"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]