Friday, February 29, 2008

Leap Day

Since February 29 only happens once every four years, I feel an obligation to post even during a fairly busy week.

The last time this day occurred, I was a fairly new blogger, so I got into the act as well. One of the biggest parts of the post was a tribute to the old family dog, Sassy, who was born on a Leap Day. (A day later, I would have a little fun running the Sassy story back and forth through the Babelfish translation engine a few times.)

But as entertaining as it was to have a Leap Dog (a status to which she would occasionally live up by jumping back and forth between the sectional couches), I always wondered what it would be like to be a person whose birthday only technically occurred every four years. The 2004 post told of a guy born in 1908 who was celebrating his "24th" birthday (I wonder if he made it to both the quarter-century and century mark simultaneously yesterday), and this afternoon, a friend told me about his English teacher in middle school who celebrated her "16th" birthday while he was in her class; we figured out that she still wouldn't be "old enough to drink" yet. Heh.

Have you ever known a Leap Day person? Do they handle their odd birthday with humor, or is it a source of annoyance to them? And has their often-nonexistent birthday ever fouled up a computer database or anything?

Here's hoping that the extra day is going well for you.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

A 21-Candle Salute

One of my really good friends is turning 21 today; it's too bad that he has a major exam in an early class tomorrow morning and will likely be Cooped up studying instead of being able to celebrate quite yet.

Happy Birthday, Coop!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Quite a Site (Not) to Behold

My website is inaccessible from its usual URL at the moment; it's a long story as to why, an odd amalgam of old emails expiring, appropriate entities not contacting me in advance of said expiration, and so on. For the moment, if you want to visit that site, go here, and I hope to have the hosting problems solved shortly.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Retiring? What's That?

An article in today's DMN notes that many more people are forgoing retirement these days:
Cecil Lawrence's friends tease him that he's crazy to work at his age. The 90-year-old glass salesman just laughs and suggests that they're even crazier to sit at home and watch soap operas.

"I guess they're content to be old folks," he said.

Like Mr. Lawrence, about 2.7 million Americans are skipping retirement and working into their 70s, 80s and even 90s. Most remain on the job, retirement experts say, not for the money but for the personal satisfaction.

The lifelong workers still account for only 10 percent of their generation, but the proportion of over-70 Americans who have "retired retirement" has edged up since the 1990s as people live longer, enjoy better health and hold less physically demanding jobs.

And the number will only increase with the baby boomers. Seventeen percent say they expect to work indefinitely, though financial necessity will be a bigger reason for their passing up Golden Pond, according to the MetLife Mature Market Institute.
(I like the name of that institute. Thanks to their TV commercials over the years, I'm picturing an elderly Snoopy getting a lift to the top of his doghouse or something.)

And speaking of finance, a widespread adoption of this practice would seem to be good for the economy:
Postponing retirement by just five years would boost the average worker's annual retirement income by 56 percent and add $1 trillion a year to tax coffers by 2045, enough to erase Social Security's deficit, says the Urban Institute's Retirement Policy Center.
That works for me. Anybody else willing to step up to the plate?

Of course, there are a few obstacles:
Older workers bear the burden of convincing businesses that they can remain productive, said William Zinke, a human resources executive who's created a nonprofit group, the Center for Productive Longevity, to change employer attitudes.

"Although age discrimination is illegal, it exists far more than we'd like to think," he said.

Many employers view older workers as particularly expensive, either because they demand higher salaries or incur more health care costs than younger workers, said Gordon Mermin, a policy analyst with the Urban Institute.

But by the time workers reach their 70s, many aren't looking for traditional health benefits, because they're covered by Medicare.
I would hope that our society would someday return to the mindset of older people being a valuable resource and not just a group of people to be ignored or virtually thrown away. Grandpa still has something to offer, and it's not necessarily as a Wal-Mart greeter.

Read the whole thing, as well as some profiles of people who never stopped working.

I think I've said this before, but, as a musician, I have no intention of ever fully retiring. I have older friends in their 70's (and beyond) who still gig regularly, and I've been blessed with the chance to perform with some amazing musicians (Clark Terry and Jimmy Heath) who were nearing 80 at the time. I've often joked that every musician's secret fantasy is to die on the bandstand, at a ripe old age and after a really good solo, and that's not too far from what I'd actually like to happen a long time from now. But in the meantime, this creative person sees no reason to stop creating just because the clock seems to tell other people to stop working.

So when do you plan to retire? Or do you?

This pit stop was the pits: A man in Appleton, Wisconsin was arrested for relieving himself in front of the police station. (One of my good friends goes to school up there, but he hadn't heard this story until I told him just now. He also noted that it was probably around 10 degrees out there at the time; what was that guy at the police station thinking?)

Reeboks for Rover, Fila's for Fido: Police dogs in Dusseldorf, Germany will soon required to wear shoes while on duty--not for cosmetic reasons, but due to the high rate of paw injuries.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Another Sunday Smorgasbord

It's been a busy week, so there's no telling if the unfinished posts from the past few days will get done tonight, but I will dish up a generous helping of the odd stories I've noticed throughout the week:
  • A man in Boston received a postcard that was intended for a previous owner of his house. That in itself is not unusual, but what is odd is that the postcard was sent in 1929.

  • A bus driver took the end of her shift a bit too seriously in nearby Corsicana, abandoning her bus and its load of passengers at a rest stop when her time was up. Her passengers? Recently-paroled former prisoners. (Surprisingly, nobody left the area.)

  • An Israeli woman recently applied for a new government-issued ID card. When asked her age, she said she's 120; if that's true, she would become the new "world's oldest person" in the Guinness Book of Records. (The current holder of that record, an Indiana woman, is a mere pup at 114.)

  • A school in Sweden has banned students from wearing striped or spotted clothing because it supposedly gives one of the teachers headaches.

  • Parking: Leave it to the professionals.

  • It's not your grandmother's public library anymore: Branches in southeastern Michigan are hosting video game tournaments (including the noisy Guitar Hero), in an effort to attract new teenage patrons.

  • How much are 301 pennies worth? A lot more than three bucks, if they're rare enough.

  • In an effort to combat high divorce rates, the pastor of a Florida church has issued a challenge to his (married) parishioners: Have as much sex as possible for the next thirty days.

  • A California man, bicycling home from a visit to a taco stand, was robbed of his tacos by a gun-wielding assailant.

  • Students doing a biology project for a University of Michigan class were supposed to grow "herbs, vegetables, annuals and perennials" in the campus greenhouse. But one, umm, enterprising student managed to mix in some pot plants as well.

  • And finally, a South Carolina man went to the police station to try to get back some money that was seized from him during a recent drug bust. But he probably shouldn't have driven there in a stolen car.
I'll post an update when the rest of last week's posts are done.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Project Completed

This morning, right before playing racquetball, I finally completed the iTunes Listening Project that I blogged about a while back. It took me about a week shy of five months to listen to all 1800 songs (some of which were added to the process). Save for a few Aebersolds and other listening tracks, everything in my iTunes now has an entry in the "Last Played" column, and I've had a good time listening to whatever I wanted to today. Perhaps another Shuffle post is in order before long.

I should catch up on this week's unfinished entries tomorrow, and I'll have a gigantic Sunday Smorgasbord of all the short news stories I've found this week but haven't had time to blog yet.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Union of Me and Them is This

As you know, I'm not a big fan of unions, but I totally agree with the Texas teachers' union on this point:
Texas teacher groups Monday urged a special state committee to ease up on high-stakes testing that they said has forced schools to focus more on test preparation and school ratings than on learning.

All four of the state's teacher organizations asked the panel – made up of legislators and residents – to consider major changes in Texas' school accountability system.

The system annually rates campus and district performance based on test scores and graduation rates.

"We have a system that has gone astray," said Eric Hartman of the Texas Federation of Teachers.

"A system that was originally created to identify problems has turned into something where the measurement tool is an end in itself.

"The time devoted to testing and test preparation is swallowing the time teachers spend dealing with students directly."
These folks have it exactly right. The only people who really benefit from the current obsession with standardized testing are the test-making companies themselves. As i've said before, we need to remember what the "A" in Texas' TAKS test stands for: Assessment. Give the test at the beginning of the school year and use its results to determine what areas need to be emphasized. It should not be used as a comprehensive exam, and it should not be tied to graduation.

I'm still getting caught up from TMEA, but I had to chime in and point out that, if people whose ideas are often at the polar opposite of mine also think the overreliance on standardized testing is bad, there's probably a pretty broad consensus here.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Too Pooped to Post

On this Monday-est of Mondays after TMEA (it would have been nice if our schools had taken Presidents Day as a holiday this year), I'm going to attempt to get seven full hours of sleep for once. I tried to post something first, but I'm nearly falling asleep at the keyboard here, so I'll finish yesterday's TMEA summary tomorrow, along with some new stuff. Good night until then.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

San Antonio Rose-Colored Sky

Anatomy of a sunset, as taken from the top of the Rivercenter garage:




I thought the third one, with the building's spire lit up, was especially cool; it was taken about half an hour after the first two. (A full report on TMEA after I get back tomorrow.)

Funny Defaced Sign of the Day

I got a kick out of the plaque that's next to the elevator in my hotel:

It obviously used to say that you should use the stairs unless you are told otherwise, but the way it reads now offers a little gallows humor--it implies that, if you're too old to use the stairs, you might be in quite a fix. (I'm surprised that nobody attempted to finish the now-altered sentence with "YOU'RE SCREWED" or something like that in the bottom space.)

Friday, February 15, 2008

Question of the Day

SAN ANTONIO--Still a busier TMEA than usual. But I've noticed something in my stay at the hotel that has prompted me to pose a question:

In a hotel that has both an elevator and stairs, is it lazy (and maybe even discourteous) for (at least apparently able-bodied) people to get on at the second floor just to go down to the first floor? (I guess that really would apply to any trip of a single floor, but I've seen the 2-to-1 thing more than anything else.) If you don't have a luggage cart or something, why stop the elevator one floor shy of the bottom for those who may have been riding down from the very top. And couldn't most people use the exercise?

Responses are welcome in the comments.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Quote of the Day

SAN ANTONIO--It's been a busier-than-usual TMEA so far, but I had to pass along a funny quote from this morning.

As I've mentioned in previous years, our hotel is pretty much out in the boonies in terms of where the convention activities are located, but there's a reasonably reliable streetcar system that goes around town for a buck a pop (with a free return trip if you come back within two hours). It only takes dollar bills, so it seems like many people here are forever asking the front desk for change.

When i was doing that this morning, one of the college students who's here with me made a crack that went something like, "Now if you hadn't gone to that strip club, you wouldn't need more dollars." (Needless to say, such things are not amongst my forms of entertainment down here.) The desk clerk laughed, and as he counted out the dollars to me, he came up with a good crack of his own: "Don't spend it all on one girl." Heh.

More tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

We're Here

SAN ANTONIO--We arrived here with no problems today; the slow people and the big trucks seemed to be out en masse on I-35 on the way down, but it's all good. There were a lot of things to do once we got here, but at least there was time to have dinner on the Riverwalk on a gorgeous evening. The convention starts in earnest tomorrow, and I look forward to seeing so many of my old friends and wandering the mammoth exhibit halls once again. A longer report tomorrow, no doubt.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Travel Advisory

I'm off to TMEA in the morning. I should have daily posts from San Antonio, and maybe I can even use that time to catch up on things that I've wanted to talk about but haven't had the time. As always, this mini-vacation is coming along at just the right time, and I'm looking forward to a week of fun, food and friends. To my fellow Texas music educators, I'll see you down there.

Monday, February 11, 2008

It's Upsetting That They're Calling This an "Upset"

First things first: My hat is off to jazz legend Herbie Hancock, who evidently surprised a lot of people last night by taking home the Album of the Year Grammy for River: The Joni Letters, his tribute to the music of Joni Mitchell. In doing so, he beat such favorites as Kanye West, Amy Winehouse and Foo Fighters. He had already taken home similar honors in the contemporary jazz category, but no jazz instrumentalist had won the top album honor since Stan Getz did so in 1965. Hancock noted as much in his acceptance speech:
"It's been 43 years … I want to thank the academy for courageously breaking the mold this time."
I agree, and it's really a shame that it's seen as "breaking the mold" for what could be considered the truest American music to come home with such a victory.

As Hancock noted a few days before the ceremony in another article,
"It's pretty strange on one hand," Mr. Hancock, 67, says by phone from his LA home. "Here is this music that is constantly evolving and growing, that's improvised, that's an American creation. That bridge is the virtuosity of classical music and the soul and heart and feeling of the blues ... and only [nominated for Best Album] twice in 50 years. I'm glad I was one of them."
As I've said before, I haven't paid a whole lot of attention to the Grammys in quite a while, ever since I found out in college that all the voters don't necessarily even get to hear everything they're voting on unless the record label sends it to them (though I suppose that issue has been rendered mostly moot with the advent of mass email and the mp3). Mark Stryker of the Detroit Free Press calls Hancock's win a victory for the whole world of jazz:
I stopped watching the Grammy Awards a long time ago when it became clear that the music I care the most about — jazz and classical — were treated with about as much respect as a fire hydrant at a dog show. The jazz and classical awards aren’t given out on the broadcast anymore, and whenever artists from these genres sneak into one of the feature performance spots, the results are almost always a kitsch fest.

So I was stunned when I woke up Monday to headlines that pianist Herbie Hancock beat out such pop music juggernauts as Kanye West, Amy Winehouse, Vince Gill and the Foo Fighters on Sunday to win album of the year at the 50th Grammy Awards. Hancock’s sublime tribute to Joni Mitchell, “River: The Joni Letters” became the first jazz album to win best album since Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto won for “Getz/Gilberto” in 1965.

In the pop music world, Hancock’s win was a bigger upset than the Giants beating the Patriots in the Super Bowl. For jazz fans, it’s more like the American hockey team beating the Russians at the 1980 Olympics. Do you believe in miracles? Yes!
Read the whole thing. But I'll add one more quote that shines some light on why Stryker thinks this victory is good for jazz as a whole:
Only blind optimists or na├»ve fools would interpret Hancock’s victory Sunday as a harbinger of a resurgence of jazz. But, as my financial adviser likes to say when I complain about single-digit returns on an investment, it’s better than a poke in the eye. Hancock, one of the most influential pianists in modern jazz, is on the mind of millions of people today. A lot of them might be moved to buy the album, and some might even be inspired to dig into Hancock’s history, where they will discover his landmark albums from the ’60s like “Maiden Voyage” and his pitch perfect contributions to the Miles Davis Quintet. Amazon.com reported Monday afternoon that "River" had shot up its Exclusive sales chart from No. 50 to No. 1.

How Hancock managed to win Sunday is an intriguing question. It’s possible that the overwhelming favorites West and Winehouse split the vote among the academy’s trendy hip-hop and alternative factions, allowing a dark horse like Hancock to amass a coalition large enough to win.
Hey--however it happened, there'll be no complaints from me. And I'll let Hancock himself have the last word on the overall state of jazz in the States vs. abroad:
"America today is very much in the short-term focus. Whatever is the now and whatever makes the most noise at the moment is what everybody pays attention to. The rest of the world is not like that. They still embrace what they feel is quality, no matter when it first reached their shores."
Those who are immersed in American pop music culture have no idea what they're missing. Hopefully, Hancock's win will help change that for some people.

They like Mike: Speaking of the Grammys, Michael Brecker was a multiple winner, garnering Best Instrumental Jazz Album, Individual or Group, for his posthumous masterpiece, Pilgrimage, as well as Best Jazz Instrumental Solo for "Anagram" off that recording. It's a shame that people aren't always so honored while they're still with us, but at least his name is still getting out there.

Other locals didn't make a Denton this ceremony: I was sorry to see that musicians from my former home of Denton didn't fare too well last night; my old schoolmate Steve Wiest lost out to Vince Mendoza in the instrumental arranging category, and both Brave Combo (a Denton fixture) and Bubba Hernandez (a former fellow KNTU DJ and a former member of Brave Combo) lost out in the polka category. And the third release from former UNTer Norah Jones didn't even get nominated this time...

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Do Clothes Make the Professor?

Instapundit links to an article at Inside Higher Ed where the writer, Erik Jensen, calls for a uniform dress code for professors:
Faculty members shall, when on college grounds or on college business, dress in a way that would not embarrass their mothers, unless their mothers are under age 50 and are therefore likely to be immune to embarrassment from scruffy dressing, in which case faculty members shall dress in a way that would not embarrass my mother.

That’s it. Brevity works. Unlike good clothing, a statute can’t cover everything.

Anyway, this is just a draft: Maybe your mother is better than mine for this purpose; the phrase “my mother” probably doesn’t work for a statute of general application; perhaps the key age for mothers should be 70 (80?). Whatever figure is used, it will have to be adjusted periodically to capture changes (downward) in mothers’ (other than my mother’s) standards.

So change what you wish, and then interpret the UUC reasonably. When in doubt about appropriate dress, check what people used to wear: it’s usually safe, as Arthur Benson noted, to dress in the “style-before-last.” For men, Fussell’s default rule works: “You can’t go wrong with the classic navy blue blazer and khakis.”

Sanctions for violators? I guess not. I’d like to take ‘em to the cleaners, but you’d wind up with idiots charging breaches of academic freedom. At a minimum, however, violators ought to be dressed down in public for dressing down in public.
He also devotes an entire section to ties, which he thinks are important (for men, at least).

After reading the whole thing, I (along with more than a few of the commenters to the post) am having trouble deciding whether the guy is serious or not. But either way, some of the comments are enlightening, and many are amusing. Here's a sample:
  • "I am OK with a law professor dressing in a suit. After all, they make the $100,000k+ that enable them to afford dry cleaning. If we are such a middle class profession, then maybe we should make middle class wages."--rml

  • "I think requiring a tie is a bit much. Before working in academia I had to wear a white shirt and tie every single day. Guess what I do not ever wear now?

    I think it also depends on the discipline someone teaches. I don’t thi8nk I could take a business prof seriously wearing jeans nor an art prof in a suit."--Jeff

  • "I sincerely hope that this treatise was written tongue planted firmly in cheek. We in the Art Department believe in substance over style. I can visualize the pottery instructor being found dead because his tie got caught in the potter’s wheel, or my constant replacement of ties because the tie dips into the fixer in the darkroom thus ruining the developer when it dips into that chemical. The painter could, I guess, use the tie to apply paint in a creative new way or after several semesters the professor could just frame the ties and call them Expressions on the Milieu of Fashion. Not every professor teaches in a lecture hall. We teach in studios where it gets a little messy from time to time. Please do not paint me with your ideas of style over substance. "--Don Bevirt

  • "I never understood why tying a rag around your neck is considered good looking. It baffles me. I care more about a person’s productivity and attention to detail then if they are wearing a tie or not. I hope that I am judged and evaluated not by my appearance, but the work I do. This whole dress code thing is SO superficial and outdated."--Jim

  • "If indeed 50% of college courses are taught by adjuncts making 50% per course of the income of a tenured professor, how exactly are those underpaid teacher-slaves supposed to pay for the same attire that well-paid businessmen and businesswomen can afford?"--get a grip
You get the idea. (And certainly there were plenty of commenters who seemed to agree with the author--assuming he was serious--that professors should always look like this, but I posted a good sampling of the ones with which I agreed.)

As a music professor, I'm not usually expected to dress like, say, a law professor; indeed, if I showed up to rehearsal in a coat and tie, the students would probably either laugh or be concerned about who died. (They probably wouldn't think I had a gig, since the attire for that tends to be all-black these days.) I tend to fall squarely in the "substance over style" camp, and I'd hate to be judged on attire alone (click the "Dress Codes" link at the bottom of this post for my previous thoughts on this subject). But I usually take a middle ground anyway, clad in khaki pants (OK, usually with cargo pockets--sorry, Mom!) and a button-down shirt or at least a polo. And while you might catch me in Birkenstocks or the like on a really warm day, I'm usually in those half-dressy, sneaker-soled things that look like bowling shoes. (As I've said before, I'm very thankful that someone came up with shoes that look nice on top without destroying one's feet in the process.) I'm probably not the best-dressed male prof in my department, but I'm by no means the most dressed-down one either.

So I'd venture a guess that most everyone who reads this blog has at least attended college. Did what the professor was wearing ever enhance or detract from what he/she was trying to teach? If so did it make a difference in what department he/she was teaching? Would an overdressed professor in the arts arouse suspicion, or should everyone go back to the "tweed jacket with elbow patches" look? Fire away in the comment section.

Blowing out the candles: Happy 7th birthday to my oldest nephew, Noah. An account of the morning of his birth can be found here.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Another Saturday Smorgasbord

Another helping of news that I haven't had time to post yet this week:Tomorrow: The latest in a series of dress-code posts, but this one hits me right where I live work.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Tuesday Was Not Super for Texas

I pretty much have a self-imposed rule to never discuss politics per se on this blog (although it's probably fairly easy to tell where I lean on certain things just from the nature of things that I post about here), but I do feel the need to chime in about the political process itself: Since Texas didn't take part in the "Super Duper Tuesday" set of primary elections (even though some people thought it was, both parties are quickly running out of candidates who will still be in the race by the time we hit the polls on March 4, and to me, there's something wrong with that.

The primary system has become way too spread-out, and something ought to be done. I like the idea expressed by some that the nation ought to be divided up into four regions that would hold their primaries in consecutive weeks. Some have suggested that the regions be divided up as northeast, northwest, southeast, southwest, and that's fine by me; others have suggested that the quarters be done by population, so that the small states would keep their early influence and build to a big finish in the fourth week of primaries. It wouldn't bother me at all if the whole thing didn't start until around March (under this plan, they would be done by April). It just seems ridiculous that some of the races are all but over by the time that people in a huge state such as Texas get to vote.

And I heard something on the radio yesterday (to which I can't find a link anywhere) that really bugged me: Longtime Dallas County elections administrator Bruce Sherbet was pointing out the fact that the ballots for March 5 were printed some time ago, so they contained the names of several people who have since left the race: Fred Thompson, John Edwards, Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, and so on. Sherbet also hoped that nobody would vote for these non-candidates.

But I strongly disagree. In a situation where certain races are practically locked up by the time they get to a certain state, there's nothing wrong (IMHO) with the voters in that state using the primaries to send a message to the national party by casting a ballot for someone who's no longer a candidate. And in a truly just system, anyone who was receiving federal campaign funds shouldn't be allowed to drop out of a race until all the primaries are done.

I don't expect everyone to agree with me on this, but as long as we're going to allow the two "major" parties to control as much of the process as they do, there should be a few ground rules to guarantee that as many people as possible have their say in who the nominee gets to be.

Back to regular stuff tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

One Last Chance To Do Fry Street Properly

Here's the latest news from the Save Fry Street MySpace:
THIS THURSDAY, February 7th @ 7pm
@ The Village Church, 1106 W. Oak

After a month or so of silent defeat, the United Equities crew has reorganized themselves in an attempt to salvage favor in the eyes of the city they divided and demolished. They have organized this meeting because, as they insist, they "are interested in your input regarding our project and would like to give you an opportunity to ask questions that you may have with regard to the development of this property."

It's interesting to note that a couple of council members denied the request from United Equities for the drive thru because the developers did not call a neighborhood meeting of affected residents.

They can check that one off their to-do list, once they meet at The Village (ironic) Church this Thursday. A film crew will be there, so feel free to bring costumes, signs, paper airplanes, etc. Anything positive and creative. Show the top dogs at United Equities what Fry Street is really about - liberty, diversity, culture and community.
For background on the drive-thru story, go here, and you can click the "Fry Street" tag at the bottom of this post for everything else that I've written on the subject.

I can't attend the meeting due to teaching commitments, but this was my reply to the Save Fry Street MySpace bulletin--what I'd say if I were there:
The biggest problem with this development (besides taking this long to consult with the neighbors in the first place) is that a generic chain drugstore is not an appropriate "gateway" to the university. If you had any sense of history, you would realize that the large vacant building at the southwest corner of Oak and Welch (most recently a FEMA call center, I think), used to be the home of an Eckerd Drugs...which has since been taken over by CVS in this area. That is where the CVS belongs; refurbish that building to your heart's content, and I bet nobody would object too loudly to a drive-thru on that corner, much farther away from campus foot traffic.

At the Hickory/Fry intersection, if you truly want to integrate this development into the community, your first "1920's-style building" would be a virtual replica of the buildings you demolished, and some of the restaurants would be there--including The Tomato. Places to meet and eat would serve as the proper entry point, not a drugstore. You can't undo the past year, but I would bet that this would be what most of the community would want you to do to start getting back in our good graces. If you still want your gateway to campus to be something that serves only your needs and not ours, I would ask that you please sell this property to someone who cares more about the community. Thank you.
I invited the Save Fry Street folks to pass that on if there's an opportunity to do so.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Texans, Step Up to the (License) Plate

It's Super Tuesday, and Texans still have a chance to vote on something, even if our own primary is still a month away--we can vote on a new license plate design that would come out next year (we could also decide to keep the current design):
All of the plates feature the state name on the top and “The Lone Star State” on the bottom. They are divided into four categories, a representation of how Texans see the state:

Traditional Texas. The plate features blue highlights with a gold Lone Star, and bold, red “TEXAS.”

Lone Star Texas. A white Lone Star stands out in the top, left-hand corner of the plate. Wide brushes of red and blue punctuate the Texas sky on the top half of the plate along with a low-lying mountain range on the bottom.

Natural Texas. The entire plate is covered with wildflowers.

New Texas. This red, white and blue plate features a composite of modern landmark buildings from several Texas cities.

My Texas. This is the current general-issue license plate that was introduced in 2000. It features icons of the state, including a horse, space shuttle, and oil derrick.

All of the plate designs were created by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT).
To see the designs and vote on them, go to www.txdot.gov. (Even if the current design wins, the new plates will go to seven characters; evidently, we've run out of combinations of six letters and numbers like we have now, which is probably why I was instructed to keep my old plates and use them on my new car, as I mentioned a few days ago.)

Which one of the new designs, if any, do you like?

Monday, February 04, 2008

Help Out Some Brothers In Need

My fraternity doesn't have an awful lot of on-campus houses, but the one at illinois Wesleyan has been there for decades. So I was quite dismayed to read over the weekend that their house fell victim to a fire last week:
A fire early Sunday morning at Illinois Wesleyan University’s Phi Mu Alpha Fraternity heavily damaged the rear section of the three-story building, but all 15 residents escaped unharmed.

The university has been able to find alternative housing for all the students, said Darcy Greder, assistant dean of student affairs, who met with the students.

“I started the meeting by saying ‘I have some good news and some bad news. The bad news is the fire, but the good news is we’re all here to talk about it,” Greder said.

The students awoke to the sound of smoke alarms about 2:30 a.m. Sunday and were able to evacuate the building at 303 E. Chestnut St.

Capt. Gary Shuska of the Bloomington Fire Department said firefighters arriving on the scene went through all three floors to make sure all the students had escaped.

“The fire apparently started somewhere in the rear basement, but it spread through the walls into the third floor,” Shushka said, “Smoke got up into the third, but the fire was mostly contained to the basement and first floor,” he said.
More information here (and do your best to ignore about half the commenters on both posts, who try to lump our organization in with other stereotypcial Greek organizations--"those rich frat boys got what they deserved," etc.).

And if you'd like to help them:
Illinois Wesleyan University has established an aid fund for the Alpha Lambda Chapter's recovery. Donations are accepted as follows:

Make check payable to "Illinois Wesleyan University" and write "Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia Aid Fund" on the memo line.

Mail the check to:
Illinois Wesleyan University
1312 Park Street
Bloomington, IL 61702-2900
I wish you all the best, my brothers; a lot of us across the country are with you in spirit.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Rating the Ads

Since the Super Bowl game itself wasn't all that interesting until the last quarter, it makes even more sense to talk about the commercials, like we did last year. I'd say that my favorites would be:
  • The Budweiser ad with the Dalmatian training the Clydesdale, a la Rocky

  • The Bridgestone ad with the computer-animated squirrel (actually, their other commercial was pretty funny too, even if it would be scary to run into the likes of Alice Cooper and Richard Simmons on a darkened road)

  • The ad with Shaq playing a jockey (as often happens in the Super Bowl, the ads have little to do with the products, so I had to think for a moment to recall that it was for Vitamin Water)

  • The Coke ad with the Stewie and Underdog parade balloons fighting over a Coke bottle balloon

  • And of course, I liked the NFL promo about the football player who started out playing the oboe.
And which ones didn't do anything for me? The ones with people dancing--the guy trying to start the car, the dancing iguanas, and the Pepsi one where everyone ended up doing the head-jerk like in A Night at the Roxbury. I also was puzzled by the Salesgenie.com commercials; I'm pretty much the polar opposite of a fan of political correctness, but I was surprised that a company that I'm guessing few people had ever heard of before tonight made its national debut with some cartoons that exaggerated ethnic stereotypes like that. But if you could get past the "can they really do that on TV anymore?" mode of thinking, they were kind of funny, and the animation on the one with the pandas reminded me of John Kricfalusi of Ren & Stimpy fame, and that would explain the "edginess," I suppose.)

And I missed the silent commercial; I was reading a magazine during the less-interesting parts of the game, and I guess it just slipped by me unnoticed.

If you missed one or all of them, or just want to see one again, MySpace has them all in one place. Which ones did you like best?

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Having No Tag Was Taking Its Toll On Me

As of this moment, it feels like Kevmobile 2.0 is truly accessorized. My registration sticker came in the mail today, so I was able to affix it to my windshield and attach the license plates, and, with those two things in place, finally start using my TollTag again. I gave a mini-rantlet about that a few weeks ago, but let me say it again: There should be a way for existing customers to use their tags right away when they get a new car (and oddly enough, when I changed my information on the NTTA's website, there was a checkbox for a temporary tag, with an expiration date listed...but if they've changed that policy, they haven't done too good of a job in getting that information out to the customers).

I hadn't been aware of it until this weekend, but evidently, there's a new state law here in Texas that requires people buying new cars to use their old plates as long as they are under a certain number of years old. This makes sense to me, especially considering the possible alternative--having your plates stay with the car, the new owner of that car committing some sort of infraction, and, thanks to a non-updated database somewhere, having that trouble incorrectly being attributed to you. At least that's one less set of numbers and letters to remember. And with that, it feels like the car is truly mine now.

I'd been avoiding the tollways as much as I could for the past three weeks (which is hard to do when you live near one), so now, I feel like I can really enjoy my new car to the fullest. The mini-roadtrip to Denton was enjoyable, and I look forward to taking it on even longer excursions in the near future.

We haven't had our Phil of winter yet: In case you haven't heard, the famed groundhog Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow this morning, which means that we're supposed to have six more weeks of winter. Anyone want to predict whether or not we'll have a snow day this year?

Blowing out the candles: Happy birthday to my friend and fraternity brother Kevin in Houston.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Five Years Later...

...we still remember the Columbia Seven. Post your reminiscences in the comments if you'd like--especially if you were here in Texas and saw it go past.

Travel advisory: Off to Denton to run a fraternity workshop that lasts till mid-afternoon, then back home for a gig (private function) tomorrow evening. Tomorrow night's sleep will feel great...

Blowing out the candles: Happy birthday to my friend and fraternity brother James.