Monday, August 31, 2009

Ongoing Nostalgia for Newspapers

A few months back, I wrote here about how much I like newspapers and how much I will miss them if they continue on their path to extinction.

Another facet of the printed newspaper that I really like is the ubiquity of the low-tech newspaper box in virtually all urban centers. They are easy to find, easy to operate, and hearken back to what I always imagine to have been a simpler time.

One thing I like about them is the elegance of their effective design. A stack of papers is set inside with one "display" paper propped in the window. The display version lets each passerby know what is for sale in the box. When the stack is depleted, the last customer buys the display paper and exposes the empty box which effectively deters any further purchase attempts that could not be fulfilled.

What I think I like best about them, though, is that they operate on the honor system. You pay, the door is unlocked, and you are entitled to take one paper from the stack before closing and thereby re-locking the door. Although easy to abuse, their persistence is a testament to the general honesty of the masses. I love that.

I noticed today that the box where I have often purchase the LA Times has been removed. I presume this is connected to the recent bankruptcy filing by their parent company. It is also widely rumored that the parent of the Orange County Register may file for bankruptcy this week. It is not looking good for my local rags.

I know I will always find a way to get the news regardless of the fate of the newspaper industry. But I would prefer to have it printed on a big floppy sheet, folded neatly, and left at dawn where I can buy it from a box that trusts me completely.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Automatic Sprinklers

I am thankful for all that is good in my life. Absent from my long list of blessings is automatic sprinklers. To be clear, I have an automatic sprinkler system, I am just not thankful for it. In fact, I hate it.

By all indications, it hates me back.

If you live in a cookie-cutter suburb like me, you probably have a home owners association dictating how your yard must look. In mine, we are required to have a patch of grass on the tiny portion of the lot not covered by our homes. Since grass is not native to this area and cannot survive here without artificial life support, we all have automatic sprinkler systems to keep our patch of grass alive and keep the home owners association off our backs.

The only problem with this ridiculous plan is that all automatic sprinkler systems have apparently been engineered to malfunction on a regular basis. Water too little, your patch of grass changes color and the neighbor's lawyers start calling because the unsightly appearance of your home is hurting the resell value of theirs. Water too much and you not only flood the neighbors yard but violate the town conservation ordinance.

How about this idea? If you live in an arid climate, just get used to having a house surrounded by dirt? Would that be such a calamity?

Want grass? Live some place where it rains now and then.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Brilliant Idea for the Baseball Hall of Fame

Of course "brilliant" is a subjective term and my thought on this is so small that it might not qualify as an "idea" but I didn't think anyone would read the more accurate headline of "Here's a nuance the HOF should consider".

Anyway, here is what the Baseball Hall of Fame should do. They should simply clarify and publicly communicate the institution's role in some formal way.

Such clarity is needed because many, like me, see it as a museum about the history of baseball where one can learn about the game's past and see interesting artifacts associated with some of the game's greatest plays, players, and seasons. Others see it as an institution of honor that exists to confer the highest degree of notoriety on the game's most deserving contributors. In reality, it should be and could be both.

The mechanism to cover both roles is simple. As a museum, its content should be broad and comprehensive from the greatest glory to the darkest scandals. It should document the formidable career of Pete Rose, the storied seasons of Barry Bonds, and the sordid affair of the Chicago Black-Sox. For anything that is baseball history and meets a threshold for importance, one should be able to go there and learn about it.

As an institution of honor, it could continue to function in its current subjective, haphazard, whimsical, capricious, debate-stirring, manner of using crotchety, old, liquor-addled, grudge-bearing writers as an induction committee. Those who pass through the "system" (a term I type while rolling my eyes), get included.

The nuance is this: not everyone who might be "included in" the HOF would need to be "inducted into" the HOF. There could be players whose careers would be annotated inside who would not be "members" of the institution. While everyone is eligible to be a part of the historical narrative, only a select few get "enshrined" with a bust and a ceremony commemorating their induction.

I guess it is just a matter of recasting the public perspective and operating as a baseball museum that houses a special inner sanctum (call it the hall of fame) for a select few who played well without steroids and never bet on their team to win.

A Non-Question About Pete Rose

Should Pete Rose be in the Hall of Fame?

This does not qualify as an answer because that does not qualify as a question. Just have a look at this little blurb from the top of his Wikipedia entry:

Rose, a switch hitter, is the all-time Major League leader in hits (4,256), games played (3,562), at-bats (14,053), and outs (10,328). He won three World Series rings, three batting titles, one Most Valuable Player Award, two Gold Gloves, the Rookie of the Year Award, and made 17 All-Star appearances at an unequaled five different positions (2B, LF, RF, 3B & 1B).

He was an All-Star at five different positions. Did you catch that?

If you want to keep him out of the Baseball Hall-of-Good-Boy, we can have that discussion. If you want to keep him out of the Baseball Hall-of-Fame, then you need to be reading the posts over at "What Would Moron Say?". As a fan of the game, I think Charlie Hustle deserves his own wing. He might be one of the top five most famous baseball players of all time.

Look at this way: the HOF is a museum about the history of the game of baseball. Pete Rose is a major part of that history and his legacy, the good and the bad of it, should all be enshrined. I can't believe anyone would even question that.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Hamsters: The Smartest of the Critters?

I am not saying that hamsters are definitely the smartest of the critter family. I am also not saying that all hamsters are smarter than all humans. What I am saying is that OUR hamster appears to be smarter than US.

His name is Brownie and he lives in a tightly locked cage that has been secured with additional braces and straps across each door. Yet, he has completed multiple successful escapes and has spent more than one night roaming freely about our house, despite our determined efforts to keep him captive.

We got Brownie from a family who told us that he was dumb. However, I do recall that they also told us he had a knack for escaping his cage. I think that, as a species, we have been underestimating these critters for some time now.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Points of Interest in the NFL

Here are some of the things I find most interesting about the upcoming NFL season.

Best Conference Drama - NFC North
I am eager to see how the QB shake-up plays out. You've got Cutler starting for the Bears and Favre for the Vikings, either of whom could challenge the reigning conference champs (GB) for the top spot. You also have Stafford, the #1 overall pick in the draft, looking like the starter for the Lions who are coming off a perfect 0-16 disaster of a season.

Most Question Marks - The West (mostly NFC)
Let's see, the coaches on Al Davis' Raiders are under investigation for assaulting one another but have a roster that includes the top overall picks from 2007 and 2008 plus the 2009 pick that generated the most snickering around the league. Questions abound.

Seattle is back from a year when virtually their entire team was injured but now they have changed coaches and added one of the most prolific receivers in the league (TJH). What to expect?

San Francisco looks to be going with a musical chair approach at the QB position and head coach Singletary's unorthodox approach to player interaction should continue to feed the Sports Center highlight reel. Will the wheels fall off or will that machine roll?

Throw in the Rams who are great on paper but can't win and you've got a whole lotta question marks in that division. If the Raiders could move from the AFC to the NFC it would make for the most mysterious division possible.

Intriguing Comebacks to Watch
Brady is back after missing an entire season with a torn up knee. He'll have a new offensive co-ordinator, new backfield, and a #1 receiver who is now pretty old.

Vick is back but we don' really know in what capacity. He's been in the can for two years so who knows how he will play. For that matter, who knows how he will conduct himself in society -- watching him will be watching two comebacks.

Favre, three retirements, yadda yadda. We know Tarketon will be watching.

Finally, Cadillac Williams is back from a second straight major knee surgery. No one has returned productively from such extensive damage on both sides but he seems optimistic and has looked real in pre-season.

Former NE Coaches Worth Watching
Josh McDaniels left NE for the top job in Denver and accidentally confused himself with Bill Belichick along the way. He is off to a rocky start with the franchise QB demanding a trade after LMD botched the relationship.

Mangini got canned in NY but resurfaced in Cleveland to replace former NE coach Romeo Crennel. As Mangini was the instigator of spy-gate, I find the specter of his ongoing failure enticing.

Jim Mora has no ties to NE but he is a new coach in an interesting role and I know his uncle so he gets mentioned here (send your imaginary complaints to

Monday, August 24, 2009

Observations on Gender Differences

This is one of my favorite topics.

I find differences between men and women quite fascinating and have spent considerable time dwelling upon them. However, until now, gender differences is a topic I have been afraid to blog about. My fear has been rooted in the belief that, whatever I write, one of the genders will interpret my innocuous comments as derogatory and then find some way to punish me for my perspective. (Since I am married to someone in that particular gender, I can assure you that my fear is not entirely unfounded.)

Nonetheless, I made an observation this morning that seems safe so I have decided to test the waters. Also, since my readers are all imaginary, I figure I am probably pretty safe. Here is my harmless and benign observation:

Today I took my two daughters to their first day of "Ocean Institute". It is a week-long science camp where they will learn about marine science. Classes are divided by age groups and all of the "campers" had to register at their appropriate stations this morning. The lines were quite long and I had to get through two of them, one for each daughter.

During the wait, I noticed a few of things. First, I noticed that about a third of the students were being dropped by fathers and about two-thirds by mothers. The fathers stood stoically and occasionally engaged in short, quiet conversations with their children. The mother's had their heads on swivels and were determined to speak with every familiar person they could pick from the crowd. They did this while shouting instructions at their children about behavior, sunscreen, safety, and lunch.

Side note: One woman in my queue tried to engage me in conversation but I successfully rebuffed her with a steady diet of one-word replies. But don't feel bad for her, I noticed that she had made several new friends by the time her child was registered.

I also noticed something about the pace at which we progressed. Each queue of people would lurch and pause as students were registered, materials were given, and signatures were collected. When a student and father approached the registration station, there would be about a 30 second pause before they moved on and the line lurched forward. When a student and mother approached the registration station, the pause would be several minutes. I observed that the mothers generally required a verbal review of all of the written materials about the program. They engaged officials in long dialogues about the curriculum, about logistics, about appropriate clothing for each activity, about lunches and snacks and allergies and siblings in another age group and emergency telephone numbers and their child's personality and volunteer opportunities and on and on and on. It looked like most fathers stated their child's name, initialed the box, and then got out of the way.

I am not saying that one approach (fathers vs. mothers) was better or worse than the other. I am merely noting that the difference was as striking as it was consistent by gender.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Angels Hit .300

Here is a shot of the scoreboard showing the Angels line-up and their batting averages yesterday. Everyone was hitting .300+.

I recall the Boston Red-Sox line-up having 6 or 7 .300 hitters in recent years and, during those periods when they seemed especially loaded with offensive talent, I would scour the box scores to see how many .300 hitters were going to bat at other teams. The most productive teams in baseball usually had three or four and I rarely saw any team with five. Around the league yesterday, the Cubs, Brewers, and Nationals each had three .300+ hitters in their line-ups; everyone else (except the Angels) had fewer.

The Yankees, in particular, always seemed to have lots of talented hitters and were the team I most expected (with their propensity to buy productive hitters) to approach a 9-man order of .300 hitters. However, I really never thought any team could have nine concurrent .300 hitters in a line-up capable of playing reasonable defense. I now see that my expectations were wrong.

I knew the Angels had been hitting well of late and that many had raised their averages considerably. But I was surprised when I heard this story. This has been one of those rare baseball events that none of us may see again.

I wonder if all those asterisk typing writers who want to fill the record books with footnotes about steroids have taken notice. I will be curious to hear their explanation of such an explosion of offense in the presumed absence of performance enhancing substances.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Welcome Back, Brett

The FCC has really been bearing down on me for not posting about Favre over the past few weeks. Now that there is some news, I can share my thoughts and get the law off my back.

A high percentage of the news coverage on Favre for the past two years has been either snarky commentary on his waffling about retirement or pejorative speculation about his ambition to hold the spotlight. I think this says more about the state of journalism than about Brett Favre.

My first reaction when I heard the news of his arrival at Vikings camp was joy. I like to witness history and now we all have another season to watch him push certain records (consecutive starts by a QB and all-time TD's to name two) further out of reach. I think his story is an interesting one and his presence in the NFC North adds drama to the league. I can't wait to watch the season unfold.

In terms of impact, I don't know how much athletic ability he has left but it must be something close to the ability he used last year to help the Jets get off to a hot start prior to his arm injury. I would doubt that his experience has become obsolete and his decision making ability should be as sharp as ever, especially in the familiar offense the Vikings run. For all those reasons, he should be a very capable QB on a very solid team.

More importantly, his example of professionalism, both on and off the field, will likely help the team assume a winning work ethic and mentality that will push them to reach new levels of success. I wish him well and I look forward to watching.

Monday, August 17, 2009

10 Great Fictional Characters

For me, a key driver of entertainment value in a book, movie, or television show is character development. I know for many movie-goers the key is cinematography and for many readers it is all about the plot. I think in TV it is more widely recognized that interesting characters are required but for me, characters can carry the day in any medium.

Here are 10 of my all-time favorite characters:

1. Sid the Sloth from the Ice Age movies. He tops my list figuratively and literally. If there was a movie just about him, I would download it right now. I'm giving it about another year and then I am going to write the screen-play myself.

2. Sam Malone from Cheers. He was really dumb without being clueless and really self-absorbed but in a harmless and endearing way. Throw in his professional sports resume and you've got a winner in my book.

3. Jenny Piccolo the sitcom urban legend. As far as I know, she never appeared in an episode of Happy Days but was referred to regularly by Joanie Cunningham. By the time Joanie was a teen, the canon of 2nd-hand references to Jenny had painted a clear picture in my mind; she was a real pistol.

4. Erwin Martin from James Thurber's "The Catbird Seat". If you have not read this short story, I highly recommend you do. Erwin is a fantastic character; seems quite simple but ultimately more complex than first imagined.

5. Billy Ray Valentine played by Eddie Murphy in "Trading Places". Karate men bruise on the inside; don't show their weaknesses.

6. Steve Austin as the Six Million Dollar Man. How could a kid watch that show and not sincerely hope to lose a few limbs and organs while test piloting some advanced spacecraft. I never understood why he didn't pursue a career in he NFL with his bionic limbs but like I said, the story doesn't matter if the characters are cool enough.

7. Dirk Straun, merchant pirate. He was the patriarch of the Straun family in the James Clavell epic narratives about colonialism and commerce in Asia. When faced with a tough decision, I sometimes ask myself, "What would Dirk do?"

8. Pig Pen from Peanuts. True, he only had a bit part among the more famous cast of characters but he had an enormous talent (acquiring dirt) and never thrust his talent in your face. He just went about his business and let you appreciate him -- my kind of guy.

9. Alf the sarcastic alien. You either know him or you don't. I suppose his inclusion on the list will please my imaginary readers in the Marblehead area but will signal to everyone else that the intellectual persona I have labored to cultivate is a complete facade.

10. Vinny "take your pick". You may choose either Vinny Gambini from "My Cousin Vinny" or Vinny Barbarino from "Welcome Back Kotter". Each embodied the perfect combination of local street smarts wrapped up in worldly naiveté. You couldn't help but like them.

Honorable mentions would be Simon Bar Sinister from Underdog fame, those grumpy old guys in the balcony on the Muppet show, Spock from Star Trek, and George Costanza from Seinfeld.

So who is on your list but not on mine?

The Rebate Scam - Re-Visited

Since I once ranted about my unsatisfying experiences with rebates, I will use this short post to draw attention to the topic as it is covered in today's Orange County Register.

Despite the poor writing in the article, writing that belies a poor understanding of both math and grammar, it is clear from the presented statistics that the "rebate scams" I described in an earlier post are phenomena about which the world-at-large is well aware.

Caveat emptor!

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

This is a great plan. It is simple, straight forward, and clear. If we all followed it with a modicum of discipline, the world would be cleaner, richer, and healthier.

It pains me to admit this but I think my family has personally raised the global temperature of the earth by about 1 degree each year for the past half a decade. The rest of you must be doing something right to have offset most of the damage we are creating. We recycle a little bit, reuse not at all, and reduce....reduce? With increasing frequency, I need to borrow neighbor's trash bins just to dispose of our extra trash.

Side Note: Today is trash collection day in my neighborhood so I had to wrestle our mountain of refuse to the curb; an unpleasant chore that spawned this post. Also, because I had go into the alley on the side of my house, I was able to get a "two-for" and take down a second spiderweb with my head this morning.

Of the three steps in this plan, "Reduce" has all the power. "Reuse" and "recycle" are helpful but almost negligible compared to reduce. Yet, it seems that "recycle" gets all the press and public support.

Are you imaginary readers reducing at all? Got any suggestions for me and my family? We need help here.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Vick's Schtick

You know I root for these things to end well but something tells me the Michael Vick story is not bound for a happy final chapter. I am troubled by the total lack of personal responsibility reflected in the words he chose when addressing a group of young men at Hampton University earlier this week.

He spoke of his troubled past and said that he "allowed someone who didn't have my best interests at heart to take all that away from me". This does not sound at all like a guy who thinks he made a horrendous error of moral judgment but instead like a guy who thinks he was a victim.

If this is the tone he strikes on Sunday night during his highly anticipated 60 Minutes interview, he can forget about any hopes of redemption in society. Even if someone coaches him on a better choice of words, it is already pretty clear that he might not be sincerely remorseful for what he has done.

I hope I am wrong but my current prognosis on Vick's rehabilitative stint in prison and subsequent NFL probation is that they may not be working.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

What Should Society Do With Michael Vick?

This topic seems to really polarize people. Questions and debate aside, it looks like he is coming back to play in the NFL this year. He's been cleared by the Commissioner and credible sources report that multiple teams are interested in signing him.

There is no doubt that he made repeated, premeditated decisions that were both reprehensible and illegal. He has paid a huge social price for his lack or morality and has been formally punished by the legal system. In this regard, due process has played out.

As such, society should be ready to reset the clock and start over. Clearly, many among us are not quite there.

Right or wrong, I think his impending return to the NFL will be interesting. I don't know if or how he will be able to make a team better but I am curious to see. I don't know if he is truly reformed but I look forward to watching his forward trajectory.

And because I love to see the fallen pick themselves up, I really hope we get to see him channel all of the media attention he will generate into a constructive direction. He will have a great opportunity to promote his own painful example, to educate, and to affect broad change. Despite the temptation to root against him, I hope he uses this opportunity wisely, restores his place in society, and makes the world better.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Cool Things With No Purpose - Part III

When puppies chase their tails, it's sort of cute in a "naive futility" kind of way. When snakes chase their tails, they are more effective. This one appears to be within a foot and a half of disappearing.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Spider Season

It's official...spider season has arrived at my house. Happens every year about this time. Let me take a moment to describe how my day will now begin, each day, for the next several weeks.

I will get up and shower, dress for a day at the office, have breakfast with my family, and strut out the front door filled with energy and optimism. Just as the front door closes behind me, I will inadvertently thrust my face into a large spider web that gets woven each night just outside my front door. The strands of this web will be exceptionally course and sticky and will completely envelop my head. Somewhere, a spider will groan about another night's labor wasted by the energetic human who refuses to exit through the side door.

Honestly, I can't understand how this keeps happening. If it were the same spider building that web each night, it surely would have starved to death by now. It seems unlikely a different spider finds that spot and weaves there each night. It's a mystery. Yet, a new web is there every morning (until about 7:30am when I tear it down with my head).

You would think I could learn to expect this ordeal and duck when I exit the house but, apparently, I cannot. This cycle has been ongoing for several years and no learning has accrued from my experience.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Speaking of Speaking

Who could dispute that Ricky Henderson shaped his public perception in a favorable form with his uncharacteristic address at the Baseball Hall of Fame ceremony a few days ago?

For professional athletes, especially the majority who do not join the media upon retirement from their game, the induction ceremony is the last blast of enduring press they will receive. A botched speech will yield an indelible stain on their public record. On the other hand, a graceful and moving address, one that shows the more flattering aspects of their character, garners good press that becomes a permanent digital record on the internet and will (disproportionately) influence their legacy for all time.

Certainly among the brashest athletes we have seen in recent decades, his flamboyance and attention seeking antics made Ricky a sometimes unlikable target. Showing up for induction to the HOF in a white suit seemed squarely in line with everyone's expectation of a self-promoting rant from the podium. What a great surprise to see his humility and his healthy perspective on all the help he received along the way.

I admit it; my perception changed. Good for Ricky for doing it right and serving Ricky well.

The Pen vs. The Sword

I think speeches matter. I think they matter a lot.

I first realized my opinion on this was a strong one during the last presidential election when the most effective argument against Obama seemed to be "we don't need speeches, we need an experienced leader". I noted the general effectiveness of that argument and understood that most people are not cognizant of the broad and long lasting effects of a really good speech.

It's pretty clear that galvanizing the masses behind an idea makes change possible. Gridlock allows problems to fester while the masses polarize on opposite sides of an issue.

Anyone who missed Obma's Cairo speech a few weeks ago missed one of the greatest bits of live political impact I have seen in my lifetime. As noted by a story in the LA Times over the weekend, the aggressive nature and head-on approach that he took toward some of the world's diciest problems was a choice he made against the advice of many experts. I give him credit for his courage on that and I cite this as a sign of his conviction that "speeches matter".

I am not saying Obama has all the answers and I know there is some legitimate concern over his approach to many domestic issues. I am merely pointing out that his ability to affect change is clearly driven by his powerful oratory. The pen is indeed mightier than the sword.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

WWDS Rreaders on US Healthcare

Now that the comments have died down on this one, I am summarizing here what I think were the prevalent themes voiced by the readership:

1. The biggest problems are "lack or personal responsibility" and "overall costs" with the former driving the latter in many ways.

2. Personal responsibility ain't gonna happen. But education might move some in the right direction.

3. Another driver of costs is the fact that they are unconstrained by usual market forces because neither the consumers nor the prescribers of US healthcare are paying for it.

4. Requiring everyone to buy insurance (i.e. contribute to the overall pot of funds covering the nation's care) may be a solid step in the right direction. The impoverished will need subsidies.

Note: of the 45 million uninsured, about 15 million can easily afford coverage but choose to save the money and rely on emergency room care as needed and about 15 million more are eligible for Medicare or Medicaid and simply have not signed up. The real problem is the final 15 million (about 5% of the population).

5. While there is no requirement for employers to offer health plans, it seems to be a reasonably effective tactic for attracting talent and can also keep a workforce healthy and productive. However, any suggestion that employers be "required" to offer medical coverage seems out of place.

6. Thomas Jefferson, a democrat, apparently wrote the mantra for today's republican's. I totally agree with Jefferson's philosophy but I do think healthcare, like infrastructure, must be organized on a mass scale.

7. Some whipper-snapper out there thinks I'm old and another whipper-snapper has no rental insurance.

No Thanks for the KISS

In addition to the fact that I am down on forced acronyms, I really dislike the old "Keep It Simple Stupid" (KISS) execution. My problem is that I don't think the world can really agree on the meaning of "simple".

Case in point. I think naming an electronic file is a pretty simple thing. I also think that storing an electronic file in a defined location on my computer or online is simple. Apparently though, many would disagree.

To that end, Microsoft and others have labored to make file naming and storing happen automatically in many instances. Like today when I attached my camera to the computer so that I could carefully sort several hundred photos from the past few months into my clean data file structure where all of our photos are collated chronologically.

However, in my current version of Vista, all of the photos were grabbed, stripped of their date information, downloaded to the computer in an oddly named and mysteriously located folder, and uploaded to Snapfish whether I wanted them there or not.

The whole process sure was simple. I just had to wait for it to play out so that I could then manually do it the way I wanted before back-tracking through the KISS process to clean up the electronic garbage created by all that simplicity.