Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year(s)

Happy New Year everyone.

Einstein once gave an example of relativity relating to time:
When a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute and it’s longer than any hour. That’s relativity.
As most consistent bloggers who haven't contributed daily doses in a while, a while here being several days, not hours or years, I feel I need to offer an apology accompanied by an explanation. But as (insert famous person's name here, Einstein's or mine if you so choose) once so profoundly remarked, "Never ruin an apology with an explanation," I won't tell you why I haven't been pounding the keys with such productive, creative, publish-worthy, vim, vigor, and vitality lately.

In fact, in light of the holiday season and obligations to family and friends which includes much travel and gluttony recovery time, neither of which are conducive to cyber-rants and ruminations, I won't even offer an apology for why I haven't written (typed actually) in quite a while. Truth be told, it has something to do with a new High-Def 50-inch plasma TV and a new complicatedly sophisticated new (to me) novel called "House of Leaves." I'll let you decide which of the two is the ultimate culprit.

Anyway, today is the last day of the year know by most as 2008. Why, I remember it only feeling like a year ago that we were saying goodbye to 2007!


But it only feels like two years ago we were saying goodbye to 2005.

Only three years ago we were saying goodbye to 2001.

Only four years ago we were saying goodbye to 1993 . . . . .

Yes, time seems to accelerate as we get older. The memories of a decade ago only feel like they were created several yesterday's ago.

While camping with my son Monday night, we were tuned into a nearby radio station that played a mix of music from any genre and decade. They had a feature called the "Nine at Nine," whereby they played 9 songs from a particular year back to back to back to back to back to back to back to back to back.

The 9pm year was 1971. It included such memorable songs as the Who's "Won't get fooled again," and Paul Revere and the Raider's "Indian Reservation" and Melanie's "Brand New Key." As I lay in the tent, battling the first indications that I was ill equipped for what would be a very cold night involving freezing temperatures, I fondly remembered each song and sang along in my head as a way to pass the time and generate a little body heat. It was only very late into the set that I realized that I wasn't even born when these songs were released, but I knew them well enough to pass as an avid teenage fan of these bands and songs back in the day.

After freezing by hands, butt, and knees off during the night, 9am came after what seemed like 12 years, not hours, an atypical DEceleration of time, Einstein's "sitting on a hot stove" analogy only in the opposite temperature conditions, the next "nine at nine" came at 9am, featuring the sounds and songs of 1994. As I sang along to songs like Ace of Base's "The Sign," Collective Soul's "Shine," no song put the passage of time into perspective quite like Sheryl Crowes "All I Want To Do."

As a 20-year old in college, I remember singing along with this song that introduced the world to Cheryl "no, I'm not a Counting" Crowe. I guess because Cheryl is still on the music scene, making music that pretty much sound the same, this song doesn't "feel"14 years old! But nonethless, 14 years has passed since this song came out. That was before I had two kids, before I had a wife, before I had a Math degree, before I had 9 knee surgeries, back before Y2K, back beforeI really had a life. Yet, it only seems like a short time ago.

It's a scary, sobering thought to think of how much time has passed and how much has really happened since then. I'm a totally different person now than I was that "short" time ago, although I'm really the same.

I got to thinking about the songs I listen to today, songs by the Jonas Brothers and Miley Cyrus, the music my kids listen two that I cannot help but learn, sing along with, an associated special moments to. The popular songs of today will quickly, and more rapidly become, the songs of the tomorrows of a decade or two from now. I'm going to blink, and all of a sudden, my son will be driving and my princess will be walking down the aisle, and I can do nothing to stop the avalanching, snowballing effect of the passage of time.

I'm sure there will be other songs along the way that will capture the moment, that will remain locked in time, preserving the irreplacable memories of a bygone era, songs that will subconciously me mapped and pigeonholed into our cognitive schema. As Trisha Yearwood sang in 1992s "The Song Remembers When" (could it have been that long ago that I was a senior in high school with that BAD haircut?????):
Even if the whole world has forgotten, the song remembers when.
So as midnight approaches, I'm reminded of another song that I wasn't alive for, but still recall every year at this time, an original poem Auld Lang Syne by Rober Burns in 1788, whose chorus roughly translate to
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and old times since ?
It would be much easier to "forget" old acquaintances if there wasn't a song associtated with it.

Good luck in the new year. May you savor every fleeting moment of it. May you have only grand, happy moments to remember, and may your 2009 of today be your 1994 of tomorrow.

And remember . . . history repeats itself. Before you know it, that bad haircut from high school that you still sport will be fashionable again: your great-grandkids will be wearing it tomorrow!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Post Christmas Ramblings

Consider this entry me cheating on my blog diet. After three days of "starving" myself, trying to write less, and/or to write "healthier" things (like love letters to my wife, Christmas poems for my kids, ballads on the guitar, and my name at the bottom of credit card slips), I've resorted back to by primary staple of indulgence--blogging about nothing and everything.

Merry Day-After-Christmas to everyone. A day possibly involving putting toys together, cleaning up wrapping paper and packaging materials, standing in line in return lines, or jockeying for position on the "Black Friday II" items, or if you're my physical therapist and/or newspaper person and/or wife . . . WORKING! Whatever is going on at your end today, I hope you are still riding high on the waves of the holiday merriment that is upon us and looking forward to the sister holiday of New Year's Eve and not yet fallen back into the humbug drudgery of everyday living.

Speaking of being down, I heard on the High-Def news this morning that holiday sales are down an estimated 8 percent this year, which means our holiday shopping half-life is about 8.31295, or about 8 years, 3 months, 22 days, 15 hours, 53 minutes, 29.681 seconds . . . . about. The pathetically boring mathematicians crunching those numbers (curses to those geeky guys) are obviously not taking into consideration the Christmas my surgeons and doctors have had at my expense this year, nor are they taking my OWN Christmas spending into account, one that saw me retaliate against the mountain of doctor, pharmacy, and hospital bills by spending a little of that earmarked money on lavish gifts for my family. From looking at the post-Santa debris around my house, you would think I went broke buying trash bags just to hold all the used wrapping paper from the gifts now littering every corner of the house.

Here's a partial description of our Christmas "booty."

My daughter got 10 of everything "Hannah Montana," 9 pairs of earrings, 8 necklaces, 7 baby dolls, 6 outfits, 5 golden rings, 4 purses, 3 packages of temporary tattoos, 2 pairs of shoes, and 1 of absolutely nothing.

My son got one nice pair of boots, two video games, three pairs of pants, 4 calling birds, 5 AA batteries, and 6 warnings about not being grateful.

My wife got one beautiful bracelet from the kids, two, yes TWO syphygmomanometers, each with their own aneroid manometer, three pair of undergarments, four hugs and kisses from me, and a high five.

I got one happy wife and two wonderful kids.

Gotta go assemble some toys . . .

Monday, December 22, 2008

Mathematical Musings: XII

There's no better time to be a high school math teacher than right now. Not only is there job security in these tentative economic times where being able to count to five can help secure your own job as it helps you show up to work Monday through Friday, but today is also the start of our two-week Holiday/Winter/Christmas break. That means for the next 14 days, I don't have to try to teach implicit differentiation, grade quizzes on exponential functions, make tests over integration techniques, or practice a single fire drill (although I may do this last one once or twice just to stay sharp.)

What better time to reflect and go through the list of the inane, comical, oxymoronic, and downright moronic things I have said in the classroom over the past 10 years. Here's another list of about 50 or so (how important is counting anyway?), as compiled by my students, who prefer to log my zany truisms rather than learn the properties of log functions.

  • . . . and your boss doesn't mind you giving massages for money while you are working for him at the pet store?!?! That's moonlighting in broad daylight!
  • Wrong!!! There is a hole in your reasoning. The reason there is a hole there is not because your calculator gives you an error. The calculator gives you an error because there is a hole there.
  • Parallel lines do meet, only incognito.
  • Alright, calm down there Parabola man. Don't get bent out of shape.
  • I really like to study polynomials with non-trivial coefficients because they have such shapely curves and nice figures.
  • Next year we will be getting a new precalculus book. We have already done extensive testing and we have concluded that it does look good sitting in the bottom of your lockers.
  • My fortune cookie message to you is that I hope that your summers are so cool that you are forced to wear a coat while sunbathing so as to avoid the dangerous UV rays.
  • Next year I think I'm going to do a little more to prepare my seniors for college. As part of my plans for a more rigorous curriculum, I plan on teaching them how to cook Ramen.
  • I want you all to have fun this summer. And if you don't have any fun, either get a job and buy some, or borrow some from a friend. I will even consider giving you an advance on the fun we will be having next year in math class.
  • People always come up to me and say, "Mr. Korpi, you are just so gawsh darn funny . . . looking." To which I burst out in laughter and reply, "That's a great one, but, you should see things from my perspective."
  • I stayed up all night worrying about whether y'all were up all night worrying about the test, but then I went to bed.
  • Quit fighting, y'all. There's plenty of math here to go around.
  • I just wanted to tell all of you that you all have class for showing up for the test today. I'd hate to make your trip for nothing.
  • I'm an animal lover, too. Especially cows, they make the best burgers. I knew this cow once they called Cookie. Man, you should have seen her work the camp griddle.
  • I'm sorry I offend you. Some things just come naturally to me.
  • Growing up, my dad used to say, "Eat your onions, boy. They'll put toes on your feet." Yep, my dad was never wrong, although he never could find me wide enough socks.
  • The little numbers written in the crotches of the radicals are called "indices, that's in-di-ces," which is also where many fish reside.
  • This year there will be no food or drinks, including water, allowed in class. This is especially challenging for us, because mathematics is so darn mouth-watering.
  • As part of your homework, this year, I want you to pre-read the next section of your textbook before you come to class. But wait, since you don't have textbooks this year, I guess you can't do that, after all. Oh, well! It's the thought that counts.
  • I will allow you to bribe me on the test. For $1 per point, you can buy your grade, not to exceed $50. We don't want it to look too obvious.
  • When we say the limit is infinity, we are really saying there IS no limit by saying that it IS infinite. For instance, if I say you have infinite potential, I am exaggerating, but I'm saying there is no limit to what you can or can't do.
  • Shhhhhhhhhhhhh, everybody. I feel a pledge coming on.--at the beginning of the TV announcements.
  • Am I going to have to turn up the "Moment of Silence," or will y'all just please talk a little more NOT AT ALL?--during the same TV announcements
  • A possible value for a would be b, unless of course a cannot be b, then a would be some other non-b value.
  • If what I'm saying is going over your head, I suggest you stand for the rest of the year, because I don't want to speak down to any of you.
  • When I say, "think quietly to yourself," I mean "in your head." Some of you have leaky ears, because I can hear you.
  • Let's do this problem democratically. How many of y'all say the answer is 5?
  • Please be kind to your Calculus books. They are in pretty bad shape. I don't know why, but they seem like they are subject to random acts of violence.
  • Have no fear!! I know how to turn the volume down on the TV before I turn the VCR on, I have been to "teacher school!" You should see me with an Overhead Projector!!
  • I don't like to consider myself as just a "Teacher," but rather more as a "Teach-em-all."
  • This year, I plan on moving more quickly through the curriculum, so that the time spent complaining about the content is minimized.
  • If I have to ask you to be quiet again, I'm gonna turn green and rip through my purple pants!--that ONE day I wore purple, actually "plum" colored pants to class
  • We need to multiply by several clever forms of one. In doing so, we don't change the value of the original expression, because "anything" times one is still "anything," as long as "anything" isn't just anything, but rather the original thing.
  • Do you realize that there is an actual difference between sweet potatoes and yams?! The yam proponents have launched a new campaign to educate the public: "We're not Sweet Potatoes, Yammit!"
  • Has anyone ever been in such a fierce downpour that the rain hurt like hail?
  • Sure you can sleep in class today. Just do it with your eyes open and pen moving. Also, be ready to respond should I suddenly call on you. Sweet Dreams.
  • Nothing makes me hungrier for Math than the thought of a cold yam.--commencing a logistically temperature growth problem involving a cold yam placed into a hot oven
  • Your book calls an arbitrary coordinate (u, v), but I will simply use (x, y). I try to avoid UV at all costs; there is a history of skin cancer in my family.
  • The folks at Harvard have nothing on y'all. The only difference is that they don't have any money because it all goes to their expensive tuition. . . . . No? . . . . . . Y'all don't buy that? . . . That's probably because y'all can't afford to buy it like those Harvard kids can.
  • I can't do anything about your Physics teacher. My hands are tied. . . . What?! . . . . He said he doesn't like Calculus?! Well, that's getting personal. Not only are my hands now untied, but they are in fists.
  • So to remember the Quotient Rule, just sing the diddy, "Ho-d-Hi minus Hi-d-Ho, over Ho Ho." In the denominator you have an abbreviated Holiday greeting from Santa. Although, Santa could also say Hi Hi, he would certainly say Ho Ho, first, hence, it goes in the denominator.
  • We can do this proof two ways: the short way or the long way. The difference is like going from here to San Antonio by going South (a distance of only 30 miles), or contrarily by going North. Either way, we shall eventually arrive at our destination. It's how the globe works.
  • If you go North, you’ll end up going South.--later in the same problem, warning against a potential dead end
  • When I get to the ocean, I won’t have to take a boat or an airplane! I have an amphibious vehicle, and you can’t tell me what I can and can’t do with it.
  • Now that we have finished the problem, let’s debrief, but keep your underpants on, please.
  • I took a bath instead of a shower last night because I wanted to conserve gravity. Yah, I figured there must be a shortage, because so many of my student’s heads were in the clouds.
  • (2cosx + 3sinx)^2 + (3cosx-2sinx)^2 is a very unlucky number, but, since it is a number, one could put it on one’s athletic jersey instead of the equivalent number, but be warned, people might think you were weird, because, who would pick such an unlucky number for their jersey.
  • When I finally found the ice cream in the back of the freezer, I had the problem licked.
  • I used to watch "Bewitched" growing up, but I never really ever got used to the second Darren.
  • To see if a critical point is a local max or min, we only need to analyze the slopes East and West of the point. Let’s take a trip to the West side now. Everyone please stay together! Safety in numbers!
  • You need to label your intentions so that if I or your teacher read your paper, I and the teacher being one in the same, they will know what you are doing.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Strange Dream

I've been listening to some great Christmas Music, classics like "I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas" and "Feliz Navidad," but I've also been taking in some great new holiday music from Los Lonely Boys, and The Killers. The one song I can't get out of my head is a great song you'd expect from a band proclaiming to end peoples' lives, a holiday ditty called "Don't Shoot Me Santa Claus." Not only does it express a message I think we all can agree with, it has a really catchy tune that has the listener empathizing and sympathizing the person in the song making the plea.

So as I've been going around singing the chorus and playing the scenario in my head, I gone about my routine business, which is to say the song has slipped into my subconsciousness, into the same realm as chewing gum, snorting, taking derivatives of polynomial functions, and admonishing my kids--I can do it without thinking with my eyes closed and both arms and one foot tied behind my back.

Ideas, skills, and concepts that permeate the deepest levels of our awareness are typical fodder for vivid, lucid dreams when we (try) to fall asleep at night. This is why I often dream of doing math and fussing at my kids in the back seat of the car to keep their hands and chewing gum to themselves. With this new song, there is no exception.

So last night I finally went to bed after tossing and turning for a few hours, with that song in my head. I tried to even focus on how stiff and sore my knee was from two consecutive, grueling days of physical therapy to take my mind of the Santa with a prospectively murderous intent. Once asleep, I entered the scenario in which I was teaching algebra to a group of troubled kids during a summer school session--something I did for several summers years ago. One particular student in the back row simple would not do his order of operations correctly, refused to solve for x, and insisted on standing up while rapping out a hip-hop version of "Don't Shoot Me Mr. K," but his version was not an earnest request from a scared kid who feared I actually might, NO! His was a blatant effrontery, an invitation to do the very thing he was rapping about me NOT to do. He was daring me and calling my bluff.

Naturally, being a 10 year veteran of the classroom and having taken classes at one time or another on how to handle such situations, I initially remained calm and threatened him with double the math homework if didn't sit down a be quiet. This kid, though, didn't fear the math homework any more than I feared cleaning bathrooms, vacuuming, and mopping: they were simply things that we weren't going to do without fear of reprisal. I felt my blood pressure rise, and the students in the front row noticed the characteristic "V" vein bulging in my forehead, an ominous foreshadowing to what was to occur. "Just sit down and do your math," the fellow students pleaded, but instead the student went into verse 2 of his parody.

It was then I asked all the other students to leave the room so that it was just me and the troubled math student. Now this is where it got frighteningly weird.

I shot him with an Uzi!

At this point in the dream, the better part of my brain told me to wake up and end this nonsense, but another part of me had to stay in the dream to "make things right." I stayed in the dream, but I fled the scene of the crime.

It was all over the news, but remarkably, the cops had no immediate suspects! Police questioned my parents (since I was still living with them for some reason) but only to ask if I noticed anyone with an Uzi in the classroom. Meanwhile, I'm hiding under my bed, preparing lesson plans for the next day. I eventually came out, and my parents were so relieved that I had escaped the evil gunman, and thought me a hero for "saving" the rest of the class. Now I felt even worse for being a hero in their eyes under false pretenses.

The next day, I returned to school as if nothing ever happened, hoping that it didn't, or at least thinking that my chutzpah of returning to the scene of my crime would eliminate me from suspicion. To my disappointment, my students weren't there. Apparently, they got to stay home from school to talk to the police, grief counselors, and to play Xbox! I was furious--"
The math doesn't teach itself!" I thought. Missing just one day puts us so far behind. It WAS summer school, and we had to cover an entire semester in just a few weeks.

At this point, I DID wake up, thanks to two tall glasses of milk I had before bedtime. I felt really bad for snapping like that in my dream, and I told myself that although it was only a dream, it came from MY mind! I convinced myself that had I stayed asleep, the whole thing would have turned out to be an elaborate prank put on by my class, local police, and my parents just for kicks and giggles. Regardless, I vowed NEVER to buy an Uzi, and if I DID, NEVER to take it to school, and if I DID, NEVER NEVER to use it!

I'm currently looking for a new favorite Christmas Song, like "Deck the Halls," or "Clean the Bathrooms," anything that doesn't involve firearms and math.

By the way, if you like reading about the bizarre, often non-sequitur events of other peoples' dreams, there's a great online comic strip called Slow Wave you might like. It's real dreams by real people put into a 4-frame comic--strangely addicting.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Christmas Lights 101

Every year since I've been married, around 10 or so, I think, I've gone through the arduous ritual of putting Christmas lights on the house. With the wife and kids in charge of decorating the house's interior, it has always been Dad's job to festoon roof line with lights, not the forgiving icicle kind, but the merciless bulb type that require each bulb to be carefully placed. The seemingly simple task of attaching these lights along the fascia board is never as easy at it looks and never as fun as they make it seem in the movies. Here are tried and true directions to make your electrify your eaves and your soffits sparkle.
  1. Listen to that voice in your head that is your wife telling you to hang the lights for the 100th time.
  2. Climb into the attic and survey the mess. Vow to clean it out someday. Find the box of lights usually located under the box storing the old encyclopedias.
  3. Find the male end of each strand of lights and plug into an electrical outlet to see if they still work (don't find out the hard way like I have.)
  4. Throw the broken light strands away (usually about half of them) untangle the remaining ones, then run to the store to try to find additional matching strands. Pick up some spare bulbs while you're there.
  5. Get out your extension ladder or borrow your neighbor's. If you don't have a ladder, climbing on the roof is an option. Climb the privacy fence and jump on the roof. Have your kids nearby so they can marvel at your braver and ingenuity or so they can run in the house to call 911 if you don't make it.
  6. Start with with the male end near the outlet to which you eventually connect power and clip the light just under the shingle. Those giant plastic clips help. Run back to the store if you didn't get any while you were buying new, semi-matching lights.
  7. Climb down the ladder and move it 2 feet over, climb and repeat step 6. Do this for several hours or until you butt and legs hurt so much from climbing up and down. If you are doing this from the roof, it's best to lay on your stomach wearing a long-sleeved shirt so the asphalt shingles to give you a nasty rash. Be sure not to slide off the roof head-first, although that is a great way to get out of doing the lights.
  8. Once the lights are all around the perimeter of the house, plug them all in and examine your work. Get the wife outside for the final approval.
  9. Fix all the things the wife pointed out, like bulbs that are leaning too much, bulbs that are burned out, the new strands with colored bulbs instead of the clear bulbs, and the last strand at the end of the long run whose fuses just blew out.
  10. Return to store for correct colored bulbs and those teeny, tiny little fuses that slip into the male end of the plug that are so frustrating to replace. Stop at the ice house on the way home for a six pack of suds.
  11. Make all the necessary changes, careful now not to fall of the ladder in a drunken stupor, and retest the lights. Ask yourself, "Are half the lights supposed to be blinking?"
  12. Convince your wife that you meant to do that and that flashing and unflashing light combinations not only show the eccelectic diversity of our household, but help attract Santa and his sleigh.
  13. Fix the lights.
  14. Put the ladder away or call your neighbor to come get it. Rub Icy-Hot on your butt, quads, and hamstrings.
  15. Take some Advil and rest in the easy chair. You're going to need all the energy you can muster to take everything back down in a couple of weeks, that is, unless you can convince your wife to leave them up year-round.
  16. Feel good about yourself for giving your wife a good, cheerful, holiday laugh.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Choosing Wisely

Do you remember when Video Cassette Recorders came out? There were two competing formats called Video Home System, or VHS, introduced by JVC corporation and Betamax, created by Sony. The two were fiercely competing for their share of the market. As people flooded the newly created "Video Rental Stores," they could choose either format, depending on which player they had recently purchased. I remember going to the rental store with my dad to rent videos on the VHS format. "New Releases" back then were in theaters over a year previously and purchasing theatrical videos required around $80!! Our player was a top-loading model that set my parents back $595!!! (they left the hand-written sticker mounted to the side all those years.)

Eventually, Betamax lost out, and so did the people who put their money and faith in that format. Soon, everyone owned a VHS player, video rental superstores emerged, "New Releases" were only a few months out of theaters, and private video collections grew as the cost of purchasing them came way down and people learned to copy them.

Not long after that, Pioneer introduced the LaserDisc format. Videophiles went out and purchased the players and the gaudy, giant sized discs. The Betamax people of old were likely to be a little more cautious in converting to the new medium. The discs did improve the sound and picture quality and were easier to store in the same racks as owners' vinyl records, but they did require that they be flipped halfway through the movie. I should know, I had to do it for my dad. Ultimately, the LaserDisc served only a very small niche market and went the way of the dinosaur, but therein lay the technological concepts of future digital disc formats like the Compact Disc.

Sony got revenge later on with the help of Philips when they introduced the CD and CD player. Vinyl records went out long ago and were replaced with cassette tapes, but the CD seemed destined to replace both of them. With my own personal investment tied up in my cassettes, cassette carriers, and cassette players, I was reluctant to throw away my hard-earned allowance on this new product that hadn't proven itself. But it didn't take long before stores were carrying fewer and fewer cassetes and more and more CDs. I couldn't believe it was happening! You could record your own voice on a cassette and music right off the radio!! CDs were only available for playback. Additionally, cassettes didn't skip when you jogged and boy did those CDs jump around.

By the time I was a junior in high school, both mediums were still around and I proudly sported an impressive collection of both CDs and cassettes. Although my car only played the latter, I purchased a shelf-system stereo that played both CDs and had dual cassette deck for "high-speed" dubbing. . . . Cool! Soon, cassette tapes went out of stores altogether and finding even blank dubbing tapes became impossible. Prices came down on CD players for cars, and I saved up $300 to purchase my first one. By then, I figured CDs were the last great audio medium. I thought to myself, "It would be great if they could shrink movies down from the LaserDisc size to the CD size, but that'll never happen since movies have so much more information, oh well . . ."

And then they came. Sony was the first to put out what was called their MultiMedia Compact Disc (MMCD), but the members of the super density storage community came together in an attempt to avoid the Beta/VHS war of the 80s. They agreed upon a single format, Sony jumped on board, and soon we were seeing TV commercials for videos that were "coming to VHS and DVD!" Those of us with 4-head, Hi-Fi VHS players and substantial video collections were hoping that the DVD thing was just a fad, and so we continued to buy and rent VHS tapes, being kind and rewinding them before we returned them and enjoying the occasional task of unjambing the tape from the player. Most of us, too, had all our our home movies on VHS. We simply had too much invested with a perfectly fine product to abandon it altogether for another unproven medium.

The commercials for home videos kept coming but slowly transitioned towards the phrase "coming to DVD!" I guess I'm going to have to jump on the band wagon once again. I bought a DVD player that also played all my CDs!! I sold most of my VHS tapes at garage sales for a buck or two, and I started buying DVDs. Just a year or two ago, I sold my last VHS tape, got rid of my VCR, and converted all my home videos to DVD format. Even my CD collection began to get dusty as this new Ipod, .mp3 thing began to emerge.

To this day, my CDs sit upstairs high on a shelf unused, and towers and towers of CD-Rs full of created music sit on their spools. It's come to the point that I'm so overloaded with music and new artists that I will just create a new CD or data CD when I'm tired of listening to the old ones. They've essentially become disposable. The video entertainment system in my Expedition goes unused as the VHS player is broken. I've been content to watch all my DVDs on my 27-inch color television with my 5-channel surround sound system. I've been trying to avoid listening to the commercials for new video releases as they now say "coming to DVD and BluRay, and I squint painfully to try to read the scrolling sports scores across the bottom of my TV screen as the TV signal is formated for this new widescreen fad.

Refusing to be one of those unfortunate consumers who chose Betamax, and having chosen incorrectly myself long ago in the 8-bit video game market, choosing Sega 8-bit over the eventual market winner Nintendo, not to mention paying a cool grand 8 years ago for the latest 5 megapixel camera, only to have the digital SLR cameras come out a year later for the same price, I haven't purchased any high-def videos yet. Luckily for me, too, 'cause with my luck, I would have purchased Toshiba's High Definition DVD (HD DVD) format and now been stuck with an obsolete, expensive product.

With technology changing so quickly, as a consumer its very difficult to decide when to enter a certain market. If one can wait it out a bit, not only will the product prove itself, but prices will come down too. Unfortunately by then, something else that is better has likely taken its place. For now, it looks like BluRay and HDTV are here to stay, and although I'm not thinking about buying an expensive BluRay player just yet, I've gotten tired of not being able to see the margins of my favorite programs.

Consequently, I've taken the plunge and joined the ranks of the High-Def, widescreen, slim lined television owners, purchasing a 50-inch plasma unit last Sunday online. Once it gets here, I'll install it over the fireplace and have a proper memorial for my faithful 27-square-incher. I just hope that some new "Super HD, Ultra wide" or "tall screen" model come out soon. I don't think I can afford to keep up with the technological advances. I mean, how much better can it actually get?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The best Saturday EVER

What an eventful weekend I had. In a relatively boring life like mine, at least recently, watching food cook in the microwave can be quite exciting. But last weekend exceeded even that kind of drama.

Because I haven't been sleeping well lately, which means I haven't been sleeping that much either, I got up early on Saturday morning. I think I slept in until 4 a.m. (I was up at 1:30 a.m. this morning . . . zzzzzzzzzzzzzz) The weather was dark, and chilly. I enjoyed sipping my coffee while staring out the window while updating my website at my laptop while my family slept in the nearby bedroom--exciting! I decided to check feed my chickens and check their eggs before the sun came up. I strapped on my low-profile headlamp that I always use each summer on my Colorado backpacking trips to survey the darkened area outside my tent for ravenous bears, and I entered the coop. Great! 5 eggs. It was going to make a delicious breakfast. A few roosting hens jabbed at my light with their beak as I went by. I warned them that next time I'd have chicken biscuits instead of eggs for breakfast if they did it again. They quickly layed off.

I quickly checked for bears before I exited the coop. No bears, just two hungry, 85-pound dogs, excited about a balanced breakfast of Kibbles, bits, the leftover pork loin from last week, and fresh, feathered chicken. I snuck out without a casualty and then fed the dog their Kibbles and a line about how they were REALLY eating "fresh" chicken. They SOOO bought it.

Back inside, after cleaning the chicken guano off the green-shelled eggs, I carefully set them out to dry and thought about how I could possibly top my chicken, dog, and bear-surviving experience of the early morning. The clock read 5:45, and my family would be getting up soon. I decided to finish my incomplete blog entry from Friday, which still posted as Friday, even though my thoughts spilled over. As I finished it a day later, I felt kind of "naughty" doing that, but I tried really hard to pretend it was still "yesterday." I feel better now getting that off my chest.

When the family awoke we enjoyed a fresh farm breakfast, which meant my two kids took one bite of their breakfast tacos, and I had to finish them off. I could tell it was going to be the kind of day where I would need the extra nurishment and energy.

With everyone and everything fed, we decided to jump into the Pathfinder and hit the road to do a little (more) shopping. As free-spirited as we are, we decided to go to the mall, the Sam's club, Academy, CostCo, then we would eat, then we'd end up in a shopping center where we'd drop into Toys R Us, Best Buy, and Target. The spontineity was exercised as we went to the malls stores in no particular order (not to mention getting a refill of a DIFFERENT beverage durin the alotted time for eating.)

I've discovered that it's a lot easier to use my credit card since 3% of each purchase goes directly into a fund set up for my kid's college. I'm not just buying them a Playstation, but and education as well--a little "play" of "today," and a little "knowledge" for "college." In my mind, if I buy them enough stuff, they're already well on their way to a their M.D., which in a way, is really planning for my OWN future.

When we got home, I unloaded the wagon and took a comfortable seat on the lounge chair to revel in the booty I had commercially captured. My son was already on the computer playing some game. My wife and daughter, though, were almost immediately back out the door for round two. "I get up WAY too early hang with those female kind of shoppers," I told myself.

But much to my surprise, they didn't go shopping--they went to the beauty salon for a secret hair appointment for my little princess, angel-baby, muffin cakes 5-year old daughter who previously had the most beautiful long hair.

She came in excited wearing short hair and bangs. . . yes bangs!! No wonder they didn't tell me. I would have adamantly objected. But to tell you the truth, they are starting to grow on me like they are surely growing on her. She DOES look more beautiful than ever.

But of all the AMAZING things that happened that day, the best experience came later that night as my daughter lost her first tooth.

Losing the hair in front of her forehead and the tooth in the front of her mouth was almost too much for me to bear in one day.

I cried myself to sleep that night--tears of joy.

I slept so peacefully and soundly that night. . . until 3:30 a.m.

The chickens were calling.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Freedom!

Not much time to blog today as I'm just back from a doctor's visit and soon to be off for my son's piano concert, but I just HAD to get a short one in to share in my jubilation.

Remember the doctor's visit I was just telling you about? If not, reread the first sentence (paragraph?) Well, it was no ordinary visit. It was a follow-up visit with my infectious disease doctor, which not only means it was "free" but also a day I've been eagerly anticipating for 6 weeks now.

Just 15 minutes ago, I got my PICC line removed, which means I am a free man, liberated from the the antibiotic tether that has been part of me for too, too long. Unfettered from the medicine canister that resembles a baby bottle for 24 hours a day, I will no longer wince in pain at night as I roll over on top of it. No longer do I have to take a shower with cellophane wrapped around my arm. No longer do I have to worry about getting the tubing hooked on doorknobs and doorstrikes as I move about. No longer do I have to wear a fanny pack. No longer will people have to wonder if that is a "Dossifuser" in pocket or if I am just happy to see them.

I currently don't have the words or the time to fully express my happiness, especially in an entertaining, humorous way. The ONLY negative part of the whole experience is that the PICC line installers never gave me the "card" that has the PICC line length on it, nor did anyone in Radiology have a record of it when the doctor called over. She pulled it out any way (an impressive 44 units) but had no way to know if the extraction length was the same as the insertion length. I assured her I didn't stretch it while I had it, but that wasn't the issue. Apparently, there's a risk of a piece of the tip breaking off and plugging something downstream from my heart.

YIKES!

I asked her what the procedure was if something WAS still in there. She wasn't sure, but she thought it would involve a cardiac surgeon. We agreed that it was very unlikely mine had broken off since I was such a good patient and since I would probably feel some sort of discomfort, pain, or other traumatic side effect. Nonetheless, she was professionally obligated to order a chest X-ray to make sure.

What the heck. I was looking for an excuse to go visit all my friends in Radiology again. I think I'm going to ask them why I never got the "card." Besides, all my deductibles and Max out-of-pocket expenses have been met, so a "free" chest X-ray is like a "bonus" gift.

Right now, there's nothing that can dampen my spirit!!!!!!!

Even water.

Excuse me now why I go take care of the copper pipe leak in the wall behind my shower before I go listen to a bunch of kids play their slow, broken versions of "Up on the Housetop."

Oh, it feels so good to be free!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Christmas Spirit

We are in the midst of the holiday season, but are you in the holiday spirit? If so, at what point did you "get" there? If not, when, if ever, will you "be" there? Don't tell me you're the "Bah Humbug" type.

At my house, Halloween usually marks the beginning the holiday season as we enter into the final two months of the year and unpredictably cooler temperatures. We know that after the costumes are taken off, it is time not only to empty last year's Halloween candy from the candy jar to make room for the new candy, but it means that Thanksgiving and Christmas are on the near horizon. At this point, my holiday spirit crescendos from "pianissimo" to "mezzo-piano." But still, with no Thanksgiving carols to sing, I've still a long way to go to fully get into the spirit.

But this year, my holiday spirit was jump started by the local hospital. If you've been reading my blogs, (start the entire story here) you know I recently spent a lot of time (and money) there. With the last of my of 6 surgeries on October 31, I was released on Tuesday, November 4th. As I was being wheeled out by the nurse, we passed by the gift shop which was festooned with the usual Christmas decor: trees lights, Nutcracker dolls, and fragile, overpriced ceramic snowmen. Being in the hospital for 11 consecutive days, I thought I might have gone through a time warp or slipped into a coma for a while. I glanced at my watch to verify what time, day, and month it actually was. Sure enough, Thanksgiving was still three weeks away, but Thanksgiving doesn't sell as well as Christmas, so I guess it DID make sense. Somewhere in the back of my mind I heard "Jingle Bells" accompanied by the sounds of cash registers. Suddenly I emerged into the bright, hot sunlight and I knew that it was November in Texas. More importantly, I knew I was finally getting the heck out of there for good. Somewhere in the back of my mind I heard "There's No Place Like Home for the Holidays." I felt my spirit elevate to straight "piano" level.

Back at home, the holiday spirit took a back seat to pure, unadulterated joy of just sleeping in my own bed (thicker than the 4 inch, plastic mattress of the hospital), taking in the familiar smells of home, and navigating on crutches through the maze of toys and shoes sprinkled throughout the house. Once I got settled in, the spirit rose to "mezzo-forte," a level that was almost noticeable, as we began decorating the house with the colors of Autumn (you can tell a lot about a person by whether he uses the word "Autumn" or "Fall." What it tells you, I don't really know . . ., but I know with a bad knee, I didn't want to think about the word "Fall.") The entire family enjoyed my homecoming, and we celebrated by putting out our Thanksgiving decorations: the ceramic turkey on the fireplace mantle and the colored pictures of the cornucopias my kids made at school on the refrigerator.

Then, wouldnt' you know, a cool front blew through for a half day and the weather outside turned a bit chilly, not "I need a coat" chilly, but rather, "oooh, I'm not sweating" chilly. Walking outside in this type of weather in the early morning on the crunchy brown, dead grass with a warm cup of coffee in one hand and a cane in the other brings me closer to feeling the spirit with each new labored step.

Then came Thanksgiving, a day I really look forward too, not only because of all the delicious food, but because by that time of year, I'm practically BURSTING on the inside from all my pent-up thanks. It's nice to have a day that provides an outlet for all that gratitude. With the food still digesting in my satiated, distended stomach, the holiday spirit hit me hard as I saw the Dallas Cowboys' football game got underway. As the game went to its first commercial, Joe Buck and Troy Aikman, the game's commentators explicitly wished me "Happy Holidays." Their unselfish thoughtfulness sent my heart into sappy, sentimental palpitations. Those are the same two guys I had spent many a Sunday with in the hospital. Now here we were together on the outside. Somewhere in the back of my head I heard "Joy to the World" as my spirit reached "forte."

Since then, as my health has improved, so has my holiday spirit. Listening to Christmas music, attending the kids' Christmas programs, doing some Christmas shopping, Christmas decorating, Christmas Egg Nog drinking, watching a little Christmas television programming on the tube, and the exciting prospect of Christmas bonuses never to come has my spirit rapidly ascending to a fevered pitch. Going through the blow-in fliers of the newspapers with the kids is an inexpensive, fun activity too. As we look through the pages of the Target, Wal-Mart, Toys R Us, and Victoria's Secret catalogs, my son circles nice practical gifts like socks, video games we BOTH enjoy, and the models in the Lingerie catalog. My daughter on the other hand circles everything that is pink, purple, pertains to Hannah Montana, and everything that is NOT pink, purple, or pertains to Hannah Montana.

But being an astute dad with tons of hospital bills to pay and a limited budget for Christmas gifts this year, I have more insightful ways to learn what my kids REALLY want for Christmas by listening very carefully to what they sing about. My son has discovered Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas Is You," and my daughter can't get enough of Gayla Peevey's "I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas." As they sing them over and over and over and over again in the car and at home and in stores and in my sleep, my spirit rises to the same "fortissimo" level at which the kids are singing the songs, but then decrescendos a bit after hearing each song for the 10th consecutive time.

If there is any veracity in their lyrical wishes, I am comforted by how easy it will be to fulfill my son's Christmas wish. In fact, just by being home and out of the hospital, his gift came early. I'd almost prefer, though, to buy the entire Toys R Us catalog for my daughter than try to find and purchase a Hippo, not to mention getting that animal wrapped and under the tree.

And so my Christmas spirit will continue to escalate all the way through Christmas and into New Year's day. With a little luck, the weather will turn colder and the credit card bill will get lost in the mail on its way to me. That would be the ultimate pinnacle of holiday jubilance.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Merry Christmas From the Korpis

Send your own ElfYourself eCards


I've been to Office Max before, and I've watched several videos on JibJab.com, I've even celebrated a few Christmases through the years, but never did I imagine that the three of these perennial powerhouses of pleasure, presents, and pencils would join forces to make sharing holiday cheer so fun and easy.

After reading the Sunday paper checking out all blow-ins for the Black Sunday deals, I came across the Office Max flier. Not only were they having a great deal on office furniture (which I didn't need) and external terabyte storage drives (which I could use), but they advertised a chance to "Elf Yourself." After checking out the deals on their DVD-R+ and CD-R blank media solutions, I retreated to my computer before the blessed loved ones awoke from their peaceful slumber in MY bed (that's why I was up early) to "Elf" myself and my sleeping beauties.

As they quietly awoke from THEIR peaceful slumber, we gathered around the computer to criticize how well (or unwell) I was able to crop photos around a green elf hat, but mostly to laugh out loud as we enjoyed watching miniature caricatured versions of ourselves dance the disco, Charleston, and country two-step. As we watched and rewatched ourselves doing dips with each other and our new dog "Hannah," (our OTHER dog "Cookie" is very shy) we clicked through the digital "gift shop" where we were enticed with mouse pads, coffee cups, T-shirts, auto decals, hats, ornaments, and photos of our alter egos in very suggestive poses, poses that suggested that we actually knew how to dance, were 2 feet tall with giant heads, and dressed like Peter Pan. We couldn't resist. The question wasn't what NOT to buy, but rather, how much of EACH to buy. We settled on an ornament for the grandparents and a photo for our Christmas cards (which some of you may have received--the secrets out now: the photo was NOT take in our back yard.)

It was with the most unselfish motive that we overpaid for the photo images as my tech-savvyess to capture high-res images of ourselves was was outdone by their tech-savvyness to hook me and force me to pay for them. So much for the holiday spirit of "giving" on their part. But it was money well spent. It sure made our new dog feel like "one of the family."

So enjoy the goofy video from the Korpi family. Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and happy belated Thanksgiving.

My your holiday season be filled with as many memorable happy, goofy moments as ours.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Gift of Plastic

There has been a lot of talk recently, or at least a lot of unsolicited exaggerated e-mails, about which gift card to buy and which not to buy this year because of the potential for retailers selling the gift cards to go belly up before the lucky recipient of the card gets around to using it. Whether or not this is exaggerated rumor or whether there is any veracity in the hullabaloo I don't know. Could it really be that if I buy a gift card for a friend to, let's say, Wal-Mart, is it likely that the mega-chain will fold soon? Likely not. If, however, I buy a gift card to the newly opened "All You Can Eat Buffet To Go" restaurant, it's likely that my friend will be unable to use it before the restaurant owner is eaten out of house and home.

Could it be that these claims are just deleterious and nefarious aspersions of competitors vying for a bigger piece of the gift card pie? I could easily see the owner of "Joe's Auto Massage" spreading a rumor that his competitor, "Ken's Kar Karessing" is going out of business. In such a narrow, limited market consisting of the small percentage of insane people who think automobiles benefit from an oiled rubdown, one might resort to such dubious business practices to increase customers, or to get a single one.

For the most part, the claims have been falsified. Stores like Talbot's Kids, Talbot's Mens, Talbot's Womens, and Talbot's Pets have no plan to close; however, company spokespersons have admitted that Talbot's Zombies is closing it's doors. Other companies on the list like Eddie Bauer, Ann Taylor, Lane Bryant, The Gap, Zales, Home Depot, and CompUSA are in fact closing down some stores, but mainly at night when the mall closes. Look for them to rebound the following day around 10:00am.

Stores like The Sharper Image and Wilson's Leather are already out of business, so if you buy a gift card from them, you must have purchased it from a charlatan who was likely standing outside the deserted building that used to be the actual store. Either that or you bought in on online on ebay for pennies on the dollar, so the fact that you won't get to use it is nullified by the fact that you got a great steal and have already realized real savings. Call your useless card a "bargain book mark."

There is one gift card that is currently available whose provider will never go out of business--a Planned Parenthood gift card!! The perfect gift for those who have everything the want, and maybe something they don't. I'm not sure how many $25 dollar cards are flying off the shelf, but I imagine that amount won't get you much, but at least there's no "onerous" exchange or real money, just a swipe of the card at the counter.

Not that I don't appreciate the charitable considerate gift card to Starbucks every now and the, but aren't gift cards just cop out gifts given by the uncreatively lazy? First of all, giving a gift card is like giving cash, except with the limitation of having to spend it only a facility of the giver's choosing. It's like telling the person, "Hey, I didn't know what to get you 'cause I didn't think about it all that hard or cleverly 'cause I don't really know you well enough to do that anyway, but I DO know that Super Wal Mart has everything, so here's a thoughtful gift card of $10. Get yourself something nice, and remember it's from me . . . " Or "I forgot to get you something until the last minute. I suddenly rembered at the checkout while I was buying a new bulb for my broken tail light, so enjoy this gift card of $20 to Auto Zone. Remember, they'll INSTALL wiper blades if you buy them there."

AND

Gift cards are really a scam by the issuing business anyway. Not only is it money in their pocket today for goods and services purchased tomorrow, it is very often money in their pocket today for goods and services purchased next year or never. If you're like me and have a lot of hoplessly lazy friends who don't really know me very well, you've gotton your share of gift cards. I have to confess that unless I use them the day I get them, they get filed in my wife's accordian file under the correct alphabetical tab where they sit and mature and depreciate until the expiration date passes or the plastic decomposes. When I think of shopping somewhere or grabbing a bite to eat, I do not first say, "To where do I possess a gift card?" Instead I say, "What do I need and where can I get it?" and "For what am I hungry?" (I actually put prepositions first when I talk to myself.)

Even when I DO get around to using the things, I've noticed that the recipients, specifically waiters and waitresses, seem put off by having to deal with a card (especially if you try to pay for the meal with an Auto Zone card.) I almost feel like they judge me too, saying things in their head like, "I kind of had a suspicion that you really couldn't afford to eat her. Now I know for sure--your meal was financed by a rich, benevolent benefactor! How on Earth are you going to tip me?"

And then there's always that awkward amount leftover at the end. You're standing at the register saying, "Let's see, what else can I get for 57 cents. Do you sell gum by the stick?" THAT'S where the companies actually make their money, assuming the card gets used at all. It's the small change left unspent that accumulates on a grand scale, just like in "Office Space." Either that, or the customer ends up spending ADDITIONAL money to augment that 57 cents to actually get something decent. "Let's see, 57 cents left . . . . I tell you what. Let's throw in that 50,000 BTU stainless steel gas grill and that basketball hoop. How much extra do I owe you?" I guess cards are a clever way to get us into the stores, where we usually spend more than the value of the card.

That, or we forget we even have the card to begin with, but keep going to that merchant in the hopes of using it, leaving our accordian file at home, filed under "D" for "D'oh!"In all seriousness, all the support and meal cards I received from family and friends during my surgical ordeals were used and were very much appreciated. Thank you all.

It's those two Macaroni Grill cards I still have from almost 10 years ago that I'm now too sentimental to part with that this blog is about.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Blogs that sound the same

If you were listening to instrumental guitar rock 4 years ago, you might have heard the song "If I Could Fly," by supreme guitar extraordinaire Joe Satriani.

If you've been listening to popular radio for the last few months, then you've heard the song "Viva la Vida" by British band Coldplay.

Well now, Satriani says that if you've heard the Coldplay song and not his, then you've actually heard his song, except with words.

Last week in court, the "Satch Man," as Satriani is called, sued Coldplay, who have been dubbed the "new" Beatles or the dung Beatles, depending on who you ask, for plariarism over allegations that their song "Viva la Vida" borrowed the melody from his song "If I Could Fly." Satriani said that he was shocked the first time he heard Coldplay's tune. "It was like a dagger through the heart," he said. Chris Martin, the lead singer for Coldplay adamantly insists that his band did nothing wrong and thinks the lawsuit filed by the guy whose name rhymes with "Moe Batriani" is absurd.

There's even a video on You Tube that got over a million hits in the first day that compares the two songs. The video plays clips from each song that leave the viewer with the obvious impression that the only really good Coldplay song is just a rip off of Satriani's labor of love. The maker of the video then overlays the two songs which actually sounds better than either one standing alone, but don't expect the two to tour together anytime soon.

Could it be that Coldplay came up with a statistically significant similar melody out of pure happenstance, or is did they think that Satriani's music was instrumental simply because he could not speak or speak out? Music has been around for a long, long time and melodies have enjoyed remarkable originality through the years, but could it be that we are simply running out of new, unique melodies? Are similiar songs just musical accidents? I oftened wondered this when I was a kid, and since that time there have been thousands of new, original recordings hitting the airways and even more thousands going unreleased on albums. If man has already produced every possible melody, then the mathematical concept of the "pigeonhole principle" dictates that at least two melodies will be the same, not counting deliberately recycled melodies like "Twinkle Twinkle," the "ABC" song, and "Baa Baa Black Sheep."

This means that there might be another "Achy, Breaky Heart" somewhere down the lines, perhaps as an instrumental orchestral piece. Lynyrd Skynyrd's classic "Sweet Home Alabama" might someday reappear as a country song sung by a rock artist--oh wait, Kid Rock already did that. But sampling or oversampling existing tunes is entirely different that "original" works that sound eerily the same. Why, just last August, the Black Crowes sued Gretchen Wilson, claiming her ditty "Work Hard, Play Harder" sounded a lot like the Crowes "Jealous Again" hit.

The most famous case is probably a lawsuit brought about by former Beatle (not of Coldplay) George Harrison against The Chifons, claiming their "He's So Fine," is a rip-off of his "My Sweet Lord." Sounds like the same song to me with an synonymous title. And there are others:
  • Mercury and Bowie's "Under Pressure" and Vanilla Ice's "Ice Ice Baby"--of course ICE will tell you that there's and extra "duh" in his version . . . DUH!
  • SClub7's "I never had a dream come true" and Eliot Yamin's "Wait for you"--the former American Idol standout didn't even TRY to hide this one.
  • Backstreet Boys "Drowning" and O-Town's "All or Nothing"--Boy bands copying other boy bands is downright uninteresting.
  • Sly and the Family Stone's "Thank you for letting me be myself" was boosted by Janet Jackson in "Rhythm Nation."--She later thanked Sly and the Family Stone for letting her just be themselves.
  • The Christmas Classic "What Child is this?" and "Greensleeves"--what are Greensleeves anyway?
  • Francis Scott Key's "Star-Spangled Banner" and Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train"--well, maybe not so much
  • Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven all sound like Wagner, Handel, and Vivaldi--supposedly all good for babies. I wonder if THEY can tell the difference?.!
  • Even the number 1 rock and roll song of all time, Led Zepplin's "Stairway to Heaven" sounds eerily similar to Spirit's "Taurus," a song that predates it by 3 years!!! Say it isn't so!!! That one HAD to be an accident.
Of course there are many, many others. If you care, just "google" it or do a search on "You Tube." What should or could be done in situations like this? Well, that's for the courts to decide. I'll I know is that in the most recent case, I'm very excited to learn of the great song by Joe Satriani. I've been listening to it over and over. So, thanks Coldplay for turning me on to such a great tune. Keep 'em coming.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Web Logging

or Blogging for short. An activity that is sweeping the globe, replacing diaries and personal journals. Today, just about everyone has a blog. You can find one on literally any topic you want. But what happens when you've got good ideas or just plain mental garbage that you'd like to put out into the Blogosphere community but you just don't know where to start? Good news! There's a new book for you.

Blogger extraordinaire Arianna Huffington (huffingtonpost.com) has just published a new book entitled "The Complete Guide to Blogging." In it, she puts forth delineated, enumerated sequences by which someone interested in getting into the act can follow. With a new blog appeared world-wide every half second, the book outlines how the the people NOT contributing to the approximately 175,000 new blogs per day can join the Blogosphere. Believe it or not, tip number one is NOT to "google" the topic of "how to start a blog," but rather the deeply profound and insightful tip of "Blog your passions." The chapter then goes into more detail about WHICH passions to blog: your "obvious" passions, and your "hidden" passions.

Although I was able to start this blog with a little initiative and the finger agility that was necessary to typed the keyboard in the correct sequence, I could see how the sale of the book could be useful to some people, people like Arianna Huffington. But even to someone like me without real passions who already has a blog and who manages to crank out 3 to 4 posts a week, the book appears to offer something useful. Theirin contained within the pages are not only the "obvious" things needed to blog, but also the "hidden" tricks needed for a "successful" blog.

Now we're getting somewhere. What IS a successful blog? What do bloggers expect to get out of their efforts? Some do it for money. Some do it for attention. Some do it for entertainment. Some do it for pleasure. Some do it to share their vision with the world. Some do it because they have no job and don't feel like getting dressed. Some do it merely for a personal catharsis.

For me, I'm not as interested in drawing such a large readership, but rather do it for more personal reasons. I've kept a written journal much of my life, and an online blog is great, cheap way to keep everything in one place. The fact that others may view my writing has certainly shaped the topics and the way in which I write, but it still serves the same purpose: a purging of emotions and a forced session of introspection and creativity through hyperbolic writing (NO, my son is not REALLY getting a tattoo.) The fact that two people read this blog is a delightful bonus, and I do enjoy reading the occasional comment left and the interactive repartee. Anything that gets me thinking and laughing or gets others thinking and laughing is worth it in and of itself. After all, our family credo is "learn a lot, love a lot, laugh a lot." Blogging a lot seems to help me personally accomplish those three, although my wife really dislikes my "love" of the computer at times.

So information is a powerful thing, and how-to books have been immensely popular as more and more do-it-yourselfers begin to do things for themselves. If you're blogging for profit and want your blog site to get thousands of hits each day, then Huffington's book may be for you. I hope you have valuable passions to share. If you're interested in rewiring you house, then I suggest foregoing the Time/Life book on electricity and hire a licensed professional to do it. But if you are interested in just hammering a few keys at the computer to put down some of your own thoughts for your own sanity, enjoyment, or as a way of having "real" conversations with your wife remotely, then just go to www.blogspot.com, wait for a half-second interval, and create your own web log--clothing optional!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Need . . .more . . . ink . . . .

Aside from meetings, I think one of the worst inventions of man is paperwork. Everywhere you go, or anything you do usually requires some sort of documentation or form to fill out, many times, more than one. For instance, I've got 7, yes SEVEN, accounts at the local hospital. Each time in entered and re-entered the hospital, whether as an admitted patient or on an outpatient basis for lab work, I had to go through the entire administration process all over again. This took anywhere from 45 minutes to 45 days, depending on the line in front of you and whether or not the pens were functioning or not. Luckily for me, if there was a silver lining to be found, my wife had to endure most of those since I was undergoing preoperative procedures in the OR.

Last week, as November came to a close, I went to the hospital for one of my last three lab draws. With only two more to go, both coming in December, I was told that my outpatient account was only good from month to month and that I have to . . . . yep, you guessed it . . . . re-register for the month of December!! Being a patient, understanding guy, I wasn't going to take up the issue with the wonderfully pleasant lab secretary to whom I had come to like (becoming chummy with hospital employees over a long period of time is not necessarily a good thing if you are a patient and not a co-worker, but that's another blog.) I knew the administrated red tape and bureaucratic hoop-jumping is out of her control. She was merely informing me of the protocol, a protocol she was no doubt taught during an administrative meeting.

One hour later, I was good to go for another month of lab draws. With all the information easily rolling over in the computer, there were only 5 or 6 . . . . . . dozen papers to sign. I thought I was going to have to get admitted to the E.R. to take care of my acute writer's cramp.

At least with the hospital, with so many agencies, billing practices, insurance companies involved, and liabilities, I can somewhat see how the paperwork could pile up. Not so in another instance. Earlier this summer, my 5-year-old daughter decided to have her ears pierced while we were shopping at a local mall. Trying to encourage her against her painful fears of getting holes in her skin, we were happy to duck into the nearest boutique before her courage waned. We had to do this fast, but that was not going to happen because of all the forms I had to fill out. Who knew that the actually piercing process, including deciding on which piercing posts to use, what color stone to select, carefully marking the ears so that they would turn out symmetrical and getting mom's approval on their position, cleaning the ears, and loading and using the gun would actually take less time than it took for me to fill out all 3 pages of required documentation. I had to give my social security number, driver's license number, my address and phone number, my birthday, and even my favorite color. I had to do everything but submit a DNA sample to prove that I was my daughter's legal guardian (the fact that she was calling me "Dad" and that she's got my nose didn't count for anything.)

Afterwards, there was the credit card processing and signing, along with an instruction booklet outlining "post-piercing" ear care, for which I had to sign an affidavit attesting to the fact that I had received it. WOW! I really don't know to this day why that process was so unnecessarily complicated. I'm guessing everyone out there today that is providing a good or service to anyone else in just practicing the CYA policy. It sure was a different experience, though, from when I put a piece of ice behind my ear in 7th grade and shoved one of my mom's studs through the thick part of my lobe. No paperwork involved, only pain and blood. Later that night I'd have to implement my own CYA policy when my dad discovered what I had done, but that's another blog.

Being a teacher, there's always paperwork. It's part of the job, I guess. Preparing lesson plans, quizzes, tests. Grading homework, quizzes, and tests. This paperwork is necessary to the job and for assessment. There's also the taxing, time-consuming responsibility of writing letters of recommendation for the dozens of students who need a good word from you to get into the college of their choice. Although I don't mind writing these, they all seem to ask at one time, and they always seem to need them by yesterday. But in addition to all the "tolerable" and "necessary" paperwork, there's a lot of useless tedium that falls under the CYA policy that puts increased burdens on all teachers: IEPs. 504s. Learning Objectives. Daily Agendas. Hidden Agendas. Educational Motives. Ulterior Motives. Documenting phone calls and e-mails to parents. Documenting modifications for special students. Documenting interventions for failing students. Documenting interventions for apathetic students. Documenting continuing education hours and professional development hours. Documenting this, that, and everything else. Sometimes it feels like documenting what needs to be done, what will be done, and what has been done supersedes actually doing it.

I guess what I'm really getting at is that I miss having a teaching assistant this year to help me with grading all the papers that seem to reproduce exponentially when left unattended, all these papers that I take for rides home and back to school each day.

Maybe I'll just quit assigning homework and giving quizzes. That should free up enough time for me to fill out the 10-page application needed for my 8-year-old son to get his tatoo.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Working Stiff

Into my third week of physical therapy now, I'm becoming more and more limber and flexible every single day, but still relatively slowly. I'm working on bending and straightening my leg, two very important movements that we all take for granted, but that currently cause me much pain and fatigue in trying to accomplish.

As a matter of pragmatics, I've been focusing on the bending part, doing wall slides, heel slides, and squats in order to stretch both the locked-up knee and the crazy-tight quads. My progress helps me to do simple things like walk down stairs reciprocally, switch pedals from gas to brake to gas in the car, and to kick my cat. As it turns out, the bending is the lesser important goal. It's the straightening that is more critical. With the knee acting like a hinge, not being able to straighten the leg is tantamount to having a small stone stuck in the hinge, preventing it from coming together. Scar tissue acts like the stone in the hinge, and after time, it becomes so hard and calcified that it can only be removed by surgical intervention. The mention of the word "surgery" was enough to get me focusing on straightening the leg more aggressively. Additionally, the quads cannot get a true firing unless the leg is straight, impeding the efficiency of my progress.

The exercise is simple: put a couple of pillows under my heel and let gravity do its thing. I add a 5 pound weight just below the knee to help it along. If that gets old, and it gets painfully old after only a few minutes, I transition onto my growing belly (not enough aerobic exercise and too much Thanksgiving leftovers) and let my leg hand off the bed. Moving the weight to the ankle gets the most painful (and effective) stretch. I try to sustain this for 10 to 15 minutes, but my wife usually makes me stop sooner so the kids don't have to hear so much swearing.

For all my hard work, I finally hit zero degrees yesterday for the first time. That's a straight leg making up what mathematicians call a "straight angle" of 180 degrees. Although it initially required the assistance of electro-shock therapy, (or "e-stim" as the people administering the electrocution who don't actually feel the shock call it), I was able to flex to zero on my own after the juice subsided. The Aloe Vera on the electrical burns seemed like such a nice way to celebrate my accomplishment. Of course, my good leg hyperextends a few degrees, so I still have progress to make past zero. Besides, after a full day of teaching on my feet, the blood pools in my knee, making it swollen and stiff. Additionally, it also stiffens up each night, as I sleep with it slightly bent and very still (spooning pose). This means I lose most of any progress I make the day before. Sounds great, huh?

As for the leg bending, I went from 90 degrees yesterday at the beginning of the 1-hour sesssion to 109.99 degrees at the end. Because I was torturing myself so mercilessly on the squat machine and managing not to cuss up a storm, the therapist rounded the final number to 110 degrees. That means I made a 20 degree gain in the bendy direction and 8 degrees in the straight direction (I came in at 8 degrees) for a total of 28 degrees of total gain!! I promised I wouldn't cuss in front of my kids anymore, so the therapist fudged and gave me a nice, round 30 degree gain.

What does that mean? That means this morning I woke up having lost 30 degrees of flexibility--Da*$%@ It!!!! Sorry kids, I didn't mean to wake you.

The therapist says that it's normal to lose what I've gained, but not desirable. What is lost is more easily reagained the next time, but the pain in getting there isn't any less. So either I give up sleep, train myself to do heel slides while sleeping, or deal with daily setbacks.

Right now, running again seems so far off in the future if at all. At least I have food to comfort me.

That reminds me . . . It's time to eat. Looks like tonight is "Turkey Étouffée."

Monday, December 1, 2008

More, please. I'm stuffed.

Well Thanksgiving is over and Black Friday is behind us, but we're all still feeling their effect. If your Thanksgiving was a great one like mine was, that means you had plenty to eat. It also means that there is lots of turkey left over, sitting in the refrigerator, waiting to be made into something "else" that doesn't resemble turkey at all. . . . There's turkey carver sandwiches, turkey soup, turkey ka-bobs, turkey gumbo, turkey salad, turkey enchiladas, and turkey in the trash can. Most people I talked to couldn't wait to eat something, anything besides turkey, which is why restaurants do so well the Friday after Thanksgiving, and Boston Market??? well, not so well.

It's okay to get tired of it, so don't feel bad about throwing it away. If you can't bear to throw away perfectly good food, do what I do: keep it in your fridge for several weeks, keeping it as an option each night for dinner, but only as a "fake" option. Once the turkey begins turning green and slimy, it's okay to toss it out. No one is going to fault you for that. Dressing, on the other hand, is another story. First of all, you're probably not likely to have any of that left over, unless your family is like mine, where the matriarchs with their secret, proven recipe make batches and batches of the stuff so that everyone gets to take some home with them. I can, and have, made entire meals out of just a plate full of left over stuffing and gravy. No need to cleverly disguise it as anything else. Besides, the density of the stuff means that it has a longer shelf life than turkey parts, especially if that shelf is in a refrigerator, and especially if that refrigerator is plugged in and is cooling properly . . . but I digest . . .

As for Black Friday, yes, that day is behind us too. It's kind of ironic that the biggest day of commercial exploitation and display of human greed and avarice, a day where we buy things we do not need at prices we cannot refuse, especially if it is "limit two per person," follows a national holiday in which we are supposed to give thanks for the things we have, for the things that matter most to us as we partake in a ceremonial dinner surrounded by friends and family. It's like, "be happy for the blessings you already have, then go out and hoard more material possessions."

Venturing out on Friday a.m. to watch the behavior of the masses of "bargain" hunters, you would never guess that our nation is in a financial recession. People were shopping for widescreen, high-def TVs as if they were going out for bread, milk, and eggs: every shopping cart at Wal-Mart, Sam's, Target, and Cost Co (a few of the places we went to) had one in it. Why even at Academy Sporting Goods, I heard a customer ask, "Where's you TVs? Are you already sold out?" It was very entertaining to watch people race to get a piece of the pie. I felt like I should have been eating popcorn, at least I know for next year. For example, at Wal Mart, there were 4 fiercly competetive people standing in front of the last 3 plasma TVs on the floor, each with a hand on a box making intimidating looks at one another while calling their spouses on the cell phone held in their other hand: "I got one . . . I think . . . how are things at your store?". One of them was going to lose, or take a chance on the stock persons bringing out some "fresh" ones from the back later on. It was like watching musical chairs, except the loser was left to watch TV on their old, standard, antiquated cable, color TV.

I began wondering if we were fighting over HDTVs in prehistoric times, back when the saber tooth tiger was king and civilization was slightly less than what it is today if the "hand on the box" technique would be sufficient to claim the prize. Imagine a smaller animal catching its prey and preparing to feast upon it when the saber tooth tiger comes onto the scene. "Pardon me," says the tiger, "as hungry as I am and as much as would love to eat what you have, I see you have your paw on the carcass, so off I hungrily go . . . " Oh how far we have come and yet so little progress we've made.

I guess the only two consolations for those who didn't get what they wanted on Black Friday is that they could have taken advantage of the latest, greatest deals today during "Cyber Monday," the most recent ploy of commercial retailers to create a false sense of consumer urgency and value. The final consolation is that at least they have turkey leftovers waiting for them at home in the fridge.