Friday, November 30, 2007

Yet Another Friday Cornucopia

It's been another busy week. Here are some stories I haven't been able to post yet:More tomorrow, and maybe some substance as well.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

This Blog Has the "Cowboys Fever" Tonight

I bet a lot of people skipped work or school tonight to watch the Cowboys beat the Packers. Me, I'm skipping my daily blog post, save for this paragraph. I'm ├╝ber-tired and need to pace myself before a busy weekend, so I'll return with fresh bloggy goodness tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

This Music Is Inarguably Good

I've been listening to a lot of really cool music lately, some of which I haven't even blogged about yet. But a few nights ago, a friend turned me onto what might end up being some of my favorite new music of the year: Darcy James Argue's Secret Society. A native of Canada who now calls New York home, Argue writes fresh-sounding charts that are influenced by Maria Schneider and Bob Brookmeyer (two of his former instructors) while also containing elements of both Steve Reich-ish minimalism and some skronky rock guitar thrown in. Drawing on the myriad talent floating around New York (including the husband-and-wife team of trumpeter Ingrid Jensen and drummer Jon Wikan, along with UNT alum Rob Wilkerson), Argue has put together something special here--music that's truly beyond category.

I could go on and on about how cool this music is, but I'd rather let it speak for itself: Go to the audio archives page of the Secret Society site and have a listen. Argue has posted mp3's of many of the band's live performances, and entire shows can be downloaded for free as ZIP files. I already have a few shows gracing my iTunes and iPod, and I haven't been able to stop listening to them all week. (My favorite tunes so far are "Transit" and the two that my friend initially suggested, "Habeas Corpus" and "Ritual," but there isn't a dud in the bunch.) I sure hope to be able to see this group sometime (if only I could make it to Toronto for IAJE this year!), and I'll happily snap up any CD that comes out down the road.

Reviewer Steve Smith noted in his blog that "Argue's charts are smart and tuneful, tough on players, and incredibly gracious to listeners. And some bright publisher should be pushing his compositions to college jazz bands -- hard. I know I'd have killed to play music like this." Yeah, me too. And I should note that it's already happened at least once; my friend who turned me onto Argue's music was himself exposed to it by a recent performance by the Rep Ensemble at UNT--a performance that I'm now kicking myself for missing. (And I'll need to check out the other composers featured in that concert somewhere down the road...but Argue's compositions have become quite the post-Thanksgiving banquet for the moment.)

Do I need to emphasize any more that you need to check out this music? Go. Now. I'll still be here when you get back, and then we can talk about it together.

The age of steam(punk): Some have described Secret Society as a "steampunk big band." I wasn't familiar with the steampunk movement, but learning about it is an interesting side trip, especially while listening to Secret Society. Lots of info can be found here, here, and here.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

More Animal Stories

As many of you know, I had a feature on my radio show in college called Animal Stories. These will never run out, because animals are always doing the craziest things....
  • A New York town was visited by fifteen wild turkeys on Thanksgiving Day last week (and none of them ended up on someone's dinner table, either).

  • A Missouri family finally got its dog back after it was missing for seven months. In the process, the dog had two temporary homes, was renamed once, and got neutered along the way (by a veterinarian who provided one of the places to stay).

  • This one's just wrong: A man in Wisconsin who was upset with his wife for not buying him some beer took out his frustrations by shooting one of the family's pet goats. (He's being charged with a variety of things.)

  • The new panda cub at the San Diego Zoo has been given a name; it happened 100 days after Zhen Zhen was born, to keep with Chinese tradition.

  • Aficionados in London are trying to get Queen Elizabeth II to declare pigeon-racing to be a legitimate sport.

  • And finally, I once won a radio award with a spot for our traffic service that used examples of actual weird accidents reported over our airwaves. One of the weirdest ones was "Animal fat fills the streets of downtown Ft. Worth!" And now, a waste truck in Virginia has leaked poultry fat over 20 miles of roadway.
Tomorrow: Some cool music that I've discovered this week.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Cyber None-Day

So today was Cyber Monday, the official kickoff of the online holiday shopping season and what was anticipated to be the busiest online shopping day of the year.

And if you're wondering why people would wait till today to shop online--instead of, say, doing so last week on Black Friday to avoid the mall crowds--it has something to do with today being the day that people return to their work computers for the first time since the holiday began. But another article I read today notes that not everyone saves their shopping for work anymore (and I would never do that, since my office--home to about 100 other professors--only has shared computers. I'll shop from the security of home, thanks).

But I didn't buy anything online today--just like I didn't buy anything in a brick-and-mortar store on Friday--because nobody has sent me a wish list yet! (And I haven't sent mine out either, mind you.) Am I horribly behind? I don't think so, despite the early arrival of both Thanksgiving and holiday decorations. I have a few big weeks of teaching left, so I'm in no hurry to bring on the holiday madness at this point (though I do hope I can get some assistance hanging the outdoor lights this year; I have a few friends who like to get up on the roof, so I might well take advantage of that).

I asked on Friday if you had gotten any holiday shopping done yet, and I'll ask it again now that Cyber Monday is about to be filed away into the archives: Are you done? Have you even started?

The one thing that I didn't get a lot of over the break was sleep, so I plan to catch up with that tonight. Tomorrow: More animal stories; I've been saving them up.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Holiday Follies

Random stuff I ran across this week that appeared to come from the "oops" department:I hope everyone had a great vacation; it's back to the grind in the morning.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Good Football Weather?

A question for my fellow Metroplex residents: Was today just a nasty day or what? I made a few trips around the area, and the cold rain just rarely stopped all day. (As I've said before, I don't mind cold, and I don't mind rain, but I'm no big fan of the two together.)

Some people, especially those from up north, might refer to this as "good football weather." But seeing as how several of the teams with which I have ties actually had to play football today, I wondered if the weather would affect the games at all. So let's check the scoreboard...
  • Both of the schools where I teach that were still in the playoffs (and another one in the district where I don't teach anymore) got knocked out of the hunt today. No clue if the weather was a factor, but when the ground and the ball get wet, anything can happen.

  • There was a UNT game today. I had pondered attending this one before the weather went south on us (now there's a geographically inaccurate term, seeing as how the cold front that put us in this deep-freeze is Arctic in origin), but it just didn't seem practical. Add the weather to the fact that it's during a holiday, and I hope that more than a handful of people made it out. Still, UNT won the game, so that's something to build on for Year Two of the Todd Dodge Era, which I'm sure will be much better as he gets more and more of his recruits in there. (It was a good weekend all around for the extended Southlake Carroll family, as the Dragons won their game last night as well, and former Dragon quarterback Chase Daniel has Missouri beating Kansas at the moment, [UPDATE: Mizzou did win that one], so it was undoubtedly a happy day in Southlake, where I chose to dine today at my favorite Cajun place.)

  • And finally--while I have no clue what the weather was like in Houston--my alma mater, Houston Stratford, also advanced in the playoffs. (They could conceivably meet Southlake Carroll in the Class 5A Division 2 Championship if both teams win out.)

    UPDATE: After figuring out that I hadn't done so yet, I've finally added some pictures of Stratford and the house where I grew up to this 2005 post about a visit to the old neighborhood. (The original post was written back before I was in OS X, so I had trouble uploading pictures back then.)
And seeing as how all my teams have played this week, tomorrow sounds like a good day for an afternoon nap.

He just sang what?? The spirits of the Croatian national soccer team were lifted by an English opera singer's embarrassing misstatement of part of the lyrics to their national anthem; the gaffe helped spur them on to victory over the host country at the Euro 2008 tournament. I won't repeat what he mis-sang in this G-rated blog, but you can read it yourself here.

Kev's holiday gift guide, part 1: Shopping for the person who has everything? You could do what an Italian businessman just did--bought an entire small Texas town on eBay. (The town in question has one house and no permanent residents, but it went for $3.8 million.)

Friday, November 23, 2007

Black Friday in Review

This is (allegedly) the busiest shopping day of the year (and if not, certainly the most-discussed one), so, like we did a year ago, let's discuss Black Friday for a moment:
  • How much, if any, shopping did you do today? Or did you avoid the malls like the plague? (I did the same thing I did last year, save for the addition of a trip back from Austin: I went to see my protege and bandmate Aaron's gig at Firewheel, and actually sat in a bit; the other horn player on the gig is recovering from surgery and could only play a little bit. Unlike some of the other malls that they were talking about on radio traffic reports today, there was a bit of parking left at Firewheel, despite a parking lot being blocked off for a nighttime fireworks display.)

  • How many football games did you watch today? (My answer was zero, as I wasn't near a TV very often today, but I was quite pleasantly surprised to see that A&M beat UT for the second year in a row, even if that game was probably Coach Fran's swan song. [UPDATE: It was.])

  • Have you even started your holiday shopping yet? And are there any overachievers out there who have actually finished? (No start for me yet, as I have yet to either send or receive a gift list. And I do most of my shopping online as it is.)

  • Are you sick of turkey yet? (Not me; the leftovers I brought back from Austin will be saved for tomorrow or Sunday.)

  • Are you sick of Christmas music yet? (I heard from one mall worker who already is.)
I'm pretty tired from the trip and all, so I'll wait and do all the little news stories tomorrow. Hope you had a great holiday.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Another Holiday Cornucopia

Happy Thanksgiving! First, I'll let others do the talking:As for me, I'm thankful for a lot of things: Good health, family and friends (and being close enough by to get together with various groups of the two in the next few days, the freedoms that we enjoy in this nation, and (of course) the gift of things like music that let us communicate our humanity to each other in special ways.

Here's hoping your holiday is safe and happy.

Travel advisory: I'm heading out to Austin to have the big dinner with my sister and her family at her in-laws' place; Mom and Dad will be there too. Regular blogging resumes tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

We're Off From School, So Let's Take Some Quizzes for Fun

First: Are you addicted to the Internet? Take this test and find out.

I scored a 30: "You are an average on-line user. You may surf the Web a bit too long at times, but you have control over your usage."

(Hat tip: Althouse, who scored a 46.)

Second: What American accent do you have? (Mine turned out as I predicted it would...)

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The Midland
 

"You have a Midland accent" is just another way of saying "you don't have an accent." You probably are from the Midland (Pennsylvania, southern Ohio, southern Indiana, southern Illinois, and Missouri) but then for all we know you could be from Florida or Charleston or one of those big southern cities like Atlanta or Dallas. You have a good voice for TV and radio.

The South
 
Philadelphia
 
The Inland North
 
The West
 
The Northeast
 
Boston
 
North Central
 
What American accent do you have?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

I've always been told that I had no discernible accent; sure, my use of "y'all" might give away the fact that I've lived in Texas since third grade, but I don't indulge in other Texanisms like "fixin' to" or "over yonder." And I got a kick out of the "you have a good voice for TV and radio," since I was a radio guy all through college.

One of the commenters at the quiz site has some good questions as well:
Someone has no doubt already mentioned this but what about these:

1) do you pronounce coupon as 'coopon' or 'q-pon'?
2) do you pronounce vase as 'vahz', 'vaze' or 'vace'?
3) do you pronounce aunt as 'ant' or 'awnt'?
4) do you pronounce creek as like 'Greek' and 'peek' or 'crick'?
For me, it's q-pon, vace, ant, and Greek. (Does anyone besides myself think that "awnt"--or, as I've heard more often, "ahnt"--sounds pretentious? Maybe I gravitated towards "ant" because I grew up with a [great-] Aunt Bee, and the two-insect jokes wouldn't work so well if she had been an "ahnt.")

Review on the way: Of course, I went to the One O'Clock Lab Band's fall concert last night; a review will be posted soon.

One man's trash literally is another man's treasure: A painting that was spotted in the trash by a woman on her morning walk just sold for more than $1 million.

Two reasons to celebrate: A woman celebrated her 100th birthday and received her honorary high school diploma on the same day. (This gives new meaning to the term "senior class," I suppose.)

Monday, November 19, 2007

Ho, Ho, Hokum

In case you missed this over the weekend: Shopping center Santa Clauses in Adelaide, Austraila were instructed to no longer use the phrase "Ho, Ho, Ho" anymore:
THERE'LL be no ho, ho, ho this Christmas. Aspiring Santas have been told not to use the term "ho" because it could be seen as derogatory to women.

Thirty trainees at a Santa course in Adelaide last month, held by recruitment company Westaff, were urged to replace the traditional festive greeting with "ha, ha, ha".

A Santa veteran of 11 years who attended the course told the Sunday Mail the trainer was very clear in spelling out no to "ho".

Two Santa hopefuls reportedly left the course after the trainer's edict.

The term "ho" is also American slang for a prostitute. "We were told it (ho) was a derogatory term for females and can upset people," said the Santa, who did not want to be identified publicly.

"As far as I'm concerned, a hoe is something you dig the ground with.

"I don't think you'll hear too many Santas saying `ha, ha, ha'."

Critics have branded the instruction for Santas to use "Ha! ha! ha! Merry Christmas" as nonsense and madness.
I totally agree. As someone pointed out in the linked story, it's not like we're going to stop using our garden hoes (or even our garden hose, since it's the spoken word we're talking about here). And Westaff also argues that the traditional greeting is scary to little children...but it seems like "Ha, Ha, Ha" would be even more so.

This wouldn't be the first time that political correctness and Christmas have collided (since the word itself is often considered un-PC in schools, for example). In case you missed it, here are a few examples from last year's holiday season.

(On a related subject--seeing as how it's summer in Australia at Christmastime, I used to wonder if that affected Santa's costume at all. My Australian blogger buddy James discusses that in the comments to this post.)

Let there be lights...already? I mentioned a few weeks ago that I'd already seen a few Christmas lights up on houses and a tree in a shopping center parking lot. Some of Lileks' commenters at buzz.mn also noted last week that the decorations seem to be going up earlier and earlier (including a sighting in Nebraska of someone putting up their lights this past weekend in shorts and a T-shirt). And on my way home tonight, I saw multiple lighted houses on the same block. This Thursday is the earliest possible day that Thanksgiving can be, but still Christmas seems to come earlier and earlier.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Say It Isn't So...

A sign of the times?



No, of course not. I'll say it isn't so, because it's not a sign of the times, or at least the sign you might think it is at first.

Actually, that sign is in front of the fuel center of a recently-closed grocery store in my old neighborhood that I drove by yesterday. (Perhaps the plain white sign above the prices gave it away.) I'm sure they did that on purpose, so people wouldn't see old gas prices (that might be much lower than they'll be in a few weeks or months) and get all excited, only to find the station closed. (And some people might have gotten overly excited by the premium gas appearing to be free.)

So no, gas isn't that bad, especially here in Texas; if anything, it's gone down a penny or two in the past week. Still, I had to stop and take that picture yesterday, so I could post it on the blog for its combination of shock value and humor.

And if you could afford $9.99 gas...maybe you could also afford a $53.5 million house. (The taxes alone on this house every year are more than my entire mortgage.)

This would provide you with a lot of gas money: The University of Tennessee Lady Vols are giving away a year's free tuition to a lucky student who attends at least ten of the team's home games this season.

A weird story and a good name for a rock band: Say hello to the Chinese Anime Porn Police.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Am I Splitting Hairs Here?

I had a long break from teaching yesterday morning, thanks to trimester exams at the high school, so I went to get a badly-needed haircut. What happened next was predictable, as was my response.

As I sat down in the chair, the stylist asked me if I wanted a shampoo after my haircut. (I'd actually never heard this request in that sequence before; I'm usually asked if I want one before the cut.) My reply was the same as always: "No, I don't pay people to do things that I do myself." Usually, the stylist will chuckle in an understanding fashion and carry on, but this one was a little feisty, almost defensive: "Well, it's no different than going to Jack in the Box or Taco Bell," she said, with a decided frown upon her face.

Seeing as how she had scissors in her hand, thus holding a portion of my destiny at the moment (I have a concert with my college groups tonight, so I could just see her giving me a reverse Mohawk or something if I made her mad), I didn't push the issue. But if I had, my response would have been that I may not always have time to cook for myself (I'm thinking about the day my evening combo rehearses; if I waited until after then to eat dinner, I wouldn't be eating until 10:30 and would be well on my way to weighing 900 pounds by now), but I always have time to wash my own hair.

I'm pretty stingy in that respect; I rarely pay for something that I could do myself (which is one of the reasons I don't like valet parking either), and I don't pay extra for a very small convenience, such as anything larger than a small drink at a self-service restaurant where you can get your own refills. (This doesn't keep people from trying to suggest the medium drink over the small, and I usually--kindly, mind you--call them on that as well, saying something like "There's no reason to pay extra when the refills are free.")

I'm not much for "upselling," either; I almost never buy the extended warranty plan (after getting hosed on that with a few small electronics in college), and I don't order the suggested extra food items if I've just stated plainly what I'm getting; if I wanted fries with that, I would have already said so.

I understand that it's people's job to suggest add-ons, but it's not hard for me to resist. It's probably just a small part of what I consider to be the inherent dishonesty of so much of the business world (noted in this post), but it really would be nicer if we could all just be more truthful with each other.

Do you usually get suckered in by upselling, or do you stand your ground?

This law might be for the birds: It may soon be illegal to feed pigeons in New York City.

Your closet may be hiding a fortune: Christie's auction house is taking bids this month on a collection of classic rock concert T-shirts from classic '60s and '70s bands; the shirts are expected to go for up to $4500 apiece.

I can has lg pizza w/ ssg & mshrms? K thx bye: Papa John's Pizza is now accepting orders by text message.

Friday, November 16, 2007

A Mixed-Up Idea?

From the wide world of education comes another "new idea" that's either extremely creative or yet another half-baked attempt at social engineering in the schools. You decide:
Ask anyone to think back to their days in the school lunch room, and thoughts of cliques and being excluded are often among the memories that pop up.

Jackson Middle School in Champlin [Minnesota] is trying to shake up the time tested formula of lunchroom popularity politics, by pushing students outside their comfort zone.

"We did a survey in the homeroom classes, and most of the kids said yes, the lunchroom is a place where social boundaries are drawn," explained Assistant Principal Jill Alton.

[...]Today was 'Mix it up at Lunch Day', a national event sponsored by the Southern Poverty Law center with the aim of allowing young people to cross the line of division, meet new people, and make friends. School leaders and students at Jackson Middle School came up with their own plan to throw out the social norms of the lunchroom, at least for one day.

Before they entered the lunchroom, 7th and 8th grade students were stopped and a letter was drawn on their hand. After filling their plate, they were asked to sit at the table with the corresponding letter, and start a conversation with someone they didn't know well.

"It's good to meet new people, and it teaches communicating skills," remarked student organizer Mary Page, "and I think we should do it 'every' year, personally."
Read the whole thing and then weigh in with your own thoughts: Good idea? Bad Idea? And did your kids do this at school this week?

Over at buzz.mn, Lileks links the story and his commenters weigh in. I think one of them has a good point: "For those of us who were (and still are) introverts by nature, sitting with people you don't know would be a nightmare. It was bad enough making conversation with people you were sort of comfortable with." (Yup, that sounds like middle school for me.) But another one probably sums it up best: "Can't they just let kids be kids and find their own friends? Isn't that what we do in real life?" before closing with the great Pink Floyd quote: "Hey teachers, leave those kids alone!!"

And then there were the kids that "mixed it up" too much: Parents of a student who was given detention for hugging her friends goodbye for the weekend have talked over the situation with school officials and resolved their differences. (This story was mentioned in passing here, and I've discussed this subject here on a few previous occasions.)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Music Makes You Smarter, Part 357

Evidently, I picked a good time to write yesterday's post, since, just a few hours later, someone sent a link to this story:
Those hours practicing piano scales or singing with a choral group weren't for nothing because people with a background in music tend to have a higher education and earn more, according to a new survey.

The poll by Harris Interactive, an independent research company, showed that 88 percent of people with a post-graduate education were involved in music while in school, and 83 percent of people earning $150,000 or more had a music education.

"Part of it is the discipline itself in learning music, it's a rigorous discipline, and in an ensemble situation, there's a great deal of working with others. Those types of skills stand you well in careers later in life," said John Mahlmann, of the National Association for Music Education in Reston, Virginia, which assisted in the survey.
And yes, you may feel free to remind me that I'm no fan of polls, but this one isn't telling us anything that we don't already know; it's just nice for stories like this to get attention. Music helps with other disciplines, and we have to continually remind those who control the purse strings of that fact. (Most interesting quote of the linked story: "Students who found music to be extremely or very influential to their fulfillment were those who had vocal lessons and who played in a garage band." What--no horn players? Although it's certainly possible to rehearse a jazz band in the garage...)

And in the same batch of email was a link to a great story: Overfunded Public School Forced to Add Jazz Band:
MANALAPAN, NJ—Benjamin Harrison Middle School faculty members regretfully announced Tuesday that, despite their best efforts to prevent it, the school simply had too much state and federal funding to avoid adding a jazz ensemble to its music program.

"We did not want it to come to this," principal David DeCarlo said after introducing students to Mr. Metheny, an award-winning jazz guitarist and the new school music teacher. "The children are the ones who are going to suffer. Especially little Sammy Orlovsky, who will have to play those drums where instead of using drumsticks you tap the cymbals with tiny brushes."

The school plans to use its remaining $22.1 million budget to add a sculpture wing to the art department, triple janitors' salaries, and purchase a second computer.
I've been surprised to find out how many of my friends didn't know that The Onion is a fake news site; still, wouldn't it be great if stories like that were true?

Neither rain, nor snow....nor bullets? A Chicago-area man, upset that he was getting his mail too late, went postal on his letter carrier. (Seeing as how the postal worker was shot in the thigh, it would have been amusing if the shooter's name was Jack Bauer.)

Does the punishment fit the crime? (Overseas edition): A man in India atoned for the crime of stoning two dogs to death by marrying another dog (nope, not a typo).

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

No School Musician Left Behind

I found a good article in the paper yesterday about No Child Left Behind and its negative effect on arts education, and, while I couldn't find the exact story online, I did run across an even better one:
Raising school test scores in reading and math remains the biggest hurdle for No Child Left Behind, with many schools nationwide performing at less-than-acceptable levels, according to government proficiency tests.

But while districts scramble to improve on core subjects, educators say the latest subject to be left behind is arts education.

The arts community is hoping to build a partnership with the business community to make music, dance and drawing classes more of a priority in the reauthorization of the education program.

Their pitch: Art classes enhance the creative and innovative thinking that drives entrepreneurs.
I've discussed this before; there are plenty of people in the business world with a degree in music who credit the experience of earning that degree for giving them an edge that "regular" business students don't always enjoy. In one instance, a musician in the finance industry considers his music degree to be an ace in the hole:
This guy got a music degree at UNT, and, although he still performs regularly in several different areas (including a reserve military band), his day job is in the financial industry. While some might think that a non-business background would serve as a disadvantage, he considers it to be his ace in the hole. In a nutshell, he figures that the experience he had getting that degree at a rigorous school like my alma mater puts him head-and-shoulders above 90% of his coworkers, because they've never had to experience the type of grueling schedule and rigourous personal discipline demanded of the students in the music program. I think he's absolutely right.

I'm not exactly sure what my friend has seen (or not seen) in his coworkers, but I know what skills are developed during the course of getting a music degree: time management, multitasking (think of all the things required just to play a piece of music: tone, pitch, rhythm, dynamics, expression, etc.), conquering of performance anxiety, organization of thought, and so on. Few other disciplines develop all these things to such a high degree, especially at the elite, performance-oriented schools like UNT.
It's still an uphill battle to get everyone in business on board with the idea that students cannot live by math and science alone. Back to the original article:
The Business Roundtable and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce agree that arts education would help produce more creative, well-rounded students. According to the chamber, American graduates are beginning to fall behind other countries in creative skills, which could be aided by arts classes.

But the business community isn’t ready yet to move lobbying resources from their top education priorities, which still include rigorous testing standards for NCLB. Those standards, they argue, will produce a more globally competitive workforce.

So mastering the basics must come first, they’ve told [government affairs liaison for the National Dance Education Organization Karen] Bradley. But she counters: “What they really want is to hire people who can think on their feet and have creative skills. Arts are a part of that, but they don’t get it.”
I hope more people in government do start to "get it." The arts are important. Read the whole article, and check out similar ideas here and here. I've also talked at length about the subject in this previous post.

No racket left behind: Conductor Simon Rattle was, well, ratlled recently at a recent Carnegie Hall performance. Having just spoken to the audience about the importance of keeping quiet during a particularly sensitive portion of a Mahler symphony, all was going well until, in a soft closing passage, the sound was disrupted by emergency sirens from a passing vehicle.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Artistry in Armaments?

A friend of mine sent this to me last night; it's from the End User License Agreement for the iTunes software:
You also agree that you will not use these products for any purposes prohibited by United States law, including, without limitation, the development, design, manufacture or production of nuclear, missiles, or chemical or biological weapons.
This got me to thinking: How would you develop a weapon using iTunes? (Insert obligatory joke about a pop song "bombing" here if you wish.) My friend and I were joking about how even if someone could, say, send a song-bomb between computers, we jazzers would still be safe, because nobody would ever bother making one for an audience as small as us; it would be like writing a virus for Macs.

I should have caught that little comedy gem myself the last time I updated iTunes, but I'll admit to skimming those things rather quickly; I hope there's no promise in there about giving up your firstborn kid or anything (sorry, Kev Jr.!). Supposedly, there's more funny stuff in there, so I'll look more carefully next time.

A moooving experience: The driver of a cattle truck decided to stop for lunch--at McDonald's. As he did, the rear gate opened, and the cows took off running. They were eventually caught, but they haven't been made into Quarter Pounders at this point; maybe someone should sign the cows up for the next Chik-Fil-A commercial. (Key quote, from a local police officer: "They didn't like their future.")

Monday, November 12, 2007

Monday Night Football Is Great and All...

...but can it compare to this? Chessboxing!
"Float like a butterfly, sting like Boris Spassky".

An unlikely simile, but one that could well be the motivational motto of Frank Stoldt, who has just been crowned world champion of a unique hybrid sport: chessboxing.

[...]The rules of the game are simple. Bouts are composed of a maximum of 11 alternating rounds of chess and boxing, with checkmates or knock-outs resulting in instant victory.

Fighters can also triumph if the boxing match is stopped by the referee, or if their opponent times-out at the chess board.

Chess rounds last 4 minutes each, and each player has a maximum of twelve minutes to make all their moves.

If there is no winner after 11 rounds of punching and castling, victory is awarded to the fighter with the most points in the boxing ring.
Read the whole thing, and check out the pictures; it's quite intriguing.

When Grandpa goes bad: A 70-year-old man has been arrested for bank robbery. He said he was having financial problems...

Does the punishment fit the crime? A man was jailed for refusing to sign a $15 jaywalking ticket.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Could You Spend a Day Unplugged?

A group of students at Minnesota's Carleton College performed an interesting experiment as part of a documentary they're making: They went without their computers for three weeks in an effort to see how dependent we've all become on the devices, and they challenged their classmates to do the same thing for a mere 24 hours. How did it work out?
Jason Hitchcock was suffering withdrawal pains Wednesday as he entered a room of Carleton College students who had pledged to give up the digital life for 24 hours.

That meant no e-mail. No on-demand TV shows, iTunes or streaming news. Break out the No. 2 pencils and college-ruled paper: No word processing, either.

A political science major, Hitchcock rated his difficulty with computer-free life at a maximum 10 and scribbled "Agh" next to his name on a sign-in sheet.

[...]"I'm finding that this was a stupid pledge to make," said Hitchcock, who ironically and accidentally sported a T-shirt for a website where he is a top user.
I'm pretty sure I'd have a difficult time fulfiling such a pledge. I'm totally sold on modern technology and the conveniences it brings, especially in the area of communication. Sure, some people say that the online thing acts as a substitute for actual in-person relationships, but for me, it has instead been an enhancement of those relationships, sometimes bringing them back from the near-dead. (I can't begin to count the number of old friends--especially those from the pre-Internet era, which for me was early 1997--with whom I've gotten back in touch because of my website, my MySpace or this blog.)

And I'd never get anything done for my job; if I couldn't email with parents back and forth, I'd be forced to rely on phone messages that I would rarely have time to listen to, much less answer (and if you take the cell phone out of the equation, I'd never get those phone calls in the first place). I'd never know when people were going to be late to combo practice at the college; my "office" is shared with many, many other professors, and the poor administrative assistant in there would spend her entire day taking phone messages for everyone. And if I had to depend on the home phone (which I might be getting rid of anyway before long), I'd never be able to schedule social events until I actually got home, which means I'd miss a lot of things. And let's not even get started on having to do papers on typewriters again or sending out snail mail (which for me is pretty much limited to a few bills and my Christmas cards).

I'm sure there are people who get over-involved with their various technological devices to the detriment of real-world relationships, but to someone like myself, it's been a huge help. My mind reels at the efficiency at which I would have gotten things done--not to mention the people with whom i would have kept connected--if all this stuff had been available when I was a kid.

Could you spend a day unplugged? And do you think that technology is, by and large, a help or a hindrance to real-world relationships?

Defense? What defense? In the wildest football game of the weekend, my alma mater, North Texas, put up 62 points in a game and still lost.

My favorite haadline of the week: 6 drunk elephants electrocute themselves.

And my second favorite: Woman in wedding dress drives into pond during pot bust.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

English As She Is Spoke...Badly

A few days ago, I linked to my Fun with the Babelfish post over at Althouse, where they were giving the professor some suggestions for vlog topics. (My post involved taking an entry from this blog, translating it into Portuguese using the Babelfish, and then putting the Portuguese passage back into the Babelfish and re-translating it into English, with hilarious results.)

Another commenter saw my post and alterted me to the existence of this book, English As She Is Spoke, which is widely considered to be one of the worst-translated phrase books ever, thanks in no small part to the authors using literal dictionary translations word-by-word, which messes up the idiomatic phrases a great deal. Here's an example:

ORIGINAL PORTUGUESE: Este lago parece-me bem piscoso. Vamos pescar para nos divertirmos.
BOOK TRANSLATION: That pond it seems me many multiplied of fishes. Let us amuse rather to the fishing.
IDIOMATIC TRANSLATION: This lake seems like it's full of fish. Let's have some fun fishing.

You get the idea. And there's a great quote from Mark Twain in the introduction to a later edition: "Nobody can add to the absurdity of this book, nobody can imitate it successfully, nobody can hope to produce its fellow; it is perfect."

Also, someone did a side-by-side comparison of translations using English As She Is Spoke and the Babelfish, which is also quite funny.

Enjoy this, and maybe I'll do another sequel to the Babelfish post on a "slow blog day" pretty soon (I did a second one about a year ago).

He's flush with pride over this: A South Korean man known as "Mr. Toilet" for his public restroom beautification campaign has built himself a toilet-shaped house.

Here's hoping these birds don't find the Toilet House: A night at the ballet in England was ruined for a theatre full of patrons when pigeons came through a hole in the roof and left some unwanted presents on top of them.

Friday, November 09, 2007

No Room at the Inn Stadium

About a year ago, a friend and I said, "We need to go see a Cowboys game sometime soon." We didn't get around to it last year, and I was amazed when I found out in July that all of this season's home games had already sold out. So you'd best believe that I was even more amazed to read this in the paper today: All of next season's games are now sold out as well:
If you want tickets for any Cowboys game in 2008, forget it.

There are no tickets for the 2008 season the team announced on Thursday. It's the first time in franchise history that has happened. The chance to watch a game in Texas Stadium one final time is one reason for a sellout.
Oh yeah--the last year in Texas Stadium. I knew that, but 2009 just doesn't seem that close yet. Dang. I guess I'll have to visit a scalper professional ticket broker if I want to see anything before the new stadium opens, and I'll have to get on it as far as trying to see something in that first season over there, since half the known universe will be trying to do the same thing.

(At least I've been to a Cowboys game before. I have yet to see a Stars game; in fact, I have yet to go in the doors of the American Airlines Center for any reason.)

So the question of the day is this: If I do find a ticket broker, what should my top price for a ticket be? How much would you spend on a (regular-season) sporting event?

I don't think I'll try to get into a sold-out Cowboys game this way: A guy tried to smuggle an illegal alien into the U.S. (at a Texas border stop, no less) by hiding him in a suitcase.

Meanwhile, this is priced like a stadium concession: A New York City restaurant is offering a $25,000 dessert. (Imagine the tip on that order, if you did 15%...)

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Making a Deal Without the Devil

It's official: The Tampa Bay Devil Rays are now simply the Rays:
rying to reinvent itself, the perennial last-place team officially shortened its nickname to simply "Rays" during a celebration that brought a crowd of about 7,000 to a downtown park Thursday night.
New team colors and uniforms also were unveiled during a fashion show featuring current players, as well as manager Joe Maddon, senior advisor Don Zimmer and former Tampa Bay stars Wade Boggs and Fred McGriff as models.

Navy blue and light blue have replaced green and black as the primary colors. The club's new logo, as well as the home and road uniforms for next season, feature the word "Rays" in navy blue lettering with a light blue shadow.

Team officials and local fans have routinely referred to the club as "Rays" for much of the expansion team's existence, however it wasn't until Stuart Sternberg took over as principal owner two years ago that consideration as given an actual name change.
Ever since the team made its debut, I always thought that the name was pretty weird; why couldn't it have been the Stingrays or something? Shortening it to Rays makes the most sense to me, and it's way better than the other names in contention: Cannons? (No, but it would be fun to see the mascot.) Stars? (Let's keep that exclusive to our hockey team here in Dallas; there are too many duplicate team names between leagues as it is.) Wave? (Sorry, but to me, singular team names are just silly.) Dukes? (No, but it would be fun when people confused them with the great college basketball team from Durham and called them the Duke Blue Devil Rays.)

Now, if they can just work on winning a few games here and there...

It must be true that pot kills brain cells, part 1: A Connecticut man is facing drug charges after walking into a police station puffing on a joint.

It must be true that pot kills brain cells, part 2: A man in McAllen also faces charges after he called the cops to report his weed stolen.

Another really stupid criminal of the week: Not only did a homeless man break into a church in New York state, but he also used their phone to call a sex hotline.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Christmas Time Is Here...Already?

Here we are, just a week after Halloween. Thanksgiving is in two weeks and one day (I think that's the shortest possible interval between those two holidays, if I'm not mistaken). And tonight, I saw my first lighted outdoor Christmas tree of the season (in front of a shopping center, if you're curious). I also went to hear live jazz tonight, and I heard my first Christmas carol quotes of the season tonight ("The Christmas Song" and "Jingle Bells," if you're also curious).

Upon seeing the tree, one of my friends asked, "Can't we just have Thanksgiving first?" Another one pointed out that it wasn't likely that someone would put a lighted turkey in front of their shopping center, but the first friend's point was well taken.

Do holiday decorations go up too early nowadays?

NEXT DAY UPDATE: I noticed at lunch today that Firewheel is decking its own halls...umm, streets, that is. And I saw Christmas lights on a house in Plano on my way back from dinner.

DAY-AFTER-THAT UPDATE: I heard a high school band rehearsing "Sleigh Ride" for the first time this year. Before all is said and done, every band (except the beginners) at every public school where I teach will play this song. I don't know how much of a royalty goes to Leroy Anderson's estate every time a school plays it, but I bet his grandchildren go to really good colleges. (Fun Fact of the day: 2008 is Anderson's centennial year...so maybe it's his great-grandchildren who are attending good schools.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Old Meds? Don't Flush--Turn It Into Mush

Like many people, I had always followed the conventional wisdom that old medicines should be flushed down the toilet instead of just thrown away, so that the drugs couldn't fall into the hands of kids, people rooting through your garbage, or pets (OK, that last one would be falling into the wrong paws, but you get the idea). But now comes word that flushing is a bad idea:
Mixing cough syrup, Vicodin or Lipitor with cat litter is the new advice on getting rid of unused medications. Preferably used cat litter.

It's a compromise, better for the environment than flushing — and one that renders dangerous medicines too yucky to try if children, pets or drug abusers stumble through the trash.

A government experiment is about to send that advice straight to thousands of patients who use potent painkillers, sleeping pills and other controlled substances.

Why? Prescription drug abuse is on the rise, and research suggests more than half of people who misuse those drugs get them for free from a friend or relative. In other words, having leftovers in the medicine cabinet is a risky idea. Anyone visiting your house could swipe them.

[...]Not a cat owner? Old coffee grounds work, or doggie doo, even sawdust. Just seal the meds and the, er, goop in a plastic bag before tossing in the trash.
OK...now I'm curious. Do I still have cat litter in the house? After all, cat died over a year ago. Surely I'm not that much of a pack rat, am I? Pardon me just a second...

(Returns a few moments later) Well, yes I do. A rather big container, as a matter of fact. And a cat brush. I guess I'm set whenever the next one comes around, and I can certainly throw away the old meds that way. And since we're back on the subject at hand, I had no idea that flushing the meds could mess up the water supply, cause fish abnormalities, etc. I guess this is a good thing to know.

There is one more interesting component to this issue--when exactly do you throw stuff away:
"There is a $64,000 question here: Whether people really will get rid of it," says Carol J. Boyd, director of the University of Michigan's Institute for Research on Women and Gender and a well-known specialist on drug diversion.

Say you're prescribed a week's worth of Vicodin for pain after a car crash, and you use only three days' worth. Most people would keep the rest, to avoid paying for more if they suffer serious pain for some other reason later. Boyd isn't sure how to counter that money issue.

But keeping the leftovers makes them accessible for misuse by children, other relatives or visitors. Stealing aside, Boyd's research uncovered that friends and family openly share these pills — "Use this, it helped me" — even with teens and college students, apparently not realizing there could be serious health consequences.
Hmm--good point. I'm not at the point where anyone would go through my medicine cabinet, and I'd never, ever share anything that I had received as a prescription. But I see where they're coming from on this.

One more thing--I wonder if I have any expired meds now; I'll step out for one more second.

(Back again) Hmm, the only thing that's possibly litterworthy is some cold medicine with a July '07 date on it. Guess it's time to make a NyQuil and Fresh Steps "sundae"--yummmm.

So what's in your medicine cabinet at the moment? And if you don't have cat litter, how will you dispose of it?

I bet the school would love to flush this idea: A student at UT-San Antonio--who doubles as an exotic dancer--has petitioned to start a porn club at the school.

It's a good thing they aren't hosting the X-Games: Nearly 3500 Chinese kids have been given the name "Olympics" (or at least the Chinese translation thereof) since it was announced that Beijing was getting next year's Games.

Can we stand one more movie sequel? With the screenwriters on strike, we might have to settle for reruns...so give it up for Snakes in a Tub.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Sure--It's Monday. But Was Yours Like This?

OK, so most people don't like Mondays. But surely your Monday couldn't have been as bad as the days that these people had last week:
  • A man in Memphis had quite an evening last week; he crashed his car, got shot by a homeowner, broke a window in a restaurant and stripped down to his skivvies...all in the course of a few hours. He also has jail time awating him when he gets out of the hospital.

  • A truck in Ohio was pulled over because back wheel was on fire. Then the cops recognized the guy inside from previous run-ins with the law, and found out that he had stolen the truck from the city. (And why was the wheel on fire? Because the guy had forgotten to take off the emergency brake.)

  • A truck driver was busted while trying to haul 1200 pounds of marijuana through a truck weigh station in Michigan. The place he was nabbed was called Grass Lake Township, appropriately enough.

  • And finally, an 11-year-old Malaysian boy got his fingertip severed in a kitchen accident, and the hospital flushed the tip down the toilet after they couldn't reattach it.
So how was your Monday today?

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Daylight Wasting Time Delayed

Today marked the beginning of what I call Daylight Wasting Time. (I trust that you know that by now, or you've been an hour early to everything so far today.) I'm not a fan of the extra hour of daylight in the early morning; as I said in the earlier post,
I think the really depressing part of DWT is that it almost always gets dark before I'm done teaching now. It seems to me that if you don't finish work until after dark, you've worked too long. In a way, I know my days are too long, but at least I can hide behind a little denial if I get home while the sun is still out. DWT blows that all out of the water, and I'm forced to come to terms with my workaholic self. Bleh.
But it was interesting this year to have the start of DWT delayed by one more week. Some people think that this was brought on by the candy manufacturers, who wanted there to be an extra hour of daytime for trick-or-treating. And surely the retail merchants appreciated another week with some daylight left at the end of the workday; that's bound to result in more people going shopping on weekdays.

There were some interesting technological glitches, though, as not every computer system "got the word" about the one-week-later changeover. I had a friend who was an hour late to lunch with me last Sunday because his clock auto-updated a week too soon; I also noticed that the clock tower at Firewheel was running an hour behind last week as well. And something went weird on my cell phone network today, as I had to disable the "auto-update" feature on my phone until just now in order to get the time to read properly.

Making this time change is no small undertaking at Casa de Kev; I had to change my watch, my two alarm clocks, the VCR, the kitchen range, the microwave, the clock on the mantelpiece, the living room light timer, the landscape light timer and the clock in the car. (The computer updated itself, and as I said, the cell phone should have done so.) While it was unseasonably warm today--which really made the early darkness feel weird--the oddest thing I did all day was use the headlights on my way home at 5:00 p.m.

So a little survey here:
  • Which time period do you prefer, Daylight Saving Time or Daylight Wasting TIme? (Yeah, no prejudice at all in that question. Heh.)

  • How many devices did you have to change manually today (or last night)?

  • Did you remember to do so on time? Have you ever forgotten about either the fall or spring time change?
If nothing else, the extra hour of sleep was enjoyable. Hope you spent the 25th hour doing something nice as well.

UPDATE: Here's a time-change primer from MSNBC.

One more reason to dislike Daylight Wasting Time: A study shows that pedestrians walking during evening rush hour are three times more likely to be killed by a car during the first few weeks after the time change. (It's not the darkness itself that causes this, but rather the adjustment to the darkness.)

Scary headline of the week: Man gets probation for assault with pickle.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Pay at the Pump...with a Pinky?

The coolest technological advancement that I've seen so far this week would have to be the devices that are being tested at a number of Shell stations in the Chicago area: Pay at the pump by touch:
Chicago drivers have a new way to pay for gasoline: with their fingertips.

Ten Shell gas stations in the Windy City are testing biometric systems that let consumers walk up to the pump, scan their fingertips on a device and fill up their vehicles. The systems, also installed at Shell convenience stores, are directly linked to customers' checking or credit-card accounts for payment.

"When we talk to customers, they're always looking for ways to make buying gasoline quicker and easier, and always looking for ways to make their transactions faster and more secure," said Chris Susse, Shell's manager of global refueling innovations. "They don't want to carry more cards, kits and keychains, and they want it to be free."

Customers will be able to initially scan their fingerprints at a kiosk inside the gas station and can link payment information either at the store or online.
Count me in as one of those who doesn't need anymore cards in his wallet. There's also no way that you'll never see me using those keytag things; besides not having any room on my key ring to begin with, there's always the possibility that losing your keys could also mean losing personal information if the company that issued the tags wasn't careful enough. So this seems like a cool idea, and I'm glad to see that the company leading the way is the same one from which my dad is retired (and is thus somewhat responsible for putting me through college).

I've always liked these modern conveniences that require carrying less cash, and the touch-to-pay idea seems to be pretty foolproof and secure. I related this story to a few friends when it came out a few days ago, and we were joking that, yes, someone could possibly mug a gas customer and make him/her put a finger up against the device, but we concluded that this was highly unlikely.

Granted, there will always be people who are unnerved by something like this:
Sunflower Market, a Chicago grocery store, also has Pay By Touch systems installed. About 2 percent of its customers signed up for the payment option, said the store's manager, Debbie Britton.

"I think it scares people," Britton said. "They're more confused about the whole system. Some of them say, 'Well, now the FBI can find me.'"
If they're really concerned about the FBI finding them, they may have more problems than paying for gas. And as long as the system refuses to share personal information with third parties--as the Pay By Touch system has promised not to do--the system should be more secure than other forms of payment. After all (detective movies aside), you can't steal a fingerprint.

Would you use a device like this?

Another cool technological innovation: A 9-year-old Iowa boy has invented a device that raises and lowers a toilet seat in a manner similar to that of a step-on wastebasket. (Key quote, from the young inventor, Jake Wulf: "My mom was getting mad at me for forgetting to put the toilet seat down and she was falling in." Well, yeah, but ya know, Mom...you could've looked first, right?)

And a scary innovation: Getting one's ears surgically altered to look like Mr. Spock's. Supposedly, it enhances the music listening experience, but --desirable as that would be--it wouldn't be worth it if I had to become a faux Vulcan in the process.

OK, one more cool one: Aerosol Pancakes (which, as Dave Barry would say, would be a good name for a rock band).

Friday, November 02, 2007

Pictures and Cake

At the high schools where I teach, the week is usually outlined on some sort of dry-erase board, and earlier in the week, I noticed that one of them has an interesting event for today: Pictures and cake. Not only is that an unusual activity for band class, but it also sounds like a Beatles song (or maybe even a Beatles spoof band like The Rutles).

Even though I'm not a lyricist (I've been writing instrumental music since eighth grade, but words aren't my strong suit unless they're being spoken or blogged), I could completely hear this song forming in my head this week:

Pictures and cake, down by the lake
That's what I miss most about you
Now I lie awake; made just one mistake
And so I must live without you.


You get the idea. I'd also post the melody I had to go with it if I had the proper software, but...meh. At any rate, any budding wordsmiths out there should feel free to help me finish the song in the comments if you so desire. (Extra bonus points will go to anyone who can insert a specifically British reference, such as "the Earl of Glastonbury," into the lyrics.)

UPDATE: Oddly enough, the school didn't have the cake after all--just pictures; evidently, the store messed up the order, so they'll have to wait till Monday for the cake.

Meet Mr. and Mrs. Al K. Hall: A man in Michigan was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving; his wife was arrested for the same offense only a few hours later.

Drillin' and spillin'....the patient's blood, that is: A dentist is being sued by a patient after the bit from his drill snapped off while he was working on said patient, lodging near her eye. (Why did it break? Perhaps because he was disco dancing to a song on the radio at the time.)

Scooters and windmills: The Dutch government has renounced its ban on Segways, allowing the scooters to be ridden on roads and bike lanes.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Want to See Costumes? Just Look a LIttle Higher (Ed)

As I noted yesterday, the concept of the Halloween costume has pretty much disappeared from the public schools, and for good (if most unfortunate) reason: If people are wearing masks and such, people who shouldn't be in a school could easily sneak in there. It's just one of those "signs of the times," and I don't see it changing anytime soon.

But it surprised me quite a bit yesterday to see so many costumes at the college. Sure, there had always been a few, but the would-be trick-or-treaters were out in force this year. (The funniest one I saw was someone who went as Jay from the "Jay and Silent Bob" movie.) So I guess all that repression in secondary school leads to expression once everyone hits college. (And most amusing was my trip to UNT for Lab Band Night at the Syndicate, where virtually every performer--and quite a bit of the audience--was in costume. The funniest one I saw was this guy dressed as a giant banana.)

What was the most creative costume you saw this year?

Fear Factor 101: A Vanderbilt University professor sets up a fear lab each year at his house for Halloween; he uses it to gauge the fear of kids, who must complete a scary obstacle course of sorts before they are rewarded with candy.

Don't charge me, bro: A University of Florida student who was Tased after refusing to stop asking John Kerry questions (and coining the phrase "Don't tase me, bro" in the process) will not face charges for his actions.

And it's the Big House for the plowjacker: Meanwhile, a Green Bay man was sentenced to prison for stealing a snowplow at knifepoint. During the efforts to arrest him, he was Tased three times and bitten by a poilce dog.