"We like camping better!" --Raymond Alexander Kukkee

view of the north shore Critter Pond, KOA Canandaigua NY [c] 2009 jcb

Back on track: Merry Christmas!

It's time for Tuesday Trivia, already, and I haven't even picked a Friday Song, yet! But it's also Christmas-time: the get-it-done, last-minute-shopping, visit relatives, spend quality time with the kids, take some time off... time. I may get to the trivia, then, or I may not. I been busy!

There was a door to finish, which had vanished, as described in my business blog. And there was Millie's half-a-kitchen to finish, which I haven't even finished posting there yet! Also, some gifts to round up, and wrap-up, for the boys and for my wonderful wife. My truck's misbehaving, too. It's in the shop right now, as I type this post. Haven't heard from them yet, mechanically. The truck shakes so bad over fifty-five, that I can't even try sixty-five. That's not good, given the amount of expressway driving I do. I've got some voice-over work to do, as well, which I haven't even begun to get to, (or even to post about it!).

We had a very violent Christmas, by the way. Bad parents! My boys are teen-age and nearly teen-age, so they love things that go bang. Who doesn't? They both picked-out six-shooter Nerf® guns for their birthdays (in the couple of weeks just past). We, my wife and I, had already decided to get them new splatball guns for Christmas. Yeah, I know, not very educational; but they are both very good students and we boys absolutely love playing splatball together. The guns they had from two summers ago were both the most basic models offered at Wal-Mart. I wanted to get them some fancy ones, Vipers or something, but the cost of two of those simply added up too high. Anyway, the boys were pleased and didn't shoot anything indoors or otherwise create anyunnecessaryy mayhem.

I had hoped to have this entire week off originally, but that just didn't work out. Yesterday was the day the banks and post offices stayed closed. I ended up working the afternoon, to try to finish Millie's kitchen. It wasn't hard work, and she's very nice, and it didn't take too long--so it was fine. This morning I had to head out early, basically regular time, to go pick-up a re-ordered countertop and install it for another customer in Hamlin. He's been more than patient, the top hadn't vanished, and all went well, even the weather. So that was fine, too.

I've been working on my webpage skills this week, which really need the work, by the way. I found a wonderful Forum, with some very helpful designers. That led to a whole ton of reading, as I followed advice and links. And a funny thing happened along the way: I ended up at the site for the guy who designed my business blog, Douglas Bowman of Stopdesign. His name came up in an Editor's Note at the end of an article I was reading about liquid page design, at A List Apart (a blog-style series of great articles about web design and much more). That last link, by the way, goes directly to article I mentioned. Anyway, he writes very clean code and definitely knows his stuff, so I was pleased to end up with one of his templates. I was also pleased to finally send him a "thank you" for that template, which I'd been meaning to do for weeks.

I've managed to combine things I would normally post on three different Blogs here, but that's the kind of week this is. It's Christmas, and soon to be New Year's day. So Merry Christmas, y'all, and Happy New Year, too! Thanks for listening, whoever you may be.

Tuesday Trivia has its ups and downs

I started this Tuesday Trivia post because there are lots of odd little thoughts that occur to me; it's only fair that I share these tidbits with whoever else might read these posts. Why should I be the only one with annoying random thoughts running around my brain? Tonight I want to talk about ups and downs, literally. Some things we do "up" and others we do "down." Why is this so? Who came up with this odd bit of language?

Here's a topical example: we all fill-up our gastanks. That makes sense. So, what's a break-up? Isn't it less than what you had before? And why isn't break-down the opposite of break-up? (I'll stop italicizing now, and assume you can supply your own emphasis.) Here's another: when you come to a stop-sign do you slow-down or slow-up? Sure, either one will do. Okay, then, why do touch-down and touch-up have absolutely nothing to do with each other? Sit down, please. Now sit-up. No, don't do a sit-up. How about "spit-up"? It's almost never up, is it? But no one spits down, linguistically speaking. Have you ever had to back down, when you were backing up? Sometimes you just have to yield the right of way, huh?

Choke-up on the bat, but don't choke down that hotdog after the game. When your company is about to shut down, do you shut up? Or do you speak up? No one speaks down, although they often talk down. That's after they get done talking up their latest deal, of course. When work winds down on Friday afternoon, do you get wound-up? Have you ever taken a shake-down cruise? Did you get shook-up? Give me the low-down on that one; but don't bother with the low-up: that's not even a word.

Would you put up with a put-down? Let up when you've been let down? Is it proper to show up at a show-down? If you went to jail, would they lock you up or lock you down? Why does a hurricane blow down your house, but a bomb blows up a building? If you were feeling run down, you might run up your credit card bill. That's up to you, don't you think? I'm down with that. Until next time...

No, I'm not a... XXL, But that's Friday's Song!

You can't really tell from my Profile pic, but I'm not a "big" guy. I'm tall, but not much sticks to my ribs. Been that way since I was a kid. My oldest son, Austin, seems to have been cloned from the same genes. He's fourteen this week (Happy Birthday!) and already about five-ten. He might weigh a hundred thirty, maybe.Photo courtesy of CMT.com ©2005 So, what's his favorite song? His absolute #1 pick for "turn it up, Dad!" is Keith Anderson's XXL. Go figure. I'm giving in to his excellent taste in country music, then, and serving up a double-ex-el helping for this Friday's song. Sometimes you just hafta humor your kids, you know.

I'm not saying this song isn't worthy. Don't get me wrong there. It's catchy as all hell, got a great beat, and you can jam along while you're driving. Let me be clear, though: this song is about BIG guys. Verse by verse, the singer gets bigger and bigger. Fifth grade he's wearing a size twelve shoe. By eighth grade the coaches have him playin' high school football. This guy came out of the womb huge and got larger from there. I just can't relate. At all. Even Keith Anderson can't really relate, himself. He may be some kind of crowd-pleasing hunky country singer, but he's no XXL, either. He comes from a "big" family, he says. He was the smallest. So the song's a tribute to oversize guys. That's cool.

In a recent interview Anderson explained the roots of his latest and hottest release. The lyrics first emerged shortly after 9/11's tragic events. Keith was talking to another song-writer and observed that many of our new "heroes" were regular Joe's: big ol' beefy firefighters and cops. He wondered if he couldn't come up with something lighter in tribute to those men. With a light-hearted, humorous approach to those regular heroes, XXL glorifies those who outweigh the competition. Okay, even though I can't really relate, this is a rockin' tune that has to be doing very well in the honky-tonks. It's just good, clean fun!

There's a lyric in the refrain that we have to talk about. Each verse describes the increasing poundage of the singer, as well as the wonderful effects his excess size has on his life. The refrain, modified just a little each time, goes something like this:

Oooh glbblegwobble Baby, I'm a double-ex-el!

What's that word in there, you may ask? It's not a word at all--it's a sound. Remember when you were a kid and you tried to make the sound of a referee's whistle, but you didn't have a whistle? Or maybe: you know the sound you make when you step outside and it's really cold, and you sort of say, "brrrrrrrrrr," but it's not actually a word? That's the lyric. Austin gets the biggest kick out of that. Now I can admit it; so do I. That one sound makes the whole song great. You have to hear it to believe me. There you have it.

Monday Evening Quarterback

After Nicky's big win on Saturday (see post, below), I was pumped for the Buffalo Bills' home game against the mighty New England Patriots on Sunday. Ralph Wilson Stadium was filled to capacity. A stiff breeze brought a dazzling snowfall onto the gridiron, filling the air with festive flakes. It was a perfect winter Sunday for football, against an arch-rival, in our house. And yet, somehow, it was a recipe for a Buffalo Bills disaster. I shoulda known. I shouldn'a been surprised.

What went right for the Bills yesterday? Wide receiver Josh Reed caught a J.P. Lossman pass at midfield and eluded FOUR tacklers to go fifty yards for a touchdown. With about two minutes left in the game. With us behind by about a six touchdowns. Whoopee. That was it. The rest of the game--the part where the Bills' score was a big, fat ZERO--was pretty pathetic. The Pat's could do no wrong; the Bills could do no right. Sounds very one-sided, but that's an understatement. Our team has enjoyed some limited success at home lately, and last week's game was only lost in the closing minutes. This week's game was a shellacking, pure and simple.

So what went wrong? How does the same team that nearly defeated the Patriots on their home turf turn in an historically horrible performance here in Buffalo? I couldn't bear to listen to any of the post-game bullsh** to hear any of the standard excuses. Was it play-calling? Was it all J.P.'s fault: "he's young and inexperienced; he'll learn"? Did our defense let us down? Did we "fail to capitalize" on our red-zone opportunities? Was star wide-receiver Eric Moulds (suspended for last week's sideline side-show) sorely missed? Or should we blame this loss on our superstar running back, who didn't look too shiny yesterday? Yeah, that was it. Every one of those points are correct, and a dozen more. Too many to fix. To dreary to dissect any further.

All this leads to Saturday's big game, home again, against the best-in-their division Denver Broncos. It leads to empty seats for that game. Which leads to a television blackout, which is one of the last things this struggling team can afford. Fewer fans. Less enthusiasm, and little or no expectation of victory. Another year in which our Buffalo Bills aren't invited to the post-season party, not even as a wild-card. Even the best teams lose a game or three, especially on the road. But losses like the one we suffered on Sunday put the Bills on a list with teams you wouldn't pay to watch, and can't watch for free. That's not good for Buffalo, for business, for football or football fans. Big sigh. We'll get 'em next year. Yeah, that's it.

First Lego League tourny

My youngest son, Nick, is a bit of an over-achiever. With the school system's help, we've worked hard to keep him challenged. He's a voracious reader, loves to write, and excells at math, too. If we moved him ahead one grade, he'd probably be right on course. That would be silly, though. Anyway, one of the coolest programs the school offered to keep kids like Nicky motivated is sponsored by the Lego Corporation. It's a competition similar to the Robotics tournaments held at the high school level. Nick's group worked with Lego® pieces, including a small programmable robot module, in a mission called Ocean Odyssey. The project design is very specific, but the participants had lots of flexibility in how they chose to approach and solve the problems presented. Months of extra-curricular work led to today's First Lego League tournament, an all-day event involving more than twenty teams from around the state.

We spent the day on the beautiful, snow-swept University of Rochester campus. The tournament played out in the U of R's rambling brick and steel Goergen Athletic Center, in the basketball arena. The kids had to check in by eight this morning, with closing ceremonies scheduled for late afternoon. The hard court surface, concrete bleachers, and soaring steel-truss ceiling all served as amplifiers for the more than two hundred competitors and their parents, coaches, judges and volunteers. I think the right word is cacaphony. The competition is very carefully scripted but filled with plenty of time for the players to blow off some Saturday steam. Eight hours watching an engineering-oriented tournament sounded tedious in advance. It was a blast!

The meat of the meet focused on motorized Lego® robots, designed by the kids. There was more to this eight-week program, though. Students learned about environmental issues and devised problem-solving approaches that were presented by the teams to event judges during the morning. Later, when the trophies were presented, we all found out just how important those presentations were. Teams also scored big points for great teamwork, enthusiasm, and sportsmanship. Judges observed the way the young scientists/engineers interacted with each other and with their competitors all day, including during practice sessions and between-times. The rest of us watched from the rock-hard bleachers, sought out the concession stands, and braved the bitter cold for brief forays onto the campus.

Nick's team was a rookie entrant, while some other teams had two or three years behind them. Several groups were composed of students a couple years older than Nick. Some teams were sponsored by the big names involved in the tournament, like Xerox and Bausch & Loam. One of the competitors was made up entirely of home-schooled kids! A couple others featured students from schools specifically focussed on a math/science curriculum. Our group, lacking experience and without corporate sponsorship, simply hoped to join the competition and place somewhere in the middle. The "let's all have fun out there" goal was easily met, right from the start.

The actual robotic competition consumed most of the afternoon with three rounds tightly controlled by the clock and by the zebra-striped referees. We all had many opportunities for screaming and cheering our encouragement. Who knew math and science could be loud and fun? The kids had a ball.

It's hours later now, and I'm sure every one of those young engineers is sound asleep, with strains of Queen's We Are the Champions running through their dreams. Our local eleven-o'clock news just ran their thirty-second feature on this Finger Lakes First Lego League tournament. They captured only a small part of the intensity and the carnival atmoshpere. The scoring and categories of trophies awarded were both a bit complicated, so the TV coverage didn't go into that end of it. It's not really about winning, after all, so much as it is about joining and competing, and about thinking "outside the box." Although the students had loads of fun, they also learned a lot in the process. Maybe they even made some new friends and came away with fresh ideas for how they might approach the competition next year.

Oh, yeah, I almost forgot to mention: WE WON!! Our seven, un-sponsored, public-schooled fifth-graders--who came in early and stayed late and gave up vacation time to practice--took the highest award: the Directors' Trophy. We were all surprised, stunned, and elated. And so, so proud.

Friday Song: Paisley-style

This week's Friday Song is from an artist who's long overdue, Brad Paisley. I hereby vote every song he's ever done for this slot! Not really, of course; that wouldn't be fair. But the guy had FIVE nominations for last month's CMA Awards and received exactly ZERO awards. How bizarre is that? Paisley is one of the five or six most talented male artists in Country music, and can't get and network TV recognition. He said, sincerely, that he would have been surprised to receive a major award this year because he's "new." Or something like that. Okay, there's humble, then there's too humble! I'll come back to that, but let's put just one song from Mr. Humble up for the Friday Song: When I Get Where I'm Going (with Dolly Parton singing in duet).

When I Get Where I'm Going is one of those enchanting, moving country songs which feels like a classic the first time you hear it. Where Brad's going is "up," figuratively as well as literally. Yup, it's a song about going to Heaven, and the singer is pretty sure he's bound to end up there. First he'll ride a raindrop, or run his hands through a lion's mane. He'll go searching for his grandfather, who's waiting there for him. Sounds a little hokey, but it doesn't come off that way. The lyrics are so sincere, without being maudlin, that you can't help but smile at the imagery there. You may not believe that you will end up meeting St. Peter when you go, but you believe the hero in this song will make it. He doesn't even testify to his good deeds or anything otherwise worthy, but you can feel it in his voice. He's a good guy who cares about the right things.

The real kick rides in on the final verse. There, Paisley sits down and lets Ms. Parton lead the vocals into an incredible high. Brad doesn't seem to mind sharing the spotlight with acclaimed vocalists; he seems to seek that kind of musical magic that can only be achieved when talented singers blend their voices. The guy certainly isn't insecure about his place in Nashville. Last year Paisley knocked listeners out with a haunting duet featuring Allison Krause (Whiskey Lullaby, which did win at least two major awards). Parton's high-altitude harmonies set this sweet, simple tune on a higher plateau. Heavenly, you might say.

Brad Paisley knows how to have some good fun, too. His Celebrity video featured Jason Alexander, William Shatner (as Simon Cowell, essentially), and Little Jimmie Dickens. Furthermore, the whole song poked fun at success for those without talent. As if Brad would ever fit that category! Mud on the Tires, title cut from last year's CD, was a good, old-fashioned country-roads-are-good-for-lovin' song. Been done before, for sure, but not quite the way Paisley did it. Could've been a Chevy commercial and earned him millions. But the video was completely irreverent, showing clips and stills from some major music fest that suffered from monsoon rains. Mud everywhere, especially on the girls. Then there's the scene where two voluptuous babes end up mud-wrestling in a splendid parody of a recent beer commercial. Brad Paisley knows how to deliver all the goods: happy, sad, funny, poignant, petty or powerful. I'm sure his next release will be something cute and lightweight, just to balance off When I Get Where I'm Going. I'll love that one, too.

You'll see music from Brad Paisley nominated here again, without question. I'm sure Brad will win some real awards, in the meantime. I think he's appearing on the Grammy Awards shortly. Maybe he'll even get one. He more than deserves one.

Oh what fun it is...

Some things are worth remembering, and Lucy usually manages to post those on her blog! I'm reprinting here, just so I won't forget these very important rules for living:

1. Do not walk behind me, for I may not lead. Do not walk ahead of me, for I may not follow. Do not walk beside me for the path is narrow. In fact, just f**k off and leave me alone.
2. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a broken fan belt and a flat tire.
3. The darkest hour is just before dawn. So if you're going to steal your neighbour's paper, that's the time to do it.
4. Sex is like air. It's not important unless you aren't getting any.
5. Don't be irreplaceable. If you can't be replaced, you can't be promoted.
6. No one is listening until you fart.
7. Always remember you're unique. Just like everyone else.
8. Never test the depth of the water with both feet.
9. If you think nobody cares whether you're alive or dead, try missing a couple of mortgage payments.
10. Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way, when you criticize them, you're a mile away and you have their shoes.
11. If at first you don't succeed, sky-diving is not for you.
12. Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him how to fish, and he will sit in a boat and drink beer all day.
13. If you lend someone $20 and never see that person again, it was probably worth it.
14. If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything.
15. Some days you are the bug, some days you are the windshield.
16. Good judgment comes from bad experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.
17. The quickest way to double your money is to fold it half and put it back in your wallet.
18. A closed mouth gathers no foot.
19. Duct tape is the Force. It has a light side and a dark side, and it holds the universe together.
20. There are two theories to arguing with women. Neither one works.
21.. Generally speaking, you aren't learning much when your lips are moving.
22. Experience is something you don't get until after you need it.
23. Never miss a good chance to shut up.
24. We are born naked, wet and hungry, and get slapped on our ass, then things get worse.
25. Never, under any circumstances, take a sleeping pill and a laxative on the same night.

Tuesday Trivia: mind-clutter

I'll call this a trivial matter. I'm referring to the mind-boggling amount of mind-clutter we all must assimilate just to get by. What the heck am I talking about? Take a moment, for the sake of illustration vs. explanation, and go get your remote. Doesn't matter which one (since most of us have a whole freakin' fleet of them!). OK, quick -- where's the Volume control? That was easy. You remember which button to press.

The point is, that little example is just one of the hundreds of little details we learn, then store for everyday use. People with lots of keys on their chain know what I mean. You have to know which key is for what lock, and you probably know which keys turn clockwise or not. You know LOTS of tiny little things! You have memorized the entire dashboard and control system in your car. You probably have a pretty good mind-map of your spouse's car, too, if he or she ever lets you drive it. How many VCR's or DVD players do you own? Three? At the very least, you know how to turn each one off and on. Mind-maps.

When you stop for coffee at the Hess station on your way to work, you know right where everything is there, too. Don't believe me? Try a different coffee-stop, even just a different location for the same brand. You'll spend at least two extra minutes navigating the new place, just for a cup of coffee. More's the point, you have a similar mental picture for every place you go regularly. For every remote control you use. For every appliance you operate. For every piece of office equipment in your work area. You even know the complete layout for your favorite newspaper. You could probably name the comic strips you read, in order!

So what? you may ask. Fact is, you can't help it! This is how our brains work, helping us cruise through our daily lives on auto-pilot. Imagine if every day was a whole new experience, and you had to learn all these little details from scratch each time. Trouble is, all those little mind-maps really add up. They're taking up a whole bunch of valuable room up there. No wonder it's so hard for older folks to learn new stuff! There's just no place left to put the new stuff, with all that other clutter piled to the rafters.

[reprinted from October]

Tuesday Trivia: Dramatic Music

Watching ER the other night, we noticed a scene in which one character proposes marriage to another. The setting was a tense operating room; the guy was standing in the viewing gallery, yelling through the glass to his intended. She was gloved and gowned and elbow-deep in a patient's abdomen. At least three other doctors or nurses surrounded her, as well. Not very romantic. But it was romantic, for us as viewers. Why? Because of the perfect music laid over the scene by the foley editor. We all know that music sets the mood; I wrote a bit about that last month. But what if there was no music? For the actors playing the scene, it didn't exist. And there's never any music in my life when I need it, either.

Imagine if we all had our own full-time foley editors, 24-7, helping to guide us through our litttle trials and tribulations. (What is a tribulation, anyway??) We are so accustomed to having that mood-music accompany every dramatic moment in movies and television, it seems only appropriate that we should have the same luxury in real life. Like that great ING commercial, where the guy is strolling down the street with his own theme music. But we have no music, except in the rarest times. Like when you're on a date with your new love and the perfect love song plays and you can actually ask her to dance and you do, dance, and that song becomes your song because from there you fall ever deeper in love and that song is always the one you get to dance to together. Otherwise, that never happens, does it?

We don't have our own music. Movies invented that, to make the scenes work regardless of how weak the dialogue was. We accept that about dramas, and probably don't even register the fact most of the time. I wonder, though, if it bothers us in our real lives, without our even realizing it, that our own important moments are never accompanied by an orchestra. Does this missing music somehow muck-up our daily lives? How do we know when we're doing it right? That the words we are saying perfectly express our intentions. Or worse yet, do we sometimes go down the basement stairs in the dark and not realize the incredible danger there, because there aren't any scary dis-chords? I lie awake some nights worrying about stuff like this. Don't you?

If you, like me, are over forty...

TO ALL THE KIDS WHO SURVIVED the 1930's 40's, 50's, 60's and 70's:

First, we survived being born to mothers who smoked and/or drank while they carried us.They took aspirin, ate blue cheese dressing, tuna from a can, and didn't get tested for diabetes. Then after that trauma, our baby cribs were covered with bright-colored lead-based paints.

We had no childproof lids on medicine bottles, doors or cabinets, and when we rode our bikes, we had no helmets. Not to mention the risks we took hitchhiking. As children, we would ride in cars with no seat belts or air bags. Riding in the back of a pick-up truck on a warm day was always a special treat.

We drank water from the garden hose and not from a bottle. We shared one soft drink with four friends, from one bottle, and no one actually died from this. We ate cupcakes, white bread, and real butter, and drank soda pop with sugar in it, but we weren't overweight because--

WE WERE ALWAYS OUTSIDE PLAYING! We would leave home in the morning and play all day, as long as we were back by dark (or when Dad whistled). No one was able to reach us all day. And we were O.K. We would spend hours building our go-carts out of scraps and then race them down the hill, only to find out we forgot the brakes. After running into the bushes a few times, we learned to solve the problem.

We did not have Playstations, Nintendo's, X-boxes, no video games at all, no 99 channels on cable, no VCR or DVD movies, no surround sound, no cell phones, no personal computers, no Internet or Internet chatrooms. We had friends--and we went outside and found them! We fell out of trees, got cut, broke bones and teeth, and there were no lawsuits from these accidents. We ate worms and mud pies made from dirt, and the worms did not live in us forever.

We got BB guns for our 10th birthdays, made up games with sticks and tennis balls and, although we were told it would happen, we did not put out very many eyes. We rode our bikes or walked to a friend's house and knocked on the door or rang the bell, or just walked in and talked to them!

The idea of a parent bailing us out if we broke the law was unheard of. They actually sided with the law! We had freedom, failure, success and responsibility, and we learned how to deal with it all! And YOU are one of them! CONGRATULATIONS!

You might want to share this with others who have had the luck to grow up as kids, before the lawyers and the government regulated our lives for our own good. (And while you're at it, forward this to your kids so they will know how brave their parents were!) Kind of makes you want to run through the house with scissors, doesn't it?

[reprinted from various sources, and provided by Glenn Roberts of Atlanta, Georgia--a Home Depot exec who can testify to nearly every word of this from personal experience]

A Penny For Your Thoughts??

Need a penny? Take a penny. You see that little ditty on the plastic trays beside cash registers. The thing is, who the heck actually needs a penny? Yeah, yeah, I know--if you save up a whole bunch of pennies in a big old mason jar then you'll have...um, about five bucks worth of coins to roll, weighing in at about ten pounds. Lucy posted a whole series of cute questions (Questions! Questions! Oct 26 '05), and one of them is a sweet little logic question:
Why do you have to "put your two cents in"?... It's only a "penny for your thoughts". Where's that extra penny going to?

My glib answer is "who cares?" Throw a half a dozen pennies on a busy sidewalk and watch to see if anyone over the age of ten will stop to pick them up. In Colonial times a penny would buy you a whole loaf of bread. Now, take your two cents worth to a candy store and see what you can buy. Maybe some of those creepy red fish, but not much else. Try to spend rolled pennies somewhere, anywhere. Good luck. I'll bet even the guys who rake the mall fountains hate pennies. Notice how many nickels and dimes, even quarters, there are in fountains lately. Let's face it, pennies suck.

Pennies are a waste of our precious natural resources. They aren't a hundred percent copper anymore, but they're metal of some value. The mills and presses at the various U.S. Mints which toil tirelessly churning out a few billion pennies each year consume power, labor, and overhead. All those shiny new pennies have to be wrapped, counted, handled and distributed all over America. As mentioned before, the little buggers are heavy. Waste of good gas, I think. For the sake of our economy, and in the name of patriotism, (not to mention a national savings of millions of dollars) let's just be done with pennies.

Impossible! you may say. People will be cheated. Old folks won't know what to save for a rainy day. There will be panic in the streets. Bullsh**. We once had half pennies, you know. They were big, ugly, brown coins larger than today's quarters. Do you miss 'em? Well, do ya? And don't bother sending me that old story about the crooked banker who wrote the computer program to divert his customers' fraction-cent interest to his own account (he made eighty gazzillion dollars before he was caught...yeah, right). We don't need pennies anymore. Hell, we don't even need nickels, but the government just redesigned those. Don't even get me started about the dollar coins. I'm not even gonna go there. Yet.

Trying to Catch Up!

Once you get behind, there really isn't any catching up. So I won't actually try to fill in the gaps. It's a brand new week, a short one at that, and the best I can do is recap and then press onward. I did manage to post my Tuesday Trivia last week, a bit late. Wednesday was a total bust, with a very superior episode of Lost taking nearly all my attention. How many shows with big ensemble casts would dare to add even more cast members into the mix? Lost did it, and did it quickly and succinctly. Then I fell asleep!

I started a new thing for Thursdays a week or so back: a post focusing on an advertisement that had caught my eye. I have another one for this week, but won't bother going back to fill in last week's. It's advertising, after all; it'll keep. There is, however, one weekly post that I truly hate to miss--my Friday Song. I love music, especially Country music. It's so much fun to write about something you feel passionate about, and hope to share with others. That's what I enjoy about that Friday post, and I gave serious consideration to going back in time to get last week's song posted. (It is, after all, pretty easy to back-date a post...) But I'm not going to do it. If today was only Saturday, and I was only a few hours late, that would be alright. But it's Monday evening now, and ABC's Monday Night Football will be starting in a half hour. Easy decision.

I'm not sure, without looking, what I might normally write about for either of the weekend days. I suppose if my beloved Buffalo Bills had "shown up" or "stepped up" or whatever "up" was needed yesterday in San Diego, then I would be crowing about their performance. Like I said last time, they don't have to win the game. They do have to be "in" the game at some point, which was never the case on Sunday afternoon. The Chargers scored five touchdowns before half-time. Our QB, J.P. Lossman this week, couldn't score five touchdowns in one game if his mother's life depended on it. Luckily, no one's mother's life depends upon J.P. throwing a touchdown pass.

So it's Monday night, and this is the post I usually devote to random mutterings or complaints. I've decided neither to mutter nor complain tonight. I'm going to relax, enjoy a football game, drink the rest of my rapidly cooling final cup of Tim Horton's coffee (shameless plug), and have a cookie. It's a holiday week, you know. Fair enough.

Tuesday: Root of all Trivia

Let's keep it pure and simple this Tuesday for trivia. Did you ever wonder where the word 'trivia' comes from? Seems to me that's the most basic trivia question there is. To find the source of this little word, you have to go way back. Back before Podcasts and weblogs, before Pay-per-View and Sirius radio. Now go back even further, before cable TV and car stereos, back to the time of radio theatre and single-sponsor television variety shows. (Your eyes are getting heavy now...) Keep going back, back to before the telegraph and party-line telephone, then so far back that there are no daily newspapers. Now we're getting somewhere. Where could folks have gotten their life-giving doses of trivia before Gutenberg invented the printing press? Could it have been nomadic gypsies? From wandering minstrels? Nope, you have to go back much farther than those.

When the Roman Empire ruled the western world, civilized people experienced advances unlike those ever before available. Rich men had villas and tiled baths. Regular city-folk owned small businesses. Pipes made of clay delivered fresh water. Paths and streets were paved or at least kept cleared. Of course there was modern-level writing from scholars and politicians, despite the lack of white paper. The Romans loved to tell stories and spout off about current events. Their language was pristine, and a bit constrictive, but poets thrived none-the-less. Certainly the public markets were filled with gossip of all sorts. Those ancient but highly advanced citizens probably loved their trivia just as much as we do today. It just wasn't called trivia yet. Trivia, you see, came not from the city centers but from the far-flung regions around the ever-expanding Empire. Roads made it possible for men to travel great distances, by foot or by horse. News traveled along these roads, much of it small tidbits of information. To spread the word a simple system developed over time. Wherever three roads met or crossed, news was posted on tablets or similar signs. Three roads, that's the key. Three roads... in Latin, "tri" and "via." Trivia. There you have it.

Monday morning quarterbacking

Being a faithful fan isn't always easy. I first became a Buffalo Bills fanatic when the team went to four Super Bowls in a row, back in the first half of the nineties. That's band-wagon stuff, for sure. Who doesn't love a team that simply keeps winning? (OK, they never won any of those Super Bowls, but they had to win one heck of a lot of games to get there.) It's ten years later now, though, and the players who steered the Bills to victory back then are long gone, most of them retired. A whole string of superstars has come and gone during the decade passed. The league is different now, too. Parity and free agency have made it very tough for any one team to dominate the NFL. Just ask Tom Brady and the Patriots how things are going this year.

But I still love my Bills. They've lost more games than they should have already this season. Injuries have claimed a half-dozen key players, on both sides of the ball. One week the offense is hot, the next it's the defense, and the next it's neither. Then there's the whole 'quarterback controversy' thing, which seems to happen to at least half the teams every year. That's football. The thing is, win or lose, the game is a blast to watch. Maybe the tailback cracks off a huge run. Maybe Lee Evans or Eric Moulds make a spectacular catch. Or one of the linebackers zooms in for a blind-side sack. Or causes a fumble. Or blocks a punt. It's all good.

What's even better, though, is when the team you know and love, the guys you root for and suffer for, actually WIN THE GAME! Win the game you figured they'd lose, because the other team (Kansas City Chiefs this week) was supposed to be 'better.' It's all good when your underdog not only emerges victorious, but do so with a convincing bang. This week was all that. We got the turnovers and the sacks. We dictated the pace of the game. We were the only team to score a touchdown, two actually. The 'better' team ended up with one little field goal. How great is that? We won, we won, we won. (contented sigh) It's good to be a Bill's fan. At least for this week. Next week is another story. For now, I'll just enjoy it. See you here tomorrow for Trivia.

Boondocks on a Friday night

You get a line, I'll get a pole... we'll go listen to Little Big Town harmonize about the Boondocks at the crawfish hole. Well, we could, if this hip/hick quartet wasn't very busy opening for Keith Urban around the country. This Friday's song choice has hit Billboard's Top Twenty (Country) for all the right reasons. It has taken LBT seven years and three record deals to get here; it takes all four vocalists to carry us on this foot-tapping ride down in the boondocks. Kimberly Roads, Karen Fairchild, Phillip Sweet and Jimi Westbrook deliver all the flavor of country roads and rural livin' with their powerful harmonies and picture-this lyrics.

Boondocks shoves a solid patch of country back into Country music, at a time when mainstream artists are recording more sophisticated, often somber or sensual ballads. Earlier this year Jason Aldean led the way with his tongue-in-cheek Hicktown ("you can see the neighbor's butt-crack/nailin' on the shingles/his woman's smokin' Pall-Malls/watchin' Laura Ingalls"!). Credit Gretchen Wilson for opening the barn door to hipness for hick, with her smash #1 single Redneck Woman. Finally it's okay to leave the mud on your 4x4 when you go to the grocery store. LBT's gritty video for their latest release puts it all together. Close your eyes and you can still hear the crickets, the slammin' screen doors, the grinding clutch on that old Ford pick-up, and bare feet slapping boards at the barn dance. Somebody pass me a washboard and a workglove!

There's a chorus missing, however, from the band's video. You have to listen to Boondocks on the radio to hear it. The lines I'll quote next start out softly with a single lead vocal and gradually builds to an eerie round before the music fades. Believe me, once you let these lyrics into your brain they'll stick around until you finally decide to grab your gear and head south. Here's that chorus:
You get a line / I'll get a pole / We'll go fishin' / In the crawfish hole / Five-card poker on a Saturday night / Church on Sunday mornin'
Follow the post-title link if you'd like to know more about Little Big Town and their newfound success. Me, I ain't much for fishin' but you can deal the cards and count me in for Saturday night.

Real Trivia this Tuesday?

Some previous Tuesday Trivia posts have been anything but trivial. I tried to correct that somewhat, last Tuesday, with only partial success. This week I'm going to be trivial, even if it kills me dammit! You may ask, "why?". What does it really matter? Well, it doesn't, not really. The difference is that this week I simply don't have a whole lot on my mind, for this post. Right now, Lin and I have a lot of heavy stuff going on, and that's taking up a lot of room in my brain. None of that stuff would be interesting to anyone else, so it's not fair game anyway. So here I am typing away, waiting for some trivial thought to pop into my head. Heaven knows I have more than my share of trivial thoughts, after all.

Alright then, here's a question: where do weird fears come from, and who the heck thinks up the goofy names they give to those odd phobias? I can certainly understand the big fears, like claustrophobia or arachnaphobia. Those aren't really even phobias, since most of us are deathly afraid of claustro's and arachni's. Even that whole, "I'm afraid to leave my house" thing makes sense, though I can't recall its proper scientific name at the moment. But what about all those other, trivia-question-answer types of phobias? You've seen the lists, probably courtesy of some spamming friend of yours via email. I won't quote any of them here, because I deleted that email, but you know what I mean.

Is anyone actually afraid of, for instance, red rubber balls? What if you were afraid of double yellow lines? Here's one I'm sure has a really cool name: the fear of one's reflection in window-glass (versus mirrors, which lots and lots of people are naturally afraid of). How about the fear of phones ringing? That would be a real problem these days. But I'll bet there are people who run from the room screaming when someone's cell phone does its ringtone thing. How does one develop such bizarre fears, though? I've never heard an explanation. Are all those other phobias actually small windows of insanity? Is there a name for the fear of developing an unconventional fear, which might signal impending insanity? Just wondering, 'cause I have that one. Don't tell anyone, please. It's embarrassing. And trivial. Isn't it?

Weekend Respite

I took the whole weekend off, even from Blogging, to spend some serious time with my family. Man, we were busy! Of course, I did find time to take my boys to Tim Horton's (our favorite place) for breakfast bagels. Twice. Yum! The weather was middling, nothing like the horror they suffered in Indiana and Kentucky, but with some wind and storms. It was warm, though, especially for November.

We had a fine time, all around. Saturday's adventures included attending a wedding for Lin and me. We don't get many of those anymore, unless some youthful relative decides to include us in their celebration. Last week, my Dad had discovered a new PC version of Risk (the classic board game, which we all love), called Risk II. Anyway, we started a big game Friday night, all of us! (That is rare indeed.) The kids managed to eliminate both of the adults, and the game carried over into Saturday. While Lin and I were dancing, the boys and Daniele finished the game. Nicky was victorious in the end. He's a tough competitor. Freakin' ruthless, the little bugger! :-)

Sunday the bad weather rolled in, and we played some more Risk. Great job on the new graphics and interface, by the way. Nick let me win a game, just to be nice to his dad. We all took some time out mid-afternoon to drive across the city and drop in for an Open House in Bushnell's Basin. (Yup, we took the boys, with instructions to "be nice.") The house was nice, in our price range, close to our target location, a bit small but with plenty of potential. However, (biiiiggg however!), the back yard was bordered by all four lanes of Interstate 490. Zoom , zoom. Lin said, "No way, not gonna do it." It's too soon to make a move anyway, but that was a definite "no" even if the place stays on the market for a while.

Meanwhile, the San Diego Chargers were playing the NY Jets at the Meadowlands. I had big action on that game, with my entire future (in the Last Man Standing pool, that is) riding on a revenge win by San Diego. The Chargers started out very strong, but the Jets just kept hanging in there. Vinny T took the day off (injury, maybe?) and a new guy was running the offense. Well, New Guy was making some plays, the little devil. (Sorry, I can't recall his name, since he was the third or fourth-string QB). The Chargers had it all in the bag near the end, though. Until they turned over the ball for no good reason at all. Until one of their linebackers, a ten-year veteran, decided to commit a blatant late hit out-of-bounds. That gave the Jets four fresh downs with mere minutes left to go, right on the edge of the red zone, with them only five points behind. Jeeze-O-pizza! If you are entertained by the sight of a grown man standing up and screaming at a player on TV, you would have enjoyed my performance Sunday afternoon. It all ended well, despite the heart-stopping mistakes, and San Diego kept me standing for another week. Whew!

That was about the size of it. A bit hectic, but filled with good times had by all. What more can I ask?

Big Blue Note for Friday's Song

This week's song is sad and fun. Toby Keith's newest release, Big Blue Note, reads like a sad ol' lost-my-honey but doesn't sound weepy at all. That's what makes Blue such a good listen. Toby's tag-line, "she's gone," has appeared in no less than a half-dozen tunes in the last couple years. This time, though, it's an oh-well-that's-life kind of lament. I can picture the guy in the story with his feet up on a nearby chair and a cold beer in one hand, big blue good-bye note on the table serving as a cocktail napkin.

I'm not a big TK fan, but I like this song very much. Keith has been on a bar-hoppin' whiskey drinkin' flag-wavin' good-old-boy track for the past few months. He's had enormous success with these records, to the point where some of his older (in my opinion, better) arrangements no longer fit into radio playlists. I'll take My List (2001?) over I Love This Bar or Whiskey Girl every time. Now I'll settle for Big Blue Note, just for the pleasure of it. The song's tone is whimsical and wistful but not maudlin. One of the verses describes the singer folding his Dear-John letter into a paper airplane and sending it aloft. If it doesn't come back, then, well, she's gone. Nice light touch, and a good visual metaphor, too. If Keith wrote this one (he writes much of his material, but I haven't checked yet), he did a fine job of it.

I'm sure Keith's next release will have something to do with hot women drinking alcohol and blessing America in a neighborhood bar. (Toby has opened a small chain of saloons in the South.) Until then, I'll keep an ear out for Big Blue Note on my favorite Country station, just because it makes me smile. That's good enough for me. Feeling fine and singing along while I'm driving let's the day's stresses melt right out of my bones. And since I get to listen for free, that's priceless.

[Author's note: I listen to CMT in the background when I'm posting. Less than one minute after I pressed "Publish Post," as if in affirmation of my choice, the video for Big Blue Note came on. I hadn't seen it yet, so I turned to watch. The pictures fit the whimsy of the song perfectly. Songwriters, by the way, are Scotty Emerick and Toby Keith. As expected. Nice job, boys.]

A rare Thursday post: Advertising

Looking back I see no Thursday posts, so the time has come to correct that. I've written at length about driving and drivers, but I do have other things on my mind. Really, I do. Sometimes when I'm not motoring all about the state I find myself sitting on my nice red couch watching some TV show. OK, it's usually football, or Survivor, or The West Wing. All topics for another day. Most of us only admit this about the Super Bowl, but I love the commercials in regular programs, too. They even have awards for great commercials, called Clio's, I think. Or Cleo, maybe.

Commercials can be great fun. They really are like Forest Gump's chocolates: you never know what you're gonna get. Except when they run the same spot twice, back-to-back (hate that, but that's also for another day). Therefore, with all the accompanying fanfare and whatnot (love that word!), I will offer today my very own nomination for my new What a Cool Commercial (WACKO?) awards. I'll try to do one each week, maybe on Thursdays. Who knows, it might be something. Or not.

This week's WACKO Award (it'll do for now, ok?) goes to the most recent spot for the Toyota Tacoma. Truck commercials are always good candidates, since their budgets are high and trucks can do cool stuff. This one is tons of fun. Maybe you've seen it, if you watch any football. Scene: two hikers walking through some sort of scrub desert area. Sound effect: a roaring noise, also sound of truck in distance. (Assume friends of hikers are coming to meet them, bringing along their brand new Tacoma.) Visual: huge scary meteorite streaks to ground in direction of truck. Explosion, mayhem, flying debris and flames cause hikers to panic and drop their camcorder. We see and hear the pieces of debris landing all around, captured on video as hikers express amazement. Wicked cool, so far, huh? Sell-shot: from out of the fireball emerges one handsome, unscathed Toyota Tacoma. Tagline: "Tacoma, meteor-proof" I love it! No fine print, no stupid claims, no monthly payments -- just a good, eye-catching product pitch with a bang. That's fine creative work, worthy of a real award. Can't wait to see it again.

If you have a favorite TV ad you'd like to nominate for this highly prestigious award, hit the Comment button and leave it here for my consideration. If your choice gets posted as a winner, I'll feature a link to your Blog. No, I won't send you money. That would be silly.

Tuesday Trivia, more trivial this time

Tuesday's so-called Trivia post has often ended up more substantial than trivial. Tonight I'll start off heavy, with a follow-up to yesterday's post about the motorcycle accident. That driver, a sixty-six year-old man who had been airlifted to the hospital with serious injuries, has died. No one will ever really know why he went through that stop sign, nor does it really matter. Very, very sad. Lighter load from here, then.

I tend to write a lot about driving, since I drive a lot. Makes sense. We all have our pet peeves about other drivers and the silly or stupid things they do. George Carlin said it best, in an appearance I saw here at the Auditorium Theatre years ago. He opened his monologue with this query: "Why is it that everyone who drives slower than you do is an idiot, and everyone who drives faster than you is a son-of-a-bitch?" We all laughed after just a half-second's reflection. Almost all drivers do probably think this way, most of the time. So I'll muse about something that has nothing at all to do with speed. I'm talking about headlights today.

Studies have shown that driving about with your lights on, regardless of how dark it might be, helps to prevent accidents. Hence the phenomenon of daytime running lights, and (more recently) light-level sensors that turn on all the regular lamps as the sun goes down. You can notice the difference in driving safety most clearly at dusk, when just a very few drivers have forgotten to turn on their headlights. I couldn't begin to count how many times I've nearly pulled out in front of an unlit vehicle -- you simply don't see them coming, since you're looking for lights. But that's not quite exactly my point, either.

Here in NY we have a law that says you have to turn on your lights whenever it's raining: if the wipers are on, the lights must be on as well. It's a good law, because visibility sucks in the rain, but you often don't realize how lousy the conditions are until it matters. With all the running lights and sensors these days, most of us don't have to think about complying with this law; it's automatic. Still, there are millions of cars on the road whose owner's still get to decide when to turn on their headlights. Here's my point: how is it that so many of the no-lights-in-the-rain cars are gray? Why would that be? I'll admit my research isn't very scientific, but I'm sure of what I've seen. The cars that suddenly appear around you, ghostly in a drizzle or downpour, are almost always some shade of gray or silver. Which, of course, makes them the most invisible they can be in those conditions. (I know, "most invisible" is pretty poor English. Sorry.) The big question, one which should be answered by some big university study, is: why just the gray/silver cars? Hmmm.

I could be wrong about this. There is that whole thing about selective perception, after all. But I'm fairly observant, and try to be fair in my observances. Observations. I believe there's something to this. Perhaps only a certain type of driver chooses to buy gray cars. Maybe it's genetic. It's definitely a little spooky. Don't you think so? I should've made this my Halloween post, huh? Maybe not.

Spooky Monday mutterings, sorta

Today's entry has almost nothing to do with Halloween, actually, except that it is Halloween Day. It was a fine Fall Monday with brilliant sun in the eyes of eastbound commuters like me this morning. Temps once again eased up into the sixties, soon to be a distant memory. Darkness has sent the mercury down a bit, of course, but it's still that rare and memorable no-coats-over-costumes night for trick-or-treating. The few splendid days of Fall that we do get here in Upstate NY must always be noted with the proper gratitude.

One bonus of great weather is the chance for bikers (the motor-kind) to enjoy a last ride or two. I volunteered on a charity dice-run a few weeks back, and we hit a nasty, drizzly day for that one. Sure hurts the turn-out when that happens. The boys were out today, though! One of them passed me this morning during rush-hour at something approaching 100 mph. I shook my head silently and prayed I wouldn't see him farther along the highway waiting for an ambulance (or worse). Much later, during the early afternoon, another motorcyclist (I assume it wasn't the same guy) ended up having a very bad day.

I heard the story on the radio news, and later on the traffic report. The accident was very near my home, on a section of highway I often travel. The eastbound lanes had to be closed, and the westbound traffic had slowed to a crawl in order to gawk at the wreckage. The details took a while to come together, but here's what apparently happened: a lone cyclist flew through a stop sign at a very busy intersection, directly into the side of a large tractor-trailer. Obviously the biker got the worst of this horrible encounter (the truck's driver was unharmed). Motorcycle and rider were separated on impact, and the bike burst into flames. The rider was dragged about one hundred feet, then airlifted to a hospital, with very serious injuries. The truck, filled with paper goods, also burned. I learned this evening, when I stopped in for my take-home coffee, that the truck was headed for my favorite Tim Horton's location. That delivery won't be made today. I hope the biker survives the day. It's far too beautiful a day to die.

Everyone knows that motorcycles can be dangerous. They have none of the modern safety systems featured on cars. No bumpers, no airbags or seatbelts, no roll-cage or steel doors. All a biker has in his favor is spectacular acceleration and maneuverability. The rest is up to the rider. This is not a lesson best learned by experience. Most days, after all, are too good for dying.

Taking a deep breath

Sunday is look-back day, time to reflect on the week and take a breather. I spent Saturday working, putting quite a few new miles on the truck, but enjoying the day's endeavors. Bright sun and milder temps didn't hurt a bit. It's been a very busy week (see The D'Zyne Zone), featuring long hours and multiple work-sites and too little time with my sweet boys.

Today was a nice change, with the sunshine and tee-shirt weather continuing. Lin and I enjoyed some rare hours together, some for work (winterizing the camper) and some for play (continued house-hunting). I've had a chance to put some start-up efforts into my companion work-blog, mentioned above. Wrote some checks to pay for bills not yet overdue (always a good sign). Watched a spot or two of football, mostly mis-matches, and even got to see some of the race. Carl Edwards has added a sweep at Atlanta to his already impressive resume. The kid's amazing, and should have a great future ahead of him. Later tonight I'll get to watch my Buffalo Bills try to win against the Patriots in New England. Good luck to 'em, but I'm not getting my hopes up for a win there.

The week now passed has been filled with changeable weather, early sunsets (soon to be even earlier), some physically demanding tasks and time spent with my favorite work partner, Mike. Got to see my oldest play in a wonderful concert (drums/percussion) and took my youngest to school one day, with a stop at Tim Hortons along the way. Did a ton of driving and lots of tool loading/unloading, along with several skipped meals (due to time and distances mostly). Spent some time with Pete Steltmann, who is moving on to a new position. He will be missed immediately. The coming week should be far less hectic. It's dark now and the warmth is bleeding out of the day quickly. Monday is nearly here, though an hour later than it would have been without the time change. Time to take a break from all this busywork, so I'll head for the couch now for a well-earned respite.


DATELINE 10/28/2005: ExxonMobil posts all-time record third-quarter revenue and earnings. (Source for all quoted statistics, IndyStar.com/Business/, Oct 28 ‘05). Corporate gross revenues and the resulting net profit for the world’s largest publicly-traded oil company set a new high for any single-quarter in industry history. Exxon is the first company to ever earn $100 billion in a fiscal quarter. The oil giant’s resulting profit from those sales, $9.92 billion, also marks a new line in the sand. While these numbers may not match the devastation wrought by hurricanes Katrina and Rita, they certainly provide ample fodder for conversation and consternation.

Millions of Americans, inspired by emotional news coverage of the Gulf Coast’s calamity, poured out their hearts and their hard-earned dollars to help aid enormous relief efforts there. More than one billion dollars has been donated by both private citizens and corporate boards, largely to the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army. Little kids and school groups held car washes and bake sales. Celebrities sang and entertained and answered phones on numerous televised specials. Rotaries and ministries organized major charity fund-raisers. Regular folks made small sacrifices in their daily routines to divert a few hours’ pay to Hurricane victims. People with deeper pockets wrote very large checks and sought minimal publicity for their largesse. The nationwide display of caring and generosity reassured us all: we are a country that takes care of its own. We answer the call, big time.

Meanwhile, Big Oil was raking in money faster than it could be counted, literally. Taking windfall revenues and profits from the same citizens who had already pitched in more than their fair share. Wildly escalating retail gasoline prices created high stress and market anxiety, sending ripples throughout the nation into every nook and cranny of our economy. Gas station operators and employees, ordered to raise retail prices as much as fifty cents per gallon each day, suffered the mid-directed wrath of frightened consumers. Small business owners desperately tried to figure out how to cope with uncontrollable fuel costs, knowing it would be nearly impossible to pass on such outrageous price increases to their equally-stressed customers. The entire U.S. economy see-sawed on the hard edge of panic. All the while, the oil conglomerates tallied-up the take.

After the two hurricanes had wreaked their havoc in no less than four states, in towns and cities big or small, thousands of people were left homeless and hundreds lost their lives. Power outages darkened whole regions, and unprecedented flooding saturated thousands of homes and businesses. Americans lost their homes, jobs, cars, pets, cherished possessions and priceless records. We watched heroic rescues and listened to heart-rending tales of trauma. Rich or poor, white or black or whatever race, young or old, single or married — no demographic escaped this tragedy, despite attempts by some in the news media to slant the story somehow. The rest of us, not directly affected by the storms, reached out with our hearts and our paychecks.

At the same time, consumers coast to coast poured billions into their gas tanks, without recourse. We still had to drive to work, to school and soccer practice, to the store or to Grandmother’s house. Deliveries still had to be made, busses and taxi services had to run, planes had to fly and trains had to keep their schedules. Factories burned fuel and made crude oil into the thousands of products we all need to live. Farmers tilled their fields and brought in their harvests. We do, after all, have a country to run.

The money had to be spent for the barrels of fuel we had to burn or consume. For the three short months following nature’s fury, the numbers posted by Big Oil boggle the mind. ExxonMobil gross sales grew more than 30%; profits soared 75%. Royal Dutch Shell, next in line, jumped 68% with $9 billion net for the quarter. BP banked $6.5 billion. ConocoPhillips (up 89%!) and Chevron (a 53% jump) each added more than $3.5 billion to the pot. The industry as a whole is on pace to earn nearly ONE HUNDRED BILLION DOLLARS for the fiscal year. That’s $100,000,000,000. It’s a number that won’t even fit in most spreadsheets. Furthermore, it’s a number most of us cannot even comprehend.

Let’s think about all these zeroes for a minute. Third quarter, 2005: oil profits totaling somewhere in the neighborhood of thirty billion bucks. Is that really so much money? Aren’t they entitled to a fair profit, just like anyone else in business? Yes, and yes. We live in a free-market economy, where money-in-your-pocket is the reward for taking risks and tying up capital. But, thirty billion dollars? My fifth-grader can do the math: that’s THIRTY times all the money raised by all the big hearts and open wallets in America for disaster relief. Profit. Bottom line. Net Income. That thirty billion is what’s left over after all expenses and write-offs. It’s an amount greater than the GNP of smaller countries like Zimbabwe or Cameroon. Yeah, that IS a lot of money.

What could you do with $30 billion? You could commission and deploy six brand new aircraft carriers, and pay the salaries of all six crews for a year. (No other country on Earth can do that.) You could build an entire city for 10,000 residents, from survey to streetlights. City Hall, firehouses, schools, hospitals, factories, malls and movie theaters, and even a couple of adult bookstores; houses for everyone. Cars for everyone. With money left over to pass around. You could pay out a $150 million Powerball Jackpot: two hundred weeks in a row! You could buy a new Chevy Silverado (much nicer than the one I own) for one million of your closest friends. You could buy-out Donald Trump, Mark Burnett (creator, "Survivor" etc.), and Martha Stewart, too. Or you could finance research into cures for cancer, AIDS, MD, MS, CF, and heart disease, and have enough left to run a national advertising campaign for The United Way for a year. You could send more than one and a half million kids to an Ivy League school for four years. (There isn’t room for that many.) You could give every single person in the United States a crispy new $100 bill, and still buy an aircraft carrier with the change.

OK, it’s a lot of money. It’s an insane amount of money. Even Donald Trump would be impressed. The rest of us should be outraged. We all gave to this cause, willingly or not. We gave until it hurt, and still kept giving. I gave today, and I’ll give again next week. So will you. If I was the Chairman of the Board of any one of these gargantuan oil firms I would feel shame at the level of greed I had fostered. I would give some of it back. I would vote to give most of it back. I’d build a few new refineries first, and give my employees raises (not just the bosses), pay out some dividends, bank some capital for the future, and then give the rest back to the country that donated so much. I’d help rebuild New Orleans, along with a hundred other devastated communities. I’d help a few thousand displaced, distressed storm victims rebuild their lives. I’d buy them some ice cream, and some blankets. I would do all that and more, long before Big Government stopped by with insincere indignation and demanded I pay some sort of stupid Windfall Profits Tax. Because one thing is true about thirty billion dollars: it’s just a drop in the bucket to the raging monster that collects our tax dollars. But for the rest of us, it’s enough to make a difference.

[Copyright 2005 all rights reserved, Jim Bessey -Spencerport, NY 10/29/2005]

Friday Song: Strait shootin'

It's Friday again, and time for my Friday Song nomination. This week I'm going to backtrack slightly to mention the latest release from George Strait (the Chairman of the Board, Country music). Mr. Strait generally has no less than one song working its way up the Billboard Top 100, and this month is no exception. What is exceptional is this record's message. The song's called "She Let Herself Go," which superficially might seem to be another sad ol' country ballad. This one has a bit of love-gone-wrong in it, but steers immediately toward a happy ending. We don't know for sure who "she" is, but we do find out just how far she has let herself go: to New York City, to Vegas, to the beach, to a new adventure with a new friend. She's doin' just fine, thank ya. But what is a man doing singing this song? It's exactly what we might expect from Terri Clark or Jo Dee Messina, or maybe Reba or Martina. The fact that Mr. Strait chose this composition for himself makes this up-beat Anthem for a Modern Woman all the more compelling.

Country music is filled with songs by men whose ladies left them, and likewise by tunes from girls whose guys have done 'em wrong. It's all very familiar, even comfortable. When the man who sets the bar for male country vocalists releases a powerful work in support of women he shakes up that comfy familiarity. Strait isn't breaking any new ground here. There has been a real trend lately for established artists to tackle more difficult subjects from fresher angles. Kenny Chesney has done a superb job during the last couple years, tempering his Unkle Kracker combo with some solid social messages. It's refreshing to see Mr. 50-Number-Ones (the title of Strait's current CD) join the movement. Strait's voice lends credibility and repectability to whatever "cause" he might choose to sing about. She Let Herself Go reminds us all that life can bring us good things on the heels of bad times, whatever the circumstances. That's a good thing to remember when you feel like your own life is stuck in a bad groove on a worn-out record.

Tuesday Trivia: Music miscellany

Innocent Ears?
I was thinking about "one-hit wonders" and wondering what happens to artists who don't keep it coming. Then I got off-track a bit, listening to my favorite radio station ("The Bee, WBEE" here in Rochester NY: see Links, at right). A new song came on, one I had only heard once before, a week or so ago. It's a catchy little number by Ray Scott (new to me, never heard of him). His song's called My Kind of Music. The gist of it is, he meets the "perfect" girl, got the ring picked out and all, until he finds out... She doesn't like country music!

The best verse in this song goes something like this:
(almost, but not quite, to the tune of "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer")
I asked her if she'd ever heard of Alan Jackson.
She said, "doesn't he sing that 'Where Were You?'?"
I said, yeah, but girl, that man's a living legend!
She said, "Really, I thought he was new."

I can relate to this verse from both sides of the coin. Five years ago I knew almost nothing about country music. I was pretty sure I didn't like it. At the time, I had no idea just how "country" some of my favorite artists were: bands like The Eagles and Lynyrd Skynyrd and such. A couple of pretty serious life changes led me to change my entire music-listening concept, and I ended up very much caught up in modern country music. Not the older stuff, which still seems way too twangy. I started with the obvious crossover artists like Faith Hill and Lonestar, and got deeper into it from there. I have to admit that until 9/11 and "Where Were You?" I didn't really know who Alan Jackson was. Now I can only laugh at the verse I quoted above, thinking about how ignorant I was then. If you want to get me started, ask me about Allison Kraus and Union Station... man, they are just amazing!

Which brings me back to Trivia, the long way around. You wondered where all this was leading, didn't you? Here's my question: Is Rap and Hip-Hop really as bad as I think it is? Or am I just as ignorant about these genres as I was about Country? Twenty years from now will there be "Oldies" stations playing Kill the White Bitches and Gang-rape your Motha? Will there be a whole slew of dudes with -daddy attached to their names in some sort of Hall of Fame? Will The Game Show Network play "Name That Tune" in three F-bombs or less? Should I just go ahead and let my little boys (well, not so little anymore...) listen to this, um, crap? Or is it genius? So tell me, and be honest, do I sound just like my father when I tell my kids, "That's not real music!"? Is this just one more example of the Circle of Life swinging 'round to bite me in the ass?

ooooooh, I hate when that happens!

Mondays are reserved for crabbiness. Not officially or anything, but that seems to be a common thread. In order to properly celebrate this theme, tonite I've decided to post some plain old rants. Not the long rambling kind, but the familiar one-liner kind. Here goes.

You know what really drives me up a wall? Lemme tell ya. I hate when the light turns orange just when I've decided it's gonna stay green. Do I stop or do I go? Will I spill my coffee if I stop? I hate that. I hate when I'm trying to back into a parking space (extended cab pick-up, mirrors only) and somebody drives right up behind me. Whaddaya think the two bright white lights under my taillights are saying? No, I can't see you in my mirrors now, either! I hate it when I'm just walking across a parking lot, minding my own business, and someone hits their little blipper-thingy and makes their car beep at me. I always seem to get caught off-guard by that one. It's embarrassing.

Other stuff: Waitresses who refill my coffee, just when it was finally cool enough to drink and I had the cream and sugar just right. Speaking of restaurants (diners, anyway), how about when they don't add up your check for you? How'm I supposed to figure out the right tip? Why should I have to be the Math Guy? I think it's funny when I order breakfast ("scrambled eggs and wheat toast, please") and the waitress says, "Don't you want the homefries? They come with it." No they don't. The cook puts them there. I don't want them. You eat 'em.

What else drives me nuts? Oh, yeah, I know: people who say, "That drives me nuts!" Maybe you better see a doctor. Either you're nuts, or you're not. Nothings gonna drive you there. You probably are nuts, since you said that. Pop-up ads, spam email, blinking banners promising free computers. OK, those do drive me nuts. Or maybe I'm just imagining things. Mostly I just ignore useless crap like that. Keeps me sane.

Back to parking lots: how about when all the spots are painted just the right size for a Cooper Mini, and I'm driving the big truck? Or when there's sixteen handicap spots for one stinkin' store? You know people are cheating on those, big-time. How about this: those stop-signs in parking-lot crosswalks. Are you really supposed to stop...or not? Or do you only stop when there's a person in the way? Seems to be about fifty-fifty, judging from personal observations. Is there a speed limit in parking lots? Is it the same for all parking lots? Can you get a ticket for going fifteen in a "ten"? How come some stores make their employees park in the very farthest-away spots, waaaay over by the dumpsters? Wouldn't it be better for them to park nearby, like there was some serious business going on inside? Just wondering.

How about you? What drives you nuts? Gotta pet-peeve? What is a "peeve" anyway? Talk to me. (I hate it when people say that!) That's all I've got for tonight, which is a heck of a lot more than I had last Monday. Fair enough. (I know, I know: you hate when people say that!)

Hey, you, whaddaya want?

How's that for a fine and friendly greeting? I'll bet it sounds familiar, though. If you ever have to leave your warm and cozy home to visit the rest of the world, you're sure to hear something akin to this from some disgruntled counter-person. Maybe at McDonald's. More likely, you've suffered similar salutations at a "convenient" store or gas station mini-mart. Those places tend to hire relatives of the owners. In businesses which feature a permanent Help Wanted sign taped to the front door, chances are a frowning clerk awaits you. Pepsid-AC won't solve this problem, either.

My work requires a lot of local travel. I buy my breakfast on the road, and buy cigarettes from whichever gas station is on the way to where I'm headed. If I need a restroom, that's another gas station. I can't stand thermos-coffee, so I pick that up wherever I'm working at the time. So I meet a wild assortment of folks who spend their shifts dealing with dozens of transient customers. I find plenty of smiles and even the occasional friendly eye-contact. The dreary "wish I was somewhere else" personalities, however, seem to hold the majority. Why should this be true? Are there really so many people who simply hate their jobs? (Or do they hate their whole existence? I hope not.)

I'll admit that I do remember holding part-time jobs I didn't like. Most of us have to pay those dues as we find our way to our true callings. I'll also acknowlege that there is no shortage of miserable customers who prey on poor, weary workers. Unpleasantness can be dangerously contagious, though. There-in lies the rub: crabby customers help create crabby clerks, who spread their crabbiness to otherwise happy customers (and so on). The whole process simply isn't healthy!

Part of the blame must rest on miserable managers, who insist their employees repeat scripted lines endlessly. That's got to be depressing. How many times a day could you say "Have a nice day" and mean it? I say, let 'em say it their way, as long as the message stays on-track. The most engaging clerks I've run across express themselves less rigidly, and at least give the impression of being happy to be of service. I have to think that those folks who smile and offer snippets of unscripted thoughts are good for business in the long run.

Which encounter works better for you? First example: surly clerk stares blankly at a spot high on the wall and asks: "Can I help whoever's next?" That sentence is usually followed by zero-eye-contact and something like, "--take yer order?" Contrast that to a mildly pleasant "Hi, you're next. What can I get for you?". The person I quoted first has followed the script, but radiated no warmth at all. The second clerk, who might get fired for deviating from said script, is actually projecting "I'm almost glad you're here." Maybe after you place your order with the second clerk you'll even consider coming back again. I've heard somewhere that repeat customers are good for business. Or maybe that was "crucial for avoiding bankruptcy."

That concludes my rant for this Saturday night. I cannot offer any easy solutions to problems like these. No one can, really. I hope you enjoyed your stay. Please come again. Have a nice day. ...Next? Who's next?

This week's song: with a Trace

Friday's here and it's time to choose my Friday Song. It's been such a hectic week that I haven't given much thought to this crucial decision. I know that thousands of citizens are waiting with bated (spelled?) breath (whatever that means) for me to make up my mind. As it happens, I had a song in mind as I began to write this post, and had CMT's Top Twenty Countdown playing on the television for background. The next song up turns out to be the one I was thinking about. How's that for serendipity? Or something.

This week's selection, then is Honky-tonk Badonkadonk, by Trace Adkins. Last Friday's song was a poignant one, so irreverence takes the award this week. I can't say that I had ANY clue what a "badonkadonk" was until Trace explained it to me (and the video leaves absolutely no question about it, by the way). Adkins has written some serious stuff in the past, and some funny ones, too. His basso-profundo voice works well with an assortment of styles. But this song. This song! No message, no tears, no lost girlfriends, no forgotten soldiers -- not even a pick-up truck or a gun in there anywhere. This little bar-buster is all about the badonkadonk, and only that. (For the uninformed: a female backside, scantily clad). It's a hard-drivin' foot-stompin' tune designed with the lascivious video director in mind. It's catchy, silly, trashy. And it's got a good beat and ya can dance to it, too! Badonkadonk is also more fun than a man should be allowed to have legally. I'm sure Gretchen Wilson ("Redneck Woman" and more) is rightly proud of Trace's latest.

There you have it. Just some good, clean, sexy fun for this week. What more can we ask for? Readers, let me know if you have a song you love in the current Country music scene. Sharing can be fun, too.

LOST on Wednesday nites

Got LOST tonight, and I loved it! It's such a pleasure to sit down on Wednesday nights at nine pm and get lost in "LOST." Great sets, devious plots, truly deep characters, hot conflicts, and a complete lack of predictability make this one of the best shows on the tube. LOST has everything that makes up a good novel, but with the fun of watching it unfold. I'm sure there are hundreds of websites and forums devoted to this drama, so this posting isn't exactly covering undisturbed earth. Had to get my quick two cents in, though, and call it a night. Wednesdays aren't going to be big blogging nights for me, until the re-runs arrive (soon enough, I'm afraid).

Sunday, sleepy Sunday

"On the seventh day He rested," Genesis tells us. And so did I. Sundays are for kids and dads together. For sleeping a little later. For doing something you wouldn't do the other six days. For doing a little reading, and a bit of couch-warming. Football, for me: specifically my beloved Buffalo Bills. They actually won today, and looked like they meant it!

So I played some Paintball this morning with my boys, padded-up with warm clothing against a stormy sky and falling temps. Bagels and coffee from Tim Horton's, mandatory. Later while the young-un's lounged, my wife and I started a bit of house-hunting, mildly productive. Watched some TV, as noted. Did a spot of research to broaden my understanding of this Blogging business. Surfed a couple other blogs, learned about
Memes -- gotta follow-up on that one. Time for that "resting" thing now. No new big insights from this author. Sweet dreams, all.

of Music and Memory

Thinking about music and specific songs leads me to a topic that fascinates me: music and memory. We are all familiar with the idea of couples having one special song -- "our song." That's almost always a piece that began playing when the lovers first met (or it was a tune that neither had heard until they got together). Researchers have made much of the link between music and evocative memories. I've done a bit of reading on this phenomenon, as well as having plenty of personal experience with it. We all know the power of music is real, but the question remains: why is that so?

If you listen to the radio, or to your iPod (or CD player or your Victrola -- whichever), then you've probably noticed that there's a lot more to the mind/music link than just "they're playing our song!" Most of us can recognize songs we like (familiar pieces from a genre we favor) in just a few short notes. You may not be able to "name that tune" or even be sure who the artist is. Many people simply don't feel like storing that information. But you know the song right away. Furthermore, if there's a stronger bond for you (beyond "Dude, I love this song!"), you can immediately gather up a whole batch of associated memories with that record. You may recall exactly where you were when you first heard it, who you were with at the time, whether you were driving or lounging, if it was summer or winter (even daytime or nighttime). If you pay attention to those memories, you'll probably find even more! A certain scent or aroma that links up, too, for instance. You might also remember if you were happy or sad at the time. The point is, given just a few notes from a familiar song, you can lay your hands on an enormous wealth of very clear memories -- even if those memories are decades old! If there is a long-lost love involved, those memories can be downright profound.

Being the curious guy that I am, I'd like to know why! In addition, given this powerful memory tool, why don't we use music to reinforce learning? It certainly has worked for PBS educational programming, so why not in school? Or in workplace training, or adult education? We know that rote learning and dreary practice do get results in classroom situations. Could music somehow make the process better, faster, and funner? I wonder.

Song of the Week

I don't have any traditions here yet, since this blog is only a couple days old. I have something of a new love in my life, however, and I'd like to include that passion here. My new love is Country Music. I came to this genre very reluctantly, after years of mainstream rock. Now I'm hooked. So, here's my easy "count-down" for my favorite music -- one week, one song:

SKIN, by Rascal Flatts. This tune is roaring up the charts, with unprecedented request levels. It was a so-called hidden track, discovered by thousands of Rascals who bought the album (CD?). I'll leave it to the pro's for a regular review; the song is now receiving serious attention. Simply stated, this is a beautiful, touching, sad-and-happy, uplifting composition. Based on reality, never intended for wide release, this record has captured the hearts of tens of thousands of listeners, and not just in the Country genre. I have no personal connection to this song's message, yet it never fails to move me when I hear it played. That's my song of the week, one that will be hard to top next time.

If you stumble across this posting, and would like to nominate a song you love, drop me a comment. For now, country music (contemporary) only, please.

What's a "Compressor"?

I like to think about words and which ones might make good car names. I know, I know, most of the good ones are all taken. Lots of numbers lately, too, in model names. "The NEW Ford 500!!" Big yawn. Still, one has to wonder what in the world inspired Mercedes-Benz (of ALL companies!) to name one of their lovely vehicles Compressor. I'd have to vote for a number instead of that bizarre identity. Does this sedan blow a lot of hot air? Or make a really loud whooshing noise? I just don't get it. Following that lead, then, we might have:

The new Masseratti Table-saw! The Porshe Planer-Joiner! Test drive the exciting 2006 Lotus Drill-press! Cheaper cars, like Fords and Chevies, could have the cheap-tool names. Hammer, chisel, screwdriver -- well, probably not screw-driver.

I do like some of the more recent names applied to, especially, the proliferation of SUV's. (A soon-to-reverse trend?) All the best, cold, lonely, rugged, he-man states are now taken. Ditto for any word describing a trip, of any kind. Volkswagen is still busy inventing words for its cars, as if they were medicine brands. My chariot is called "Silverado," just in case I happen to be a cowboy. That's a cool name for a very ordinary truck, but I like it. It sure beats the heck out of C-1500. How dull is that one?

I'm going to go back now to thinkin' of new cool names for cars. It's a game my kids like to play while we're driving. How about you? Got any good not-taken-yet names you think would be dandy? Drop me a line, and I'll post your ideas another time.

Coffee, Buffalo Bills, Stopsigns

Alright, then, let's get to it. This is supposed to be a place for some Random Thoughts. Here are a few of the marbles rolling around in my mind today:

COFFEE: What in the world would we do without coffee, we who drink the stuff each day? How come the pot I brew at home never tastes as good as the cup I pay for while I'm out and about? For me, Tim Horton's coffee is the very best, but Dunkin' Donuts (spelled?) is almost as good. Have to admit, tho, that "gas station coffee" has gotten better and better in the last few years. Please don't mistake this comment for a shameless plug, however. My money is firmly where my mouth is. I'm afraid to add up what I spend on road-coffee in a year!

The BUFFALO BILLS: Oh, dear Lord, how do I continue to support this team??? I wear the shirts, watch the games, and agonize over the losses. Our latest "loss" is the aptly-named JP Lossman, quarterback-in-the-rough. The Bills won this week's game without the help of JPL, but it was such a dreary showing! Am I showing my age too much by yearning for Jim Kelly and his gang of gunslingers? Parity, parity, parity -- sure makes dynasties a rarity. Hmph.

And, last, STOPSIGNS (and REDLIGHTS, too). I drive a lot, often over one hundred miles a day. (No, please, don't make me add THAT one up for a year!) Folks, I understand the need to drive thru the yellow. Sometimes you just have to! My truck weighs more than six thousand pounds, so I can't just jam the brakes when the green goes yellow. But the very idea of routinely running thru red lights and stop signs strikes me as suicidal in the long term. I've seen what a T-bone accident looks like. How can anyone want to be a part of that party??

That's all for now. Brain-sweep mostly completed for today.