by two points in the third game.

As I've noted before, racquetball is a great sport for musicians because it gives you a very good workout without requiring you to play it every day. Since my gym time has been virtually nil recently (though I have been able to resume The Walk™ since it's gotten warmer), I need to start playing every week again. I always get concerned when I have my first day back from a long layoff, but so far, I've managed to avoid messing myself up in any significant way while playing. *knocks wood*

Still, having an incredibly skilled opponent today meant that not only will I be sore tomorrow, I'm already sore now. It must have been good for me.

Big band rehearsal beckons in just a bit (my only school-related activity this week). I'll have posts of substance again starting tomorrow.

Stupid criminal of the day #1: If you're in the process of robbing someone's house, it's best not to get naked and then fall asleep on their couch.

Stupid criminal of the day #2: If you're wanting to walk out on your $100 tab at Waffle House, it's best not to do so when the cops are there to break up a fight between two other customers; it's also best not to almost hit the officers with your car as you're fleeing the parking lot. (And as the article points out, how do four people run up a nearly $100 tab at Waffle House, seeing as how the most expensive item on the menu is around ten bucks?)

Most confusing headline of the day: Bush to Meet With New Mexican President. I know what the story is actually about, but the way the headline is phrased makes it sound like there's a President of New Mexico who's meeting with Bush.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

This Teacher's Strings Were Wound A Bit Too Tightly

I read a bizarre story over the weekend of a music teacher in Colorado who let things get a little bit out of hand recently:
A substitute music teacher has been arrested after allegedly whacking a 10-year-old student on the head with a viola bow after telling the class they were "the worst players I've ever heard."

Newspaper and television reports said the trouble began when Carla Shinners, 63, a teacher for more than 30 years in the district, was interrupted by a call on her own cell phone. She allegedly began swearing Feb. 12 at the Creekside Elementary School, where she had earned the nickname "Mrs. Grumpy Lady."

Principal Karen Daly said parents and students complained.

The 10-year-old said Shinners also pulled her hair.
The reason I put this as a main story and not just a little weird news anecdote is because I actually had this happen to me as well. I was much older at the time (a college freshman), but I also faced the wrath of an aging strings teacher who had been used to hearing better playing in his younger days.

When I was in undergrad school (in my pre-jazzer and infant-jazzer days), I got a traditional music education degree, or as we jokingly called it, a BBD (Bachelor of Band Director) degree (and I'll wait for a moment for the laughter to subside at the thought of me being a high school band director). During that time, my course of study included "methods classes," where we learned to play each of the instruments just well enough to be able to teach them.

My first one of these classes was strings class. We had half a semester of each on violin, viola, cello and string bass (the latter of which, incidentally, a principal at one of my schools pronounced as if it were a fish on the morning announcements recently). The instructor, whom I'll call Professor R (which may have been one of his initials, but not necessarily his last one), had evidently been the string instructor back in the day. But as he got older and older (and grumpier and grumpier), and as the side-business he ran got more and more successful, they gradually stripped him of his priorities until, by the time I had his class, he was stuck teaching a room full of mostly trumpet and sax players how to play "Mary Had a Little Lamb" on the violin. (I also heard that he had perfect pitch, so our screechy intonation must have driven him nuts.)

Professor R spent half of every class fuming at us: "HOW can you PLAY so out of TUNE????" Or there was the time when he railed at the people who were late on a snowy day, grumbling that when he was at Juilliard, they had class in two feet of snow (well, Prof, maybe Denton is just a tad less prepared for snow than New York, ya know?). I'll never forget the moment when he made a girl cry because she forgot some of her notes; it turned out that she was a P.E. major who was taking the class "for fun"--which was a huge mistake if he was teaching it. (Incidentally, I never would have ended up in his class had the faculty worn name tags at orientation; Prof. R was our poor excuse for an "advisor" when I was there. When I went to ask him a question about something in the schedule of classes, he said, "Read the book! It's in there!" You can imagine my disdain when he walked into my first day of strings class...)

Anyway, one morning, during my violin phase of the class, I must not have had a great hand position, because he walked up to me and said, "NO, that's not right!" and whacked me on the hand with his bow. Being the timid freshman that I was, I gave him a weird look, but nothing else came of it. If it had been a few years later, I probably would have gone to the dean's office and attempted to hasten his retirement. I used to joke that I should have hit him back, but not really; he certainly wasn't worth losing a degree over.

Incidentally, I was in a music-ed class the next year that had a lot of guest speakers; one day, the other guy who taught strings class came in and spoke to us, and I learned more about teaching strings in one hour from that guy than I did in two entire semesters from Professor R.

Till death--or at least aggravated assault--do us part: A new groom hit his bride with his car during their Vegas honeymoon last weekend. (This story has a personal connection to me as well; when I was working at a pizza place in grad school, one of our cooks came in all stressed-out one day, because her boyfriend had tried to run her over with his car. A few weeks later, she came in and giddily told us that she had gotten married. Putting two and two together, I asked her if her new hubby was the same guy who had tried to run her over a few weeks earlier, and, through a grin of missing teeth--you expected that part, right?--she said that it was.)

One more case of adults not acting like adults: The mother of a 13-year-old boy was charged with driving him to a fight with another kid and cheering him on while he was fighting.

Beware (six days after) the Ideth of March: A restaurant that's about to open near me listed its grand opening date as "March 21th."

Saturday, March 10, 2007

A Turn in the Right Direction

I've spent the weekend in a frenzy of getting things done around the house--working hard now so that I can enjoy the rest of the week even more. One of the things I did today was get everything together for my taxes, so that all the pertinent numbers could be sent to my accountant (who goes by "Dad" the rest of the year). Among my tasks was to calcuate all the work-related driving that I did during the last calendar year, and, as usual, I actually had to go out and capture a couple of mileages between schools that I never bothered to write down during the year. (You'd think that, teaching at eight schools, I would already know the distance between any one of the eight to any other one, but this was the first time I'd ever made three specific trips this year.) Fortunately, the whole thing only took about half an hour.

While I was out and about, I noticed some new road construction in a few places, and the projects in question involved something that I thought should have been done a long time ago: Adding dedicated right-turn lanes to intersections with stoplights (I've also noticed this at a few locations near the college). To me, the truly amazing thing is that it hadn't been done a long time ago.

As someone who drives quite a bit (having nine worksites tends to require it), I've spent quite a bit of time sitting at stoplights. I've found that the two things that keep traffic badly backed up at controlled intersections are 1) not having a sensor on the left-turn lane, so that everyone is forced to wait for an arrow when nobody's turning left, and 2) not having a dedicated right-turn lane at the intersection.

It would be OK if people who were going straight (or, say, turning into a business that was right on the opposite corner of the intersection) avoided the right lane when approaching a stoplight, but I'm aware that, first of all, people do sometimes honestly get caught in that lane when the light turns yellow and they don't have a chance to clear the intersection; there are also people who are either obilvious to or uncaring about the cars behind them who are stuck because they're going straight in a lane which is also used for turning. Since it's not likely that we're going to be able to legislate courtesy (or having a clue, for that matter), it's far better to just make the special lane so that nobody gets stuck; it would improve the flow of traffic dramatically.

If I were in charge of things, I'd require that the right-turn lanes be built at the same time that the traffic signal was installed. (Of course, if I were really in charge of things, I'd be looking into that "smart signal" technology that's supposed to gauge when cars are coming in either direction and time the signals accordingly.)

And here's to a week of not having to worry about traffic too much...

Dave Barry--and most other guys--will love this: A recent Duke grad has invented the refrigerator that can toss you a can of beer without you ever having to leave the couch.

Putting a tiger in your tank, only not: A Missouri water-plant worker found himself face-to-face with a bobcat riding shotgun in his golf cart; the cat was chasing a rabbit who had gotten there first.

Ice, ice, baby: A California man stole a diamond from a jeweler and managed to swallow and regurgitate the rock every time he was transferred to a new prison. But the evidence was eventually recovered after his latest attempt to hide it in the shower stall caused it to get stuck in the drain instead.

Blowing out the candles: Happy birthday to my friend and fraternity brother Jervis, one of our brotherhood's national treasures.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Spring Has Sprung...

...and Break has broken. I've never been happier to be on vacation than I am now.

(And please, nobody has to point out that it's not really "spring" yet; I'm not unaware of the timing of the Vernal Equinox. Even if Spring Break happens in the winter, we can't call it Winter Break, because that's been co-opted by The Holidays Formerly Known as Christmas Break; besides, some people's break straddles March 21, so what would we call it then?. It's sort of like how my June 10 birthday is technically in the spring, but on my calendar, anything between the long semesters of spring and fall automatically becomes summer. And how it's still "today" until I go to bed, even if that's after midnight.)

This has been a really long semester so far in terms of workload, but, conversely, the time has also flown by. Wasn't it just yesterday that I was getting ready for IAJE?

And adding to it all is the fact that, after my long workdays are finally over, there seem to be a lot of built-in social activities that take place afterwards: Fish Night, Burrito Night, Lab Band Night. But with my teaching schedule being as it is, I wouldn't trade those things for the world. All work and no play makes Kev a dull boy.

So this week, I'm going to relax a lot and catch up on things (taxes, cleaning the house, arrangements for the combos). And a lot of practicing will take place. After all, a major guest artist will be on my campus in three weeks.

I asked all my students this week if they're getting to go anywhere exciting for break, and--save for a few mission trips and a surprisingly high number of visits to Disney World--most people responded with, "my bed." Sometimes, getting to stay home, but without the usual responsibilitites of school or work, is the best break of all.

Stupid criminal #1: The police may not have ever found a Wisconsin man's pot stash and paraphernalia if their attention hadn't been drawn to its hiding place--inside his unzipped fly.

Stupid criminal #2: A man calls the police for help because he's having trouble breaking into a church.

UPDATE: Stupid criminal #3: A New Zealand woman calls the police to tell them that someone stole her cannabis.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Invitation to the Dance

Congratulations to my alma mater, UNT, whose men's basketball team won the Sun Belt Conference tournament last night and thus earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. It's the Mean Green's first trip to the Big Dance since 1988.

Granted, the last time the Green were there, they were paired with North Carolina in the first round and lost, 83-65. While it might be expected that, coming from a non-major conference, they might be paired with an equally high-powered opponent again, it's still a great honor to be invited, and if the team can produce the type of upset that happens so frequently during March Madness, this team will go down as one for the ages in Mean Green lore.

Congratulations to coach Johnny Jones and the guys on a great season so far. I'll be taking a bigger-than-usual interest in Selection Sunday this weekend.

Assault with a dead weapon: A woman tried to sneak out of a Tennessee diner with an extra catfish dinner (for which she had not paid) in her purse. When confronted by diner employees, she fled, throwing the catfish at one of the employees in the process and hitting her.

Headline of the week #1: Alaska Moose Brings Down Helicopter.

Headline of the week #2: Teens Accused of Making Ostrich Impotent

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

A New Kind of Time Stamp

I suppose you may have heard that the U.S. Postal Service has once again been given a rate increase, to 41 cents from the current 39 (a penny less than their initial request). There will be the usual griping, of course, but, as someone pointed out on the radio recently, it's still pretty amazing to think that, if you live in a remote corner of the country, you can still get a letter to the exact opposite end of the country for just 39 cents (the example used on the radio was Key West, Florida to Anchorage, Alaska).

Certainly, the postal service has taken a hit with all the computer innovations of the past decade or so. Email has replaced snail-mail for most correspondence except for greeting cards; online bill-paying has become the norm for many people (myself included; the only bill I mail--and in fact the only check I write--is for my mortgage payment, and that's only because they charge extra to pay it online). Gas has also gotten really expensive, so the occasional increase is almost to be expected.

But I was encouraged to see an idea that has come forth along with the proposed increase: The creation of a forever stamp, which would cover the cost of first-class postage no matter what any future increase might be. In other words, you could buy a book of stamps at 41 cents after the next increase, keep them for 20 years (when the postage rate might well be double what it is now) and use them as if they'd been bought at the current rate.

The big upside to this, besides the savings it would represent, would be that nobody would have to deal with those annoying 2- or 3-cent stamps anymore if they had stamps left over after an increase. Even though I rarely mail anything anymore, I could see investing in a book of Forever Stamps just to cover Christmas cards and my twelve annual mortgage payments. I hope the idea passes.

The Black Cat from hell: One county in southern Taiwan celebrated Chinese New Year this past weekend by lighting off an 8.1 mile-long string of firecrackers. (How big would the punk have to be to light that contraption?)

Gonna fly drive now: If you're a jazz fan with lots of money, you can bid on Maynard Ferguson's Cadillac on eBay. Hurry--auction ends Saturday! (UPDATE: Someone bought it for $8100.)

Monday, March 05, 2007

I Still Want the Red-Light (Camera) District Out of My Neighborhood

It's been three years to the day since I was rear-ended at an intersection by an uninsured soccer mom (out of whom I never did get a single penny, by the way). I said at the time that the only reason I stopped at that intersection--where the light was just starting to turn yellow--was that I knew that they were in the process of installing red-light cameras at various places around town. I had no idea that they would be as well-marked as they ended up being, so I went ahead and stopped just to be on the safe side...which ended up putting me in more danger.

In the meantime, the cameras have come to this area, and I've posted about them several different prior occasions; my big objection to them stems from the fact that they seem to be more about revenue than about safety. They also, at some locations across the country, have actually increased the rear-end collisions that are similar to the one I had.

So you can put me solidly in the anti-camera camp, since nothing I've seen since that time has managed to convince me otherwise. And as I "celebrate" that infamous anniversary, I take note of this story: The city of Lubbock has voted to delay installation of the cameras in that city after a study showed that eight of the twelve intersections where the cameras were to be installed had short-cycling yellow lights; one of those intersections had a yellow so short that it was illegal under federal standards. As the article noted,
Short yellows assure a steady flow of red light camera ticket revenue. A Texas Transportation Institute study found that an extra second of yellow time added to the current ITE formula yields a a 53 percent reduction in the number of tickets issued along with a 40 percent reduction in accidents.
Yeah, right, it's all about the safety...

But this is good police work: Various law-enforcement agencies around the country have been using YouTube to help them catch the bad guys. In some cases, they've been quite successful.

Sunday, March 04, 2007


Thisi was the most amusing story I read over the weekend:
A man toting a 3-foot sword apparently met his match when he broke into his ex-girlfriend's apartment: The woman's roommate grabbed a sword of his own and sliced the intruder, police said.
The roommate, a sword collector, fended off the ex-boyfriend, who was cut on the arm, police said.
I got a kick out of this, especially since there's a sword sitting in my spare room at the moment (an old roommate left it and hasn't come back for it yet). Longtime Musings readers may even recall that I contemplated using it against any intruders on the day three years ago when I accidentally left the front door of my house open while running several hours' worth of errands. It ended up that nobody actually came in--in fact, the cat actually came back after leaving for a bit--but it was somewhat reassuring for those few nervous moments that there was something in here with which I could defend myself.

(Oh, and the fact that both the swordsmen had Hispanic names immediately made me think of this. There's no telling, however, if the wounded ex-boyfriend actually got his arm scratched in the shape of a Z.)

A true act of bravery: An 11-year-old girl in North Carolina managed to safely stop the family car after her mother fainted behind the wheel.

Thankfully, they didn't have to use their famous knives (but their toothpicks were at the ready): A group of Swiss army officers got lost whiel on maneuvers and accidentally "invaded" Liechtenstein for a moment last week.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Tonight's New Drama: "EO"

It's almost midterm week in a lot of schools around here, so let's have a quick quiz...

Imagine yourself in this scenario: You're at a mostly-empty restaurant with a three or four friends. Another friend comes in with someone you haven't met before, so you decide to approach them and make the introductions. Would you...

a) Find a nice isolated place in the restaurant to exchange pleasantries, away from other guests, or

b) Situate yourselves exactly in between two of the only occupied tables in the place, talking and laughing loudly as you completely invade the personal space of everyone at both tables. Continue this for nearly five minutes, appearing completely oblivious to the presence of anyone else in the restaurant.

Unfortunately for me and my buddy Coop, a group of high school (we're pretty sure) drill team (we think, since we heard half their conversation) girls did that to us tonight at dinner. I hadn't thought about the term "Estrogen Ocean" since the early years of this blog, when a few friends of mine described the English class they were taking in those terms, but tonight, we were drowning in it.

I'm not sure what the worst part was--the sheer volume of the conversation, the way they just commandeered all the space around us, or the fact that they were bragging about getting fake ID's, which must have made the one girl's aunt--evidently a drill team instructor--feel a bit awkward. (As I said, we heard way too much of the conversation.)

Finally, Coop leaned over to me and said, "We should start talking about quarter notes or something." We both laughed so loudly at that idea that the gaggle of girls actually noticed the presence of other people in the restaurant for seemingly the first time and actually moved to an emptier area. The EO was back at low tide again.

After they were out of earshot, I remarked to Coop that it reminded me of those commercials where people were always losing their jobs because they had NO! COMPUTER! SKILLS!, except in this case, the ladies of the EO had NO! SOCIAL! SKILLS!

So what is it that makes people act like that? Is it really a case of young people thinking that everything is all about them, or is it just typical drill-team behavior? At any rate, it was one of the more bizarre nights out to eat that I've had in recent memory.

Somebody get this guy a cell phone right away: A janitor in an upstate New York courthouse spent over two days without food, water or restroom access when he accidentally became locked in a secure room for an entire weekend.

You'd better not like fries with that: So what woud you eat after you've been without food all weekend? How about this--a Pennsylvania restaurant has created a 123-pound hamburger.

Friday, March 02, 2007

A Good Start

I was happy to read this story in the paper this morning: TAKS Exit Exam May Be Replaced:
The state's 1.25 million high school students would have to pass a series of new end-of-course exams to graduate instead of the current TAKS tests under legislation filed Thursday by the leaders of the House and Senate education committees.

The measures would eliminate the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills graduation test – which has been in use only three years – as well as two other TAKS tests administered in the ninth and 10th grades.
Can anybody say amen?

Leading the way is state Senator Florence Shapiro of Plano, who had this to say about the test:
"We can all agree that the TAKS test has outlived its welcome."

"[...]"This ensures that no Texas student will take a course in name only because we will assess the rigorous content we expect students to learn," Ms. Shapiro said. "End-of-course exams will allow a more in-depth study of a particular subject, as well as provide a more timely assessment of a student's grasp of that subject."
As I've said before (most recently here), the TAKS has turned into a gargantuan disaster for students and teachers alike, gobbing up way too much instruction time while prompting (often justified) accusations that teachers have to "teach to the test" instead of actually making sure that the students learn something about the subject being taught. And what have we gotten from all this? Students who may be good test takers, but who haven't really learned anything. And so much for critical thinking skills, creativity, and so on.

There's one other benefit: If the end-of-course exam format is used, the students will actually be tested on the material they have just learned (what a concept!) instead of something from maybe as far back as two years earlier (just yesterday, a high school junior was lamenting the fact that she would have to take the science TAKS next month; this test is based on biology, which is usually taken during the freshman year). Also, by having the EOC tests count as part of the semester grade (15%, according to this plan), the possible discrepancy between school grades and exit testing (in other words, the situation where someone could pass all coursework but flunk the TAKS and thus not get a diploma) would be minimized.

This sounds like a great idea to me, and I hope it passes handily. I'd love to see it changed at the lower levels as well (when I heard a story about third-graders getting stressed over the TAKS, that was one such story too many), but this will be a good way to get the ball rolling.

It's a dog's life, part 1: There were probably some extra Milk-Bones on tap for a Wisconsin dog named Dude, who saved his owner from being attacked by a black bear.

It's a dog's life, part 2: An attorney in Ohio is challenging the authority of the town's police chief; he claims that the chief has his college degree from a questionable online school that also awarded a degree to the city's police dog. (He's hoping to call the dog as an exhibit in the trial.)

It's a dog's life, part 3: I'd love to see them enforce this, but the city of Clifton, New Jersey has proposed an ordinance regulating how long dogs can bark before their owners would be fined. What are they going to use to measure this...a barking meter? *rim shot*

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The Hippest Cat in Kids' Lit

The Cat in the Hat turns 50 years old tomorrow (which is also the 103rd anniversary of Dr. Seuss's birth) . Along with other Dr. Seuss classics, it was one of my favorite books growing up, The anniversary itself has a website that includes information about Project 236, a literacy initiative named in honor of the 236 different words that Dr. Seuss used to write the book. (Read more about the history of the book here.)

I may not have had the Internet as a kid, but I'm thankful that, during our family's frequent cross-country moves, Mom took the time to read to me. Not only did I learn to read at the age of three (which helped me out immensely in school), but I developed a curiosity and love of knowledge that continue to this day. I know that kids today have a lot of choices, but I hope that the love of reading will continue to be instilled in them by good parents everywhere.

Theodor, Harold and Miles: Dr. Seuss, Miles Davis and legendary local meteorologist Harold Taft all passed away within a week of each other in 1991. It was my intention at the time to write a tune in tribute to all three of them. They had more in common than one might think (each was a pioneer in his field, Taft was an amateur cornetist, etc.), so the idea would be to write a trumpet feature and somehow make the tune have a sort of Seussian meter to it. Of course, the tune hasn't been written yet (I compose and arrange at a glacial pace at best), but the idea remains.