Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Our marginalized server: a pointless play in one libelous act

INTERIOR: Local Mexican Eating Establishment

CAST:

ANDY - John's eldest brother. Has receding and wild hair, creating an effect vaguely similar to "Doc Brown" from "Back to the Future". Has a beard, obviously subscribing to the "total average" theory of head hair.

JOHN - Andy's youngest brother. Was once told he looks like John F. Kennedy, Jr., but now wears a beard that one might see on George Clooney, in any film besides "O, Brother: Where Art Thou?"

DORA - Attractive mid-20s waitperson. Despite the busyness of the eatery, she seems to only have two tables. Bears a striking and heavy-lidded resemblance to a seemingly stoned Apple commercial testimonial, who was later revealed to have been taking Benedryl. DORA is very happy and pleasant, but not effusively so. She is the definition of mellow.

[JOHN and ANDY are shown to a booth. They disrobe from their heavy winter gear.]

ANDY: I can't believe we ran three marathons today! I can't believe some people can't even finish one!

JOHN: Indeed. Were I to run only two, I probably would have fallen asleep on my feet from lack of challenge. Should we swim to Scotland tomorrow?

ANDY: I think we better had! I hear that... [he stops with the approach of DORA]

DORA: [smiling as one does when first awoken] Hi! Welcome to Tecano's Southerwestern Mexi-sperience. I'm Dora. [she continues smiling as several beats go by]

JOHN: [breaking the silence] Uhh... hi.

DORA: [as though meeting an old friend] Oh, hey! How's it going?

JOHN: [a beat] ... Fine. I'd like water.

ANDY: [blinking] I would also.

DORA: [seemingly relieved and accepting of the choice] Greeeaaat. I'll be back.

[DORA leaves]

JOHN: [hesitantly] Does our waitress seem a little...

ANDY: [nods once] Yes. She seems very ... relaxed.

[dinner continues. The food is excellent, and DORA is an extremely attentive waitress. JOHN remarks that his water glass has never been empty, which is a challenge for spicy mexican food.]

[DORA brings the bill to the table.]

DORA: Thanks! Just pay me when you're ready.

ANDY: Dora? This isn't quite right. The house salad, when ordered with the entree, should only be $2.50, not $4.00.

DORA: [thinking] Umm...

ANDY: It's listed at the bottom of the menu.

DORA: [cheerfully dismissive] Oh! Ok. No. Sure! Right. I'll fix it.

[ANDY isn't sure she actually understood at all, but it's warm in the restaurant and cold outside, so staying a bit longer isn't difficult.]

[An inordinate amount of time passes. DORA only has two tables, and the other table has long since left, reducing her work load by half. A simple item change shouldn't take five minutes. More chips and salsa are eaten.]

DORA: [returning, in the same tone as before] Thanks! Just pay me when you're ready.

[ANDY sees that the bill is now correct. He figures the tip, calculating 20% on the before-tax amount, because DORA was very attentive.]

[ANDY pauses, then laughs]

JOHN: What?

ANDY: I figured the tip. It came out to four-twenty.

JOHN: Heh! She'll probably think that's the greatest tip ever.

[JOHN and ANDY share a laugh over the possibility their waitress was taking Benedryl, with ANDY remarking that DORA bore some similarities in behavior to other Benedryl enthusiasts from his managerial times.]

[Outside, the wind is bitterly cold]

THE END

Monday, December 22, 2008

Oh, that's a shame.

Labeled on the on the Fail Blog as "Spelling Fail".



fail owned pwned pictures

You were nicer the first time we met for the first time!

I had a delightful night last night. I happened to run into a girl I've been interested in while at a party, and we talked and laughed and generally had an excellent "first date". She's pretty much everything I thought she'd be.

But that's to be expected and is actually the problem.

See, last night's excellent meeting and all the conversation and all the good vibrations were all a dream. I know, it's a rather sitcom plot line ("but it was all a dream!"). I was very disappointed this morning, much more so than the usual displeasure at leaving a nice dream.

I was disappointed because my sub-conscious took it upon itself to "fill in" what a first date would be like. I'm not worried those dreamlets will, in any way, infringe upon the actual experience, which I'm sure will be very different and distinct. What worries me is that my brain may have set me up for disappointment.

There was a story last week about a study that concluded that movies of the "Romantic Comedy" genre were somewhat detrimental to the health of relationships, creating impressions of unachievable standards of what relationships should be like. My sub-conscious may have done the same thing.

Usually, my dreams aren't distinguished by overly optimistic events. They're mostly mundane and straightforward, even to the point of brutality (especially concerning dreams about my poor teeth!). Friends and family who appear in my dreams behave like themselves; they don't suddenly become much more like I'd *wish* them to be. For example, I've had dreams where I invite people out for a party, but they can't make it, so I end up dreaming about myself staying home and puttering the night away. It's not all sunshine and rainbows.

The difference here is that I don't actually know this particular lady very well. That suggests to me that my brain may have had very little to work with and decided to get creative. That would be harmless, ordinarily: it's just a dream.

But will I be quietly dogged by the "first" meeting that went so well?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

All the fuss began when cute little Adolf Hitler was denied birthday cake...

I know what you're thinking, but it wasn't *that* Adolf Hitler. I don't know if his problem was lack of cake.

I'm talking about little Adolf Hitler Campbell of New Jersey. He's just turned three, and his parents wanted a cake with a frosting message just for him. But the evil local supermarket, ShopRite, called it "inappropriate" and refused to decorate a cake for little Adolph. The store did offer to make a cake with enough room for Mr. and Mrs. Campbell to decorate it themselves, but the Campbells refused, taking their business to a Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart obliged them with the Hitler-cake.

This kind of story is why context in news is vitally important. Up till this point, this couple has just named their child after one of the most reviled men in history, which some parents would actually do as a "joke", I'm sure. Mr. Campbell himself says, "people should look forward, not back, and accept change." Indeed, that's the sort of philosphy I have, too. The world will change. Little Adolph Hitler Campbell can't grow up to be the leader of a fascist Germany: that ship has sailed. He has his whole life ahead of him. Maybe he grows up to be the next mother Theresa! Wouldn't that be interesting? "Are you referring to Adolph Hitler the dictator, or Adolph Hitler the peacemaker?"

So far, I'm with the Campbells. Though they seem to have a rather extreme sense of humor, they are getting people to talk about it. Can you even see a child named "Adolph" without thinking of Hitler? Is it wrong to have one name struck out of the books forever?

Granted, the Campbells have two other daughters, who also have ... interesting names. There's little JoyceLynn Aryan Nation Campbell: she also was denied a birthday cake for [ahem] some reason. Then there's baby Honszlynn Hinler Jeannie Campbell, who may take the cake for the most "Is that a mistake?" thoughts in one name. First, the Campbells seem to have the "xxxx-lynne" name fetish. And what a "honsz"? Is that the sound a goose with a lisp makes?

And then there's "Hinler". It's apparently meant to reference Heinrich Himmler, the infamous mastermind behind the "Final Solution", which is pretty tacky for a name, though that sort of absolutist value description doesn't work well in a discussion already filled with people called Hitler and Aryan Nation. So, following the theme, I can see how they'd pick "Himmler" as a name. Except they didn't. They chose "Hinler". And, correct me if I'm wrong, but Himmler's name certainly isn't Hinler. But perhaps I'm thinking too much.

So, these parents have questionable naming ideas and a strange sense of either humor or name-equality. But then, context for the UK Telegraph article arrives in the form of other articles from other papers.

From The Australian: "He said he named his son after Adolf Hitler because he liked the name and because 'no one else in the world would have that name'."

From USA Today: the above picture of the happy parents and child.

From the NY Daily News: the father disbelieves in the Holocaust, decorates the home with swastikas, and insists they are not racist though they don't believe in "mingling" the races.

They's just good people, really.

As an aside, I originally thought this story was VASTLY more interesting that it really is, because I skimmed the article and looked at the photo. From a cursory glance, I thought the Campbells were a lesbian couple, since I couldn't immediately identify the male face. Lesbian nazis and cake would have made it much more of a "grab ya" story.

Instead, it's just garden variety racism and white supremacy. Ho hum.

P.S. On the subject of mistaken identity, I had difficulty telling Honszlynn from Adolph in these photos from the Lehigh Valley Express-Times.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

What kind of woman am I looking for?

I was out to dinner on Monday night with my friends Dave and Lindsay. They were married this summer, but before they were married they had been dating for years and years. Now that they're married, they've become the couple that everyone agrees is really special. Of course, in our hearts, we curse them for being so fantastically happy. But in our heart-of-hearts, we know we're just compensating for the frustration over the fact that finding a really good romance is a little bit of skill and a lot of luck.

The conversation eventually turned to something that (apparently) I haven't given much thought lately. At least, Lindsay's question caught me completely by surprise. We were talking about my brothers and dating and how much that changes people, then we shifted over to people I've dated and what that said about me, etc. Standard conversations, really. Then I got asked a question which I later felt I should have had a prepared answer to, like at a job interview.

Lindsay asked me what type of woman I am looking for. "Besides tall," she helpfully added.

And I drew a blank. It's not a subject I've given a whole lot of thought lately, having been rather busy with my lecture recital preparation. But even that is a bit of a non-answer, because I didn't really ever give it much thought BEFORE I got really busy.

Every once and a while, an innoccuous utterance gets trapped inside my brain, bouncing around from all sides. I can't shake it, like what happens when I get a song stuck in my head. During periods of passive thinking, there it is again! Popping right back into my head. This has been one of those questions.

Usually when people get asked this question, they have a go-to response: "I like redheads." "She needs to be hella rich!" "I seek the companionship of an elf trapped in a human body; just like me."

I like brown hair. I like blond hair. Long hair is beautiful, but short hair is very fetching. A knowledge of music is nice, but tone-deafness is not a disqualification. I just don't think about classifying the people I meet. I couldn't tell you how many of the women I know have brown hair, for example. Or how many wear glasses. Or how many wear expensive shoes. That sort of thing doesn't really make an impression on me.

I can tell you which of the women has a short temper. Which one refuses to tip waiters. Which one likes to watch the moon at any opportunity. Which one has a secret disdain for email. These are the sort of things I notice, and for the most part, I don't think of the women who exhibit these traits as belonging to a category *of* those traits. Jane has a short temper, but that doesn't mean she's at all similar to Eliza, who also has a short temper.

To Lindsay's question, I think I gave a rambling mumble about "nice demeanor, good sense of humor, fantastically wealthy". It's the sort of list that just about everyone makes when asked to check the boxes concerning possible mates. That proves that we should just not mention anything at all, because traits that vague are bound to suit all sorts of people. Most likely, we're all holding out for something more. Possibly something we can't even put our finger on.

I don't know if that's my cop-out answer. By way of an example, I floated a name of someone I was interested in to my friends, as an indication of someone that might be classified into "my type". "That's the sort of person who interests me," I said. "Someone who isn't ashamed of disagreeing with me," I continued, echoing something I've discussed on this blog before.

"She's very nice," said Dave, without any trace of irony or particular earnestness. I have no idea what he meant or what he was thinking. The conversation drifted on from there, so I suppose whatever point we had been trying to arrive at had been reached.

My friends then related a story about an acquaintence of theirs, who's apparently tall, looks like a model, and is very friendly. Apparently too friendly, because she tends to accumulate a flock of guys who think she's more interested than she is.

Speaking as a guy, being the object of any kind of interest from a woman I'm interested in is just about the best thing in the world. It tends to give wild release to all kinds of latent scenarios of affection and couplehood. The problem comes because when we're moving at breakneck speed in our own brains, there tends to be little room for the finer details between "we should be a couple" and "we should be a couple of buddies!"

I've drifted off my topic a bit and this is my segue to get back on.

I'm still at a loss as to what I should have said in answer to the question. I don't fear my friends running with the information and fixing me up on a bevvy of blind dates, now that they're armed with some sort of knowledge of my preference. I just couldn't come up with a satisfactory description of "what I'm looking for". I'd probably be terrible at filling out Internet dating site questionaires for just this reason.

It is (if a reference to a pornography supreme court decision can be used in a topic about love) something I'll know when I see. Or perhaps I'll know it when I know it. Either way, I don't think creating a list, which by definition creates boundaries, will be very helpful or even possible. If I rule out Irish descent and stop looking there, will I miss a golden opportunity?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Look, you OBVIOUSLY are aware of who you're calling.

Sometime last month, I started receiving calls on my cell phone from a specific number. It comes from the 913 area code, so I know it's somewhere local to the Kansas City, Kansas locale. Ordinarily, I don't answer calls from numbers I don't know, so for weeks I've been watching this same number pop up on my "missed" call list on my cell phone.

My cell phone is registered to a 314 area code, so it would need to be a pretty distant coincidence that someone from the area code I live in now would randomly call another area code, to reach my cell phone (also living in the first area code with me). It's just unlikely.

The many times I've been called by this number, I have never answered. So too, the caller has NEVER left a message. Ever. It's rung enough times that the caller could definitely have gone to my voice mail and heard "Hi, you've reached Andy Schwartz. Etc. etc." So if they wanted to find out who the number belonged to, or to confirm that it belonged to me specifically, mission accomplished.

But they've kept calling. In fact, my phone's missed call list goes back 10 numbers. That's the last ten times that the phone has started and stopped ringing without me interacting with it. Of those 10 since November 5 (the most distant entry), 7 are from this number. The most recent three calls are all from that number, and all since yesterday!

Finally, I'd had enough. Earlier this afternoon, on what would be the fourth time in 24 hours, I picked up the phone.

"Hello?"

There is generic office sounds on the other end as well as distant breathing. I have enough time to say "Hello?" once more before there is an intake of breath as though about to say something....

... and then they hang up.

If I were on 24, this would be the terrorists verifying my voice through electronic means, or my daughter struggling to wiggle the gag out of her mouth. Right before she screams, "Daddy! I'm at the old sugar mill!", the head terrorist's foot crashes down on the phone. Which, strangely enough, always seems to hang up the phone. In real life, gadgets are much more resilient than that, and would still transmit sounds even as the case cracks and the microphone is dislodged. But that's the movies.

And I am not in the movies. I have no idea what the story is. This person was so desperate to talk to me that they would call over and over, but on the verge of contact, they hang up? Perhaps it's a woman who's been suffering an unbearable attraction to me, but just cannot speak it out loud. That adds an element of romance to what is probably just a very persistant autodialer for a credit card company.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

How easily can I be replaced?


I came across an interesting question on a discussion forum this morning: how easily can you be replaced? It's a hypothetical question which has more relevance than "would it be possible with time travel to kill your own grandfather?" even though we're not really equipped to deliver concrete answers to either one.

In thinking about this problem, I was worried that it would make me depressed. At first glance, I'm totally replaceable. Certainly, I could be replaced in terms of economics: I teach a few lessons here and there. One wouldn't have to go very far to find a musical replacement, either. Years of auditions have shown me that there is a small but persistent community of bass trombonists who have more or less the same skills I do. I've contested with them many times, and it often comes down to who has the luckier day.

But those thoughts were mainly about filling my place with someone completely different. What would it take to actually REPLACE me? As in, what would the list of requirements be to actually have someone take my place AS me?

In a lot of automatic (but still very important) ways, I am not replaceable. To my family (surely) and my friends (hopefully), I'm individualistic enough that I could not be easily replaced by someone else. Perhaps my replacement would use enough three-syllable words to earn the same "must read the dictionary for fun" cracks I've experienced. Maybe he'd tell stupid puns and get eye-rolled all the time, too.

I'd need to be replaced by someone who loves learning and understanding more than just about anything. It would need to be someone who had spent the majority of his adult life so far in school for a degree that may not EVER lead to a career, but who wouldn't let that get them down. It would have to be someone who draws happiness and satisfaction from helping other people. It would be someone whose friends know they can count on for just about anything and any hour (I'm still working on incorporating the 2AM-7AM bracket).

It would have to be someone who enjoys learning enough to put up with listening to people fight, simply to find out what they're passionate about. A person who is interested in every scrap of paper that his friends would put up on their metaphorical refrigerators. A person who looks at all the things he doesn't know how to do well, like cooking, running, organization, painting, programming, memorizing, composition, electronics, and think about how much exciting room for improvement he has!

It would have to be someone who can handily accept the sincere apologies and treat it as water under the bridge, while still never forgetting the circumstances in case it became important later. It would be someone who paradoxically loves people who are passionate and hates the arguments between the zealous.

A person who learned the hard way that there is only so much he can (or should) do to help friends fix themselves.

A person who, even after studying politics and national issues for years, wonders why we all can't be a TINY bit more accepting of each other. A person who appreciates any pay for a musical gig, no matter how small, because that means getting away with money for something he'd gladly do for free.

I've barely scratched the surface, so don't start cloning anyone based on this list alone. Whoever that is would end up a poor replacement for me.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

50 Facts About Doctor Andy Barack Obama

I love the trivia posts that are found on blogs, where people reveal random information that we, their friends, may not realize.

And while Barack Obama isn't my friend (not even on MySpace), I did find a list of 50 interesting things about him, courtesy of the London Telegraph.

Full list is HERE.

Some of my favorites:

He won a Grammy for the audio recording of one of his memoirs, making him the first president so recognized.

He's left-handed, ensuring scads of "sinister president" comments through the next years on this and other self-important, overly pompous, and intellectual blogs.

He can speak Spanish, which is bound to be handy. It's kind of embarrassing to have our presidents jetting around speaking only English everywhere.

He's a smoker. This must be the modern equivalent of FDR's wheelchair: every journalist probably knows about it, but I've never heard it mentioned. He also promised Michelle he would quit before running for president, which adds something else to the list of things easier than stopping smoking: becoming a U.S. president.

His favorite book is Moby Dick, but he also collects Spiderman comics.

He doesn't drink coffee. I guess that means Starbucks will have to carry on without him on the publicity of their new drink, the Barakachino.

He took drugs like marijuana and cocaine while a teenager. Remember how much publicity Clinton and Bush got for their drug use (marijuana and alcohol, respectively)?

And he only repaid his student loans four years ago, after he signed a book deal. By that mark, I had better get busy having an amazing and unique life story.

"Is your mother a whore? Don't get offended! I'm not SAYING she's a whore..."

Being fearful is a horrible state to be in. That being said, I do find myself failing to empathize with certain kinds of irrational fears. I realize this is because I am NOT afraid of whatever they ARE afraid of; being able to see the man under the rubber mask renders the monster much less frightening.

I don't know what sort of a nation we'll be living in as a result of electing Barack Obama, but I can guarantee you that it's not going to be as great as people hope for, or as awful as people fear. It will most likely be in the vast middle ground that doesn't have a whole lot of sexy soundbites.

Mr. Obama has a long slog through a lot of thorny issues. The president does have a lot of power, but he's not (even under George Bush) capable of single-handedly altering everything that comes across his desk. Obama faces a list of things he's likely to face significant opposition in: repealing DOMA (Defense of Marriage), closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay, a broad health care inclusion, and so on. He'll fail at somethings, succeed at others, and have an awful lot of compromises under his belt by the time his term ends, I'd imagine.

The campaign got rather nasty in the closing days, with lots of hints of John McCain's senility and Obama's terrorist buddies. The campaign ads have stopped, but dislike of Obama allowed the negative campaigning to continue. Reading the opposing viewpoints, Obama is already the most anti-American president ever. And he hasn't even been inaugurated.

Today's article comes from the Associated Press, via Google. Republican congressman Paul Broun from Georgia gave an interview where he effectively says Obama is Hitler-in-training. Latching on to comments Obama made about having some sort of national security corps, lightening the domestic need for military forces on American soil, Broun says Hitler started the same way. He finds this, plus Obama's opposition to assault weapons, may lead to the banning of weapons from civilians.

Does everyone remember your constitutional process classes? There's nothing a president can do to repeal an amendment to the Constitution. But let that be.

Rep. Broun encourages us that we cannot be complacent. "You have to remember that Adolf Hitler was elected in a democratic Germany. I'm not comparing him to Adolf Hitler. What I'm saying is there is the potential."

He gets my "I do not think that means what you think it means" flag for the day. When you say a person resembles another person in some way, that's a comparison. And when the congressman says, "He's doing things that Hitler and Stalin did," that's a comparison. Perhaps Rep. Broun meant to say "I'm not equating him to Adolf Hitler."

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

My 2008 Voting Experience

This is the third presidential election I have voted in. The first, in 2000, was performed via a paper mail-in ballot while I was living in Columbia, MO. It was also the first document I needed the assistance of a notary public to certify. I had just moved to Columbia in August to begin my master's degree.

On one level, it was very exciting. Here's this piece of paper that has the names of those candidates who have been mentioned for weeks. There's a moment of "I've heard of those guys!" when you look over the list. After the initial WHEE! rush, it's a little pedestrian: there's a little card with punch-out dots, and they provide you with a state-approved "selection tool" (basically a thicker-than-normal partially-straightened paper clip). I performed my electoral right on my couch at home, weeks before the actual election. Afterwards, the onslaught of ads continued on TV, seemingly unaware that I was no longer eligible for persuasion. How disappointing!

In 2004, I was voting in Kansas City, after having just moved here in August to begin my doctoral study. Sounds familiar... Anyway, I once again voted through a mail-in ballot.

Now it's 2008. I still live in Kansas City, but for once, I actually voted in-person in my actual district. Granted, that district isn't Kansas City: I'm still registered in St. Louis County. When I visited a couple of weeks ago, I voted absentee in person. This means I went to the county election board office on a chilly Saturday morning. Driving up to the office park where the board is located, there were cars every where. Fortunately, most people seemed to see that and feel the need to park at the nearest end. I found that the parking lot on the far side of the office was somewhat empty close to the end. Score!

Sure enough, the crowd is here to vote. There's a line of approximately 100 people streaming out of the polling doors and down the sidewalk. I took my place at the end, noting the color of the car I'm standing in front of to use as a starting marker. I'm standing behind a small family. A young white suburban grandmother holding her grandson, while the young mom with unwashed hair and a camouflage jacket smoked incessantly. Her husband, sporting the darker skin of South American decent, flipped continuously through a voting guide.

Behind me, a young couple: man with Dodgers cap on, woman smiling. They're talking to an man with gray stubble on not just his chin, but also the remnants of a shaved head. This man (I'll find out later in line) is a native of Russia, who moved to America 30 years ago. He's followed by an older black gentlemen, wearing a navy veteran cap with a ship name.

As we move through the line, we pass a sign saying "No Electioneering within 50 feet of polling entrance". This doesn't prevent people from talking politics. The Russian man talks about how much voting means to him, compared to living in the Soviet Union. The Navy man talks about segregation and the ease of voting during his Navy years, avoiding the polling intimidation.

Topics of conversation include Sarah Palin's wardrobe (the story broke the day before), an oil pipeline, Joe Biden being Catholic, John McCain as a war hero, etc. As I look through the line, there's a real sense of the community of America. The old, the young, the men, the women, the black, white, asian, native American, Indian, and all the undefinable inbetweens. If anyone's complaining about the wait, they're keeping it to themselves.

The line moves in chunks, as the polling doors open intermittently to allow another group of 25 or so into the building. Every time, a worker comes out and shouts some basic rules. There are lengthy ballot issues, so to cut down on reading time at the machine, they've printed the text on flyers while we're waiting in line. "Can I have them back when you're done, and don't mark on them! The next person doesn't care how you voted."

I finally work my way up to the counter, where several people in their 20's are standing in front of mis-matched laptops. My driver's license is the only proof I need that I am who I say I am. I noticed that my ID from Mizzou would also be accepted; no doubt UMKC also. The worker checks me off and tells me to stand in the gray line. It, and the pink line adjacent, sort you based on the township of residence.

Moving on to the actual polling room. 15 or so machines set up along both walls of a long narrow room. These are "touch machines" that I've heard about for years. "Will they miscount my vote?" is my first thought. I've never heard any stories that talk about touch-screens working well, just the negative ones where the machines break down and seize hostages, demanding more use of anti-bacterial hand creme by the operators.

Each machine has blades jutting out from the side, which operators are supposed to pull close to their shoulders to avoid eavesdropping. Few observe those instructions. Were I so interested, I would have been able to follow the voting of the man in front of me exactly.

Most voters move efficiently (though not quickly) through the process. An older couple ahead of me in the gray line is ready to vote. The wife is directed to a machine first. She starts to guide the man along with her. The polling worker stops them, asking if the man needs assistance voting. "No," she answers. The woman is directed to the empty machine again, and again the man follows. The election worker frowns. There's more talk, as an assisted voting needs to be accompanied by a form, etc. etc. I can't follow that any more, as it's my turn!

I'm directed to a machine, where the worker takes my registration form. She notes the various codes scribed on the top and steps in front of me to the machine. Around her neck is what appears to be a block of plastic. It's smaller than a hand, but shaped like a rectangular ink stamp, with no writing or symbol on the bottom. She places this block into an analogously-shaped hole on the machine. The hole is smooth, with no connecting pins or obvious markings. Must be some sort of RFID master key, because it produces an immediate change in the machine's screen. The worker inputs the cryptic symbols "E87 WARK= 2 3410" and off I go. Very science fiction science fact!

The screen is excellently designed, trying to account for every type of visual deficiency possible. All options are colored in extreme contrasting colors, what I refer to as "Fisher Price colors". Bright yellow, medium green, fire engine red, rich blue. In additon, making a selection changes the color of that button, adds a texture to the color, places a giant checkmark by the selection, partially grays out the other options, and causes the entire button to pulse slightly in intensity. It's almost overkill, but I can appreciate all the effort used to create a system to which no one can say, "I didn't know what I picked!"

After picking a particular candidate or opinion, it can be immediately changed again and again. There were 11 pages of offices, candidates, judges, and ballot issues. At the end, you're asked to go over a summary of your choices. Confirm the summary. Press the "CAST BALLOT" button. Another confirmation screen, informing that after the final confirmation the choice is irreversible. Confirm!

"Thanks for voting!"

Off into the morning. Total experience takes about 50 minutes from first entering the line, which isn't bad. Looking back as I head to my car, the line at 10:00 is now twice as long as when I first arrived. Long day for the poll workers. Luckily, everyone who's in line at 12:00pm, the poll closing time, will be allowed to vote.

I did feel much more involved in the process than I normally do. Standing out on the sidewalk with lots of other people makes casting a vote a much more visceral and meaningful experience. Hooray for civic responsibility.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Have they learned nothing from the Charlton Heston movies?

It's after midnight and I'm leaving for Charlotte, North Carolina on Friday (today), but this was just too... awesome to pass up. Yes, I said awesome.

Here's the good-parts version, since I'm rapidly falling asleep.

1) The 700 Club called for a day of prayer on October 29th for the World Economies. They believe that God is currently in the process of judging the ideologies of the nations of the world. The prayer team wants to transcend the bull and bear market and have a "lion" market, meaning God's direct control on the financial system.

By the way, our current economic downturn is God's punishment for our "current stance on Israel", as well as passing laws condoning homosexual marriage. Of course, they held the prayer on October 29th, the anniversary of the Great Market Crash of 1929. Why did God visit that crash on the people of that time? The 700 Club doesn't say (neither Israel or homosexual marriage was on the map at the time), but color TV was demonstrated in '29, as well as Herbert Hoover being elected. Draw your own conclusions!

2) The appointed prayer consisted of meeting at the "bull" of Wall Street and apparently involved the laying on of hands. Though it may look as though they're worshiping the bull, it's the same sort of thing that occurred in the documentary "Jesus Camp". Children at the camp were asked to pray FOR President Bush, and they ended up laying hands all over a cardboard cutout of the Pres. I guess that's an important step. In my church, it usually involved folded hands and downcast eyes. And a lot of thinking.

Still, you'd think if you worshiped a god who has been known to cast people into a fiery pit for being around a golden bovine statue (see Exodus), you'd want to be EXTRA careful not to get anywhere near one.

Yet there they are. Laying hands on a golden bull.

Awesome.

[Photo comes from Wonkette.com]

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Show me on this chart where my blog bad-touched you

I was having a conversation with a contemporary yesterday and the topic moved over into bad students. I finished an anecdote and she laughed and said something to the effect of "you have the weirdest students". I said wistfully that someday I'd write a book whose profits would support me into my old age.

"I would read that book!" she said gleefully.

"Well," I said in a tone of voice used to reminisce about a dog one previously owned, "I used to write about my students in my blog..."

She interrupted. "I don't *read* blogs. Ever." Her face was suddenly grave and distasteful, as though bad fish had been eaten.

I blinked. "...but I don't anymore, because I don't want them to stumble across it," I finished.

I should have said, "Why in the world not?", but I decided not to appear like a partisan for my own blog. Instead, I just let her comment lie there like the last crusty piece in the communal pan of brownies. I'd like to know what is so terrible about blogs, though.

Maybe she assumes that all blogs are rife with horribly-spelled ramblings about cake and tube tops and rock bands and thwarted feelings about girls. And while I may have indulged in all of those particular topics at some point, I would be hard pressed to categorize my blog as being "about" them.

I look at this blog as being about ME. To the extent that it talks about religion or politics or school, it's really reflecting the prominence of those issues in my mind at any given time. I'm not interested in creating a specialized blog where people go for the latest information or commentary about "this burning issue". There are political blogs that do the job much better. The only things I'm really qualified to talk about are myself, what I think, and music. The problem with music is that it's notoriously hard to write about. To mangle one of my favorite quotes, "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture."

In effect, it doesn't make sense to me that a person would be willing to read a book I had written, but practically in the same breath decry the need to ever read other things I had written. I suppose she could ONLY want to hear from me on stories about weird student behaviors.

I totally understand that some people strictly don't like blogs. They just don't care to read random thoughts. I can sympathize with that and don't hold a grudge against them. It's the people who want to know more about what I think or who enjoy my one-line status updates and want to read more of what I write, but ultimately don't come to my blog that I find puzzling.

Oh, well. Time for me to move onto my regularly scheduled entry about cake.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Actually, I'm *pretty* sure I spelled that correctly

While I was writing the update to my previous entry (which you should go back and read, if you haven't already), my in-browser spell correcting program called me out for a mistake.












I don't know whether or not it's readily apparent, but the checker was flagging me for misspelling the word "the". More specifically, you might notice that it thought I misspelled the "th" part of the word. I don't even really understand how that could be possible, but the correction underline clearly only extends under the T and H.

Apparently, it was *really* trying to get me to capitalize (as that's the only corrective option that makes some sense), so I would type "The Internet". I agree that sounds more important.

I Cam't Wait to Nuy a Mew MacNook!

There does seem to ne somethimg fummy anout the keynoard...





















As seen on Engadget.com


EDIT:

I hope the keys are able to just be popped off and replaced, because disassembling the computer to get at the keyboard takes 15 minutes and at least 56 screws, as described HERE on Step 32.

EDIT, THE SECOND (12:37 pm): Since I already (less than 20 minutes after posting) received an email complaining about my treatment of Macs, I should also add a disclaimer.

For the brain-impaired, this is NOT the standard MacBook keyboard configuration. If anyone assumed that I thought so and was "lording my smarts" over the simple Apple users, allow me to correct you. And also to laugh at you for being so disconnected.

The Applites are a clean and industrious people. Apparently a select few are SO industrious that they have the time to scour the Internet for perceived slights to Apple and lobby for their explanation.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Shouldn't one be exhausted AFTER the big week?

This coming week is a busy one. Actually, it is going to kick off a lot of busy-ness all the way into November. Concerts to attend this week, concerts to play in, lots of hours in the car.

I came home tonight from Brass Band rehearsal quite exhausted. I didn't realize how heavy that feeling was until I realized I was completely horizontal on my couch, trying to type on my laptop. Despite the discomfort in my wrists, it was just SO comfortable to have my head on the side cushion.

Then I saw something that jolted my brain back into gear: there was a visit to my blog from my undergrad, depaul.edu. Whoever it was, they searched Google for "doctor andy" and found my blog. Repeating the process, I discovered I'm now result number two when "doctor andy" is the search criteria. I'm sandwiched between two ACTUAL Andy doctors, with like... medical advice. It brought a smirk out of me that I'm not even a "Doctor Andy" yet.

So, the idea that someone searching at 10:30pm for me specifically triggered a flash of remembrance. I remember being in the DePaul computer labs and searching for "doctor andy", just to see what there was out there. At that time (ten years ago), I was first starting to realize that I might continue on further study in music. The end result of study being that I would eventually earn the honorific at some point.

So seeing the anonymous visitor from DePaul immediately made me think I'd been visited by myself from 10 years ago. This bit of Star-Trekkian fancy was enough to wake me thoroughly back up.

Of course, I know it's not me. Aside of the obvious facts of physics and causality, the person was using Internet Explorer 6. I clearly remember using Netscape version 3.0 on the computers "back in my day".

It's kind of fun, though, since I was never known as "Doctor Andy" when I was living in Chicago. That means if the person was actually an acquaintence of mine, they found me by searching for my current moniker.

On the other hand, if it really is me from 10 years ago, you (me) should definitely hook up with Jennifer from my "Saints and Sinners" class. Turns out she was (will be) very interested in me... you... us.

And buy Apple, selling for under $10 a share.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Look, Dad! Someone who keeps their house worse than I.

I have a link to an incredibly filthy house. It is beyond "foul and disgusting". Without a doubt, it is the closest physical incarnation I have seen to Dante's bolgia for the wasteful.

I don't know what the clinical term for the fear of garbage is, but those who have it should never click on this link. For everyone else... well... the state of this person's apartment will probably give you that phobia.

I was halfway through writing a long-winded exploration of all the horrible things I saw in these pictures, but I decided to delete it. As disgusting as this is, it is even more profoundly sad. A human being dwells here and keeps it like this through choice, laziness, or not knowing any better. I'd rather not mock that, anymore than I have already done through shame and disgust.


HERE

Thursday, October 16, 2008

"Republican, naturally."

Depending on your level of media saturation, you may have heard about a YouTube video showing fatigued kids chanting and drilling in support of Barack Obama. I had seen the video online before, but only realized in the aftermath that it was from a school here in Kansas City. Here's a link to the story about it from the Kansas City Star, including a copy of the video. I haven't seen the whole thing and this entry really isn't about the video, so viewing it is not required to follow my entry.

The teacher involved has been suspended while the district goes through legal evaluations. The "big deal" seems to be questions raised about the appropriateness of such a display at a public school.

On one hand, I think it's great. I was involved with civic projects at our high school, even going so far as to have the congressional Democratic majority leader visit our social studies classroom during his reelection campaign. That's one of the best things that's come out of this "popular" election we're currently in: people are involved to a degree I can't remember.

I think a significant portion of this involvement comes from things like "The Daily Show". It reaches a portion of the electorate that the traditional news outlets don't. My youngest brother has never been interested in politics, but he's quite knowledgeable about the candidates and the issues this year.

It will be interesting to see if "The Daily Show" will maintain the traditional media role in opposition (to an extent) to Obama the sitting president. As many news scholars have observed, the media's role is to challenge the president and the government on everything, acting as an oversight board in representing the interests of the people.

But I digress. A little civics in school is fine. Now politics in school.... that's another matter. This particular teacher was suspended for putting together a sort of pro-candidate pageant. Were students who disagreed left out? Were they forcibly involved? Were they allowed to sit in a corner and think? I don't know.

My first encounter with politics in school was sometime around 4th grade. One of our teachers was talking about public policy, I don't even remember why. All I remember about the conversation was her saying to a group of kids, "The Democratic method is GIVE people welfare, GIVE them houses, GIVE them jobs. The Republicans say, 'We want you to WORK for that money, WORK for that job, WORK for that house.'".

I remember her laying emphasis on those verbs like a skilled orator. I'm sure all of us kids were confused, because economic policy is a little out of a 4th-grader's bounds. Eventually, somebody said, "Well, which one are you?"

"Republican, naturally," was her response. Again, I have very little context for this, other than the fact that a year hasn't gone by since without me thinking about it. It's just one of those childhood memories that becomes ingrained while others fade. For example, I don't remember what my elementary playground looked like, since it was long ago removed and replaced with one made of recycled milk containers. Me forgetting, in spite of the hours and hours I spent out there while growing up.

Would that statement have gotten her suspended or reprimanded? I don't really know. She didn't come out and endorse a candidate, but she was making implicit value assertions about the two parties.

I seem to remember our Scout troop being involved in the Bush/Dukakis election of 1988, too. Specifically, I remember all gathering at someone's house to watch part of the election returns, or maybe it was one of the debates. I think it was the first time I'd ever heard the word "abortion" as a term of interest.

I don't know that any of these events had a lasting effect on my political upbringing. I remember wanting to be associated with the Republicans in the Scout days, because other kids were making fun of Democrats as being "asses". This had nothing to do with the party's particular politics, per se, just the ability to use the word "ass" as a demeaning term for a fellow kid.

It's basically the same tone of voice that people use the terms "right wing" and "liberal" now.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Dreadful Tally

I love the place I live. There's a beautiful view, which is now only marred by the construction project on the far left. It's quiet in the evenings. It has plenty of space. This time of the year, there are beautiful views out my living room window of the trees starting to process into fall colors.

But there is something here that disturbs me. Fortunately, it doesn't occur as frequently as once a day. It's on the order of once every three weeks or so; sometimes more and sometimes less. It's something I pay attention to each and every time it occurs.

It's the emergency vehicles going by.

I live on a nice boulevard that gracefully curves its way between two larger "grid" streets. As such, it's a main conduit for emergency vehicles trying to get to places. That part I have no issue with. I've heard sirens in every place I've ever lived.

Sirens are never "good" sounds, I suppose. Police and firemen are always headed towards something unfortunate when the siren is on, even if its relatively benign, such as a speeding ticket. Whenever the fire truck goes by, there's a good chance someone's home and possessions are on fire.

Something particular catches my attention about where I live. It's just across and down the street from a two separate "retirement" communities, focusing more on end-of-life care. So, each time I hear the siren, I listen to see if it continues on up the boulevard to some other accident. If it turns and heads up my street, I know it's a grim portent for some resident of the old-age home.

The paramedics know it, too, because they usually switch off the siren just after they make the turn. No use upsetting more people than necessary.

Friday, October 03, 2008

More of a Guitar Lackey, really...

Last week, I played my first games of "Dance Dance Revolution" and "Guitar Hero". While at a party, someone had brought a PS2 and these games. I'm fully aware that I'm significantly behind the curve on these games. My youngest brother was going out to the arcades years ago to do DDR, so I'm sure that they're on to the 14th sequel.

I've done only remedial guitar, but I've worked with it enough to know that it's not my bag. It hurts my hands (which I'm sure would go away with time), it seems confusing to not look at what the primary melodic motion is doing, and it requires a level of finger dexterity which is not on my short list of talents. So even though Guitar Hero is dumbed-down guitar, I still did poorly. Mostly, it had to do with trying to push the buttons exactly in time while strumming in time. That's not necessary: the left hand can anticipate the proper colors far in advance. So I wasted a lot of motion.

Out came the pads, and DDR began. It was vastly entertaining to watch other people doing it. Their gazes are so fixed, it reminds me of watching people watching a movie.

Then it was my turn. I was dancing cooperatively with a woman who had also never attempted it. Sadly, my feet were too big to stand in the middle without accidently triggering at least one of the directions. It wasn't a continual disadvantage, but it did throw me out a few times. In addition, I could never quite get the hang of when to actually press the pad at the appropriate time. I don't know if I was lagging behind, or if the pad didn't register at the moment I felt it should, but I was not making great headway. I failed a song on the easiest difficulty. However, I did manage a D grade on an intermediate song, so I consider that a badge of honor.

I can see how it might be a good source of exercise. I was certainly winded, though that certainly wasn't helped by the fact that I'd already had five beers before I even attempted it.

I achieved an "A" grade in avoiding tumbling head first into the fireplace.

Friday, September 26, 2008

God will provide, except when He doesn't

You may have heard about a Nebraska law that's making a lot of headlines. It concerns the "safe haven" law, intended to allow parents to deliver newborn babies and young children to any hospital and have them taken care of. I don't know, but it's probably designed to prevent unwanted babies from being found in the city's dumpsters.

For whatever reason, the provision in Nebraska has no upper age limit on what constitutes a "child", so the state definition of anyone under the age of 19 applies. Lawmakers hoped this law would only be used as intended.

Guess what?

Since the law took effect in July, 16 kids have been abandoned under the law, including teenagers. The latest (and most egregious) use of the law was a man who left nine of his ten children at a hospital. His five sons and four daughters range in age from 1 to 17. The eldest daughter (18) was not donated. That would just be silly, but 17 is just fine.

The man's wife died in 2007, shortly after giving birth to the last of the children. He hasn't worked since July and was being overwhelmed by "family responsibilities". In one sense, I'm glad he abandoned his children to the state. It's possible they will receive better nutrition and circumstances now. It's still a terrible tragedy for a family. It turns out that he never asked relatives for help. Those relations have now offered to take in the siblings, so they won't be shuffled off to a state home or adopted into a stranger's house.

I can't imagine what the conversations were like in that house prior to the big drop-off. I'm so torn, between being sympathetic for him wanting his kids to have access to a better life than he can provide, and just being plain angry at him for having too damn many kids. Maybe he should have worked out an agreement with that ultra-religious family with 17 kids. He could have gotten tips on how to work with his small family.

At any rate, he's down to just one 18-year-old now, so it should be a nice change of pace. Nebraska lawmakers are thinking about closing the loophole if "one more family" gets dropped off. To leave the window open, make sure to take your "old enough to drive" kids one at a time.

Friday, September 12, 2008

I have too many degrees to get lost at a Taco Bell

Alternate post title: "Tricks shown in cartoons work on real bad guys, too."

It's now 10:20, and it's been a hell of an evening. There was horrendous weather, enough rain to start wondering how many pairs of animals the KC Zoo has, power outages and spoiled meat, a fast food restaurant designed to mess with people's heads, drivers who get violently irritated at the slightest provocation, and my years of watching movies and cartoons finally pays off.

Our story starts with the remains of tropical storm Lowell, from the Pacific, bringing a deluge of water and probable tornadoes to my vicinity. It rained all day, but by late afternoon the sirens were sounding and the local weatherman was busy telling kids how scary it was going to be. There were no tornado touchdowns in my neighborhood, but there was a stupid amount of rain. When I have white-out conditions, but there's no snow? That's a lot of rain.

After the storm passed, I started making dinner. The sausage I was cooking was going well up until power died, taking my electric stove with it. And as fun as "trichinosis" is to say out loud, I don't want it in my intestines. So away went dinner. The power came on in about a half an hour, but I decided to go pick up food.

I consulted the internet, and found a Taco Bell that might be closer than the only other one I knew of. It's in the parking lot of a local strip mall, and I managed to spot it when I arrived at the largest intersection of three roads in possibly the entire Midwest. It was literally about 1000 feet from me, but there were three stoplights between me and my destination. Strange.

I made my way into the parking lot, trying to avoid plowing through stop signs and medians in the wet darkness. After a storm in a mall lot, everything is reflective and I find it hard to sort out what to pay attention to, when everything is shiny and looks like headlights. The Taco Bell I'm approaching is apparently the grand poobah of Taco Bells, because not only does it contain the mexi-American franchise, but also Pizza Hut AND Kentucky Fried Chicken. It's practically a shrine to American values!

I see the "Enter Drive Thru" sign with the logo on it, so I get in line. At the advance menu (kindly provided before you get to the one with the speaker), I notice there aren't any Taco products. All the meals involve chicken, pizza, or combinations of chicken AND pizza. Where's the (ground and seasoned) beef?

I get out of line and circle around to the front door, trying to figure out if I need to go in to get it. Lo, there be another drive-up window and ordering line. This one also has a "Enter Drive Thru" sign, but it has the Taco Bell logo. The other (I now notice) has only the Colonel. This building is obviously a shrine to gluttony.

And what other sin follows gluttony? In this case, greed. As I pull up to the window, I notice there's a policeman in the kitchen. "How odd," I think to myself. Apparently, there was an armed robbery there last night. Shots were fired. Exciting!

When my food comes, the clerk hands it to me as a pile. Food under napkins under hot sauce. Is there a bag shortage? Just one more weird thing.

On the way back to my home, a car with a loud muffler passes me on the right and makes a mad dash to go through a traffic light, only to get caught. I pull up next to him and he revs his engine repeatedly while flipping me off. I don't know why he'd flip me off, other than that's one of the few signals you can give to another driver who can't hear you. It's clear he wants to race. That's laughable, since his car obviously has an altered engine system and I drive an aging '93 4-door Accord.

Trying to ignore him isn't doing anything, so I do something that I still don't quite understand. I make eye contact with him... and I laugh. Derisively.

In hindsight, it was a poor course to take. However, in my defense, after being flipped off and honked at, I didn't expect him to react to a simple laugh. But he did.

His door opened and he got out and started moving for my car. I realized I needed to go, and fate smiled on me, for the light turned green. I stepped on the gas and charged over the small hill, leaving him trying to get back into his car after closing the door.

Finally, the analytical part of my brain comes back on. I know his car can outrun mine, so I need to not try to race him anywhere. This is difficult, because the race has already started! So I do what any character in a Bugs Bunny cartoon would do: I play dead. Having no idea how much time I have before he catches up to me, I make a turn into the next right-hand street. I come to a slightly crooked stop near the curb, slam my gearshift to park while turning off the lights, killing the engine, and ducking in my seat.

And I wait. Suddenly, my breathing is the loudest sound I've ever heard.

After maybe 10 seconds, the muffler (moving fast) tears by me on the main road. I wait another five minutes, turn the car back on, and take a roundabout way back through residential streets to get back to my place.

I enjoyed a victory "Volcano Taco" when I get there. They're pretty good, but maybe that's just the adrenaline wearing off.

And all this happened because it rained today.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

A Load of Tuesday Answers

I took this list from Tara's blog. In case you were wondering, I got interesting in filling this out when I saw the question about the "last text message received", and knew I could fit in a pointless anecdote.


Do you have any pets? I have no pets. I debated getting some kind of animal when I moved here for doctoral study, but since I didn’t know how many days of the year I’d be gone, I decided it would be better to avoid it. Once I land in a place with a proper job, I’ll end up with an animal.


What color shirt are you wearing? I’m currently wearing a white shirt.


Name three things that are physically close to you: My pocket watch lies silent on the coffee table, next to it lies two quarters left over from paying the Kansas Turnpike toll on my way to Topeka for a concert last Sunday, next to that lies “Introduction to Personality”, a previous college textbook.

What is the last book you read? I last read “The Summer of the Danes” by Ellis Peters. Coming up is “The Great Derangement: a terrifying true story of war, politics, and religion at the twilight of the American empire” by Matt Taibbi.


Are you or were you a good student? For the most part, I’m an excellent student, though not an exemplary one. My current doctoral GPA is 3.791, which I’m content with since I haven’t registered for the “easy A” ensembles in three years.


What's your favorite sport? I’ve come to appreciate football lately, though I’ll watch and cheer for anything when I’m being paid. On a completely unrelated note, yay basketball!


Do you enjoy sleeping late? Without a doubt. I’ve mentioned before that waking up early, looking at the clock, realizing I have lots more time to sleep, and vanishing under the covers again is one of the most wonderful feelings in my life.


What's the weather like right now? Trending towards fall, which has caused my friends to mock my improving moods (gentle mocking), considering my affection for cold and overcast days.


Who tells the best jokes? I don’t have any friends that really tell “jokes” anymore. I get a big kick out of the writers at “The Daily Show”, which may count. I think I’ve sort of transitioned out of “stand-up”, since it’s been years since I’ve really seen any that I found fun. It doesn’t help that George Carlin is dead.


What was the last thing you dreamed about? I had a dream that I was in a relationship (and a bed) with someone who’s only a friend now. It was strange in the dream, too, and most of the dream consisted of talking about how weird it was while playing with her hair. Whadda ya know: it’s weird to talk about it in real life, too!


Do you drive? If so, have you ever crashed? I do drive, and I have never yet crashed. Other people certainly have tried, though!

Do you believe in karma? This is a complicated question that may deserve its own blog entry. Strictly speaking, I do not believe in karma as a universal balancing force. However, there is certainly karma among individuals (if I wrong someone, they’re less likely to help me). In general, when a person feels that they’re suffering under karma, it’s really just guilt.


Do you believe in luck? Luck is different than karma, since karma is “deserved”, meaning it’s effected by your actions. Luck is just a fortuitous streak of randomness in most cases, or the result of skill in others (a “lucky” throw in baseball).

Do you like your eggs scrambled or sunny side up? Scrambled, though I can’t remember the last time I had eggs for a meal.

Do you collect anything? If so, what? I don’t purposefully collect anything. I do *accumulate* some things, which isn’t quite the same thing. I have lots of CDs and I have a fair amount of unsolicited credit card offers waiting to be shredded.


Are you proud of yourself? In most situations, yes, I am. Those areas that I’m not are mostly as a result of fears or insecurities that I allow to overwhelm the course I know I should take.


Are you reliable? Very. It’s required for being any kind of performing musician.


Have you ever given money to a bum? Yes, when I lived in Chicago. It had a higher bum-to-non-bum ratio than any city I’ve lived in. There were even three bums who lived on the college campus, so you basically saw them every day.

What's your favorite food? I could really go for a Monte Cristo. I haven’t had one in years.

Have you ever had a secret admirer? I have. Two that I know of in high school and one from my undergrad days. In recent years, I’ve had more public admirers, which is a nice change.

Do you like the smell of gasoline? I do, though I know it’s bad for me.

Do like to draw? I would love to be able to draw, but I don’t really even doodle, unless I’m spectacularly bored.

What's your favorite invention? The ability for two people separated by some distance to communicate the range of human emotion and exchange information instantaneously has fundamentally changed the human race.

Is your room messy? How else would I know that it was my room?


What do you like better: oranges or apples? Well… hmmm… I like… gosh…. Who knew how hard it would be to compare them? I suppose apples, though really oranges are quite similar.

Do you give in easily? No. I don’t like giving in.

Are you a good guesser? I certainly don’t feel that way when taking unfamiliar multiple choice tests.

Can you read other people's expressions? Not only can I, I basically *have* to. Venues where I don’t have access to other people’s faces leave me with an incomplete conversation.

Are you a bully? No.

Do you have a job? Yes, though just barely.

What time did you wake up this morning? Eight AM, I think?

What did you eat for breakfast this morning? English muffin with jam.

When was the last time you showered? This morning.

What do you plan on doing tomorrow? Let’s see: tomorrow I teach, and there a newly-requested brass band rehearsal on the books. Yay, short notice!

What's your favorite day of the week and why? Friday. I like it for all the reasons everyone else likes it, I bet. To flip the question around, my least favorite day is Saturday. Often, Saturdays just seem to be filler between days that have more important things happening.

Do you have any nicknames? I suppose the appellation “Doctor” Andy is a nickname, since I’ve done nothing to merit that title yet. Getting close, though. Then I’ll be Doctor Schwartz (in academic settings), which is thrilling.

Have you ever been scuba diving? Nope. I’ve spent very little time at either bordering ocean. And paying to learn at a clinic in Missouri seems like a hollow experience.

What's your least favorite color? I’ve never thought about it… a sort of pale and sickly green, I guess.

Is there someone you have been constantly thinking about? If yes, who? I’ve been thinking a lot about Sarah Palin, but I don’t think I’ve been doing it for the reason this question implies.

Would you ever go skydiving? I dislike small heights, but I think I’d be interested in sky diving. The idea of doing something unnatural (flying) to facilitate something unnatural (falling towards earth at fatal speeds) is cool.

What toothpaste do you use? I don’t know without looking. It’s blue? I do know that it’s really hard to find toothpaste that DOESN’T whiten teeth. I generally need to avoid teeth whiteners, because of my false tooth (which doesn’t discolor like the others). However, the rest of my teeth are gradually staining, so I’ll need to use whiteners for just the right amount of time.

Do you enjoy challenges? That’s a pretty generic question, to which I’ll return the answer “maybe”.

What's the worst injury you have had? Had my front tooth knocked out by a baseball… or the sickness from this January was pretty bad (though not technically an injury)

What's the last movie you saw? I think the last DVD I sat and watched was “Ratatouille”.

What do you want to know about the future? Will I find a way to live, doing what I love?

What does your last text message say? Well, the last text message that was SENT to me says something like “I’ll be ten minutes late to dinner”. However, my phone is so old that it doesn’t understand the SMS messaging protocol that’s now universally used (I bought it in 2002). So, when Erin sent that message, I had no way of receiving it. We had a good laugh over it.

Who was the last person you spoke over the phone to? Yesterday, returned a call to Karen concerning how to get to the concert in Topeka. While looking at my previous calls list, I saw that the last call I was actually able to answer on my phone was on August 19th! Man, that makes me sound like a hermit, when in actuality I’m often not near my phone unless I’m expecting a call. Still, I’m surprised.

What's your favorite school subject? Other than various music classes? Hmm. I enjoy world history, and I’ve had a great time in my “B” career as a psychology student.

What's your least favorite school subject? Hmm… math?

Would you rather have money or love? Gee. My first inclination is to say “money”. Because if I already have money, I’ll enjoy the challenge of finding love. However, if the question means I only get one at the expense of the other, then I’ll have to say love.

What is your dream vacation? So many… I’d love to go to India, Japan, Hawaii, Europe, the Mediterranean, Jerusalem, Alaska, China, even just going on a cruise ship would be interesting and new.

What is your favorite animal? I like bears, lions, and crows. Basically, I’m interested in anything that looks like it has curiosity.

Do you miss anyone right now? I have no one to miss, which sounds sad, but isn’t.

What's the last sporting event you watched? I watched the Colts/Bears game on Sunday night.

Do you need to do laundry? I have some cold loads that need to go in. Those get put off the longest because they accumulate the slowest.

Do you listen to the radio? All the time.

Where were you when 9/11 happened? I was in my office at Mizzou, listening to the graduate woodwind quintet practice the overture from “Marriage of Figaro”, which I always associated with the Trade Center, thanks to “Trading Places” with Dan Ackroyd and Eddie Murphy.

What do you do when vending machines steal your money? I consider it a tax on wanting to eat junk food.

Have you ever caught a butterfly? Not for years.

What color are your bed sheets? The current ones are gray.

What's your ring tone? My phone’s approximation of an old rotary ring.

Who was the last person to make you laugh? Probably Jon Stewart.


Do you have any obsessions right now? I have a bottle of cologne in my bathroom that’s an imitation of “Obsession”. Does that count?

Do you like things that glow in the dark? Kind of a strange question, but YES.

What's your favorite fruity scent? Tough choice! I love lemon, but I’m also a fan of raspberry.

Do you watch cartoons? The kind that’s on in the evening, not the morning.


Have you ever sat on a roof? I have! It’s not possible at my current place, but my parents have a flat roof that’s very suitable. I’ve been out there on several New Year’s Eves to make my wishes and goals for the new year.

Have you ever been to a different country? I’ve been to England and Ireland.

Name three things in the world you dislike: oppression, black licorice, gastro-intestinal diseases.

Name three people in the world you dislike: Pat Robertson, Robert Mugabe, and Gene Simmons.

Has a rumor even been spread about you? I’m sure there have been many. One concerned me being confined to the hospital during my January sickness! I’m not sure where that came from.

Do you like sushi? It’s fine, though it’s generally a bit too watery for my taste, which I know is strange thing to say about sushi.

Do you believe in magic? I believe in the slight-of-hand kind, but not the “I have supernatural powers” kind.

Do you hold grudges? I certainly have in the past. Sometimes, I just can’t let things go. Especially if the person seems unrepentant.

Monday, September 08, 2008

What a piece of work is a friend.

The rise of internet social networking has introduced new versions of old social questions. Emily Post can't help us now, but perhaps stuff like this is covered at the Emily Post Institute, which "carries on her work".

The following examples happened to me recently:

HAVING ONCE LOOKED IN YOUR EYES DOES NOT MAKE US FRIENDS

I'll confess that I occasionally do something that would have frustrated me as a manager: I talk to paid employees during their shifts. I don't do it often, but it does happen. In my tenure as a St. Louis Bread Company manager, I let this sort of thing slide if the employee didn't make a habit AND if we weren't inundated with business.

So I don't hold it against the manager when, after spending at least an hour and a half chatting with friends, she gave me the hint to move along. They do have work to do and my talking was a definite distraction. Her passive-aggressive declaration ("Haa haa, wow, you have been standing here a LONG time.") didn't do anything to recommend her to me, however.

So, I was surprised when she sent me an invitation to be her friend on Facebook. You'd be shocked, too: those "shoo-fly" words were literally the first and only thing she's ever said to me in my entire life. We are in no stretch of the word "friends". In speaking to other employees about it, they said she really likes Facebook. I'm assuming this puts her and I on opposite sides of the "What is a Friend?" question.

I treat Facebook as a reflection of my everyday social network. Most of the people I'm friends with there are people I'm friends with in the everyday course of my life. I use it like a giant social calendar, where it helps me to keep track of what other friends are doing or thinking. It works especially well with friends I don't see or contact on a regular basis. Take Mary Beth, for example. She's one of my oldest friends (third grade?) , but we haven't been in regular communication since the end of high school. She's now married, living in California, and working for the Getty Museum. It's a far cry from her younger aspirations of being queen of her own private island, but she's yet young; there's plenty of time for that to happen.

It's fantastic to be in contact with people through Facebook that I otherwise wouldn't hear about. It makes me feel close to my friend in Chicago when she says, "Went to see a movie: it sucked but the popcorn was good." It's not the sort of thing that she'd bother to put into an occasional letter to me, but it makes me think of the times I went to see movies with her, or the times we had popcorn while waiting for things to happen.

That's my type of personality. I love reading blogs and updates about (or written by) my friends, because I *know* them and I'm interested in what they do and think. I have no interest in the Pokemon aspect of Facebook friends: gotta collect 'em all! I know some people just send out invitations to anyone they encounter, like a professional Rolodex gone wild. That's why I've ended up with invitations from several people in the groups I play in, even though we've never exchanged words (not even, "Hello").

Something just occurred to me, though. I usually end up as one of the most dominant personalities in a group, simply because I have no fear of talking to conductors, or even making fun of them. As such, maybe I'm in the position of being the "popular" person whom everyone feels like they know. And perhaps that's why they'd want to be *my* friend. Huh! I'll have to think about that; I never considered myself in the "minor celebrity" category.

At any rate, I want friends in Facebook, not acquaintances. Which is why I'll turn this lady down, unless we become friends in the next few months. In that case, I'll give her the power and ask HER to be friends.

WHAT ARE THE ODDS?

Facebook has a section devoted to "People You Might Know". It looks at how many friends you have in common with other people and suggests that you might know them, too. I don't know if there's some mathematical formulas at work here, though there probably should be. If I have 80 friends total and there's an individual I share 40 of them with, there's a good chance I know that person.

But lately, that section has been suggesting friends which are, well, long shots. Recently, it suggested a person who lived in Maine, who was friends with ONE of my friends. One? Seriously? At current count, I have 98 friends. Let's assume that, on average, each one of them has 100 friends (which is low-balling). Finally, my friend with whom I have the most mutual friends has 62 links with me. So, let's call an average of 35 shared, since many of my friends have only 1 or 2 mutual acquaintances.

In light of all these approximations, it means that for each of my friends, there are 35 people who would connect to me only through 1 person (that "first tier" friend of mine). 35 times 98 equals 3430, and it would get exponentially bigger as I add new friends. It just seems far-fetched to assume that I'm going to know someone that only one other person does, as long as there are still people that I might know that have 46 mutual acquaintances (as one did just now).

THE FRIEND WHO WASN'T THERE

In March, one of my Facebook friends temporarily vanished. It turned out she temporarily deactivated her account to allow herself time to focus on schoolwork. My concerns at the time about relationship problems were completely disproved. It's amazing how comprehensive that block turns out to be, since it removed her from ongoing conversations, unassociated her name from pictures other people had taken, and made it appear as though she'd never been on Facebook at all.

The current case also concerns a friend who disappeared from my friends list, but only MY friends list. Suspicious!

This started earlier in the summer, when an acquaintance from high school sent me a friend invitation out of the blue. I talked above about friends I really haven't talked to since high school, but this person I didn't really talk to that much IN high school. Part of it was that we went on a couple of "dates" that were unsatisfactory, probably because I had no idea what to do on dates (or even that I was actually ON a date). From that point on, we basically just smiled at each other in the hallway.

Anyway, she sent me an invitation in the middle of the summer. I thought about it a bit (is she *really* my friend?), but decided that we had been friends and that's about all I needed. After all, aren't I a more mature person than I was 14 years ago? Well, I'd like to think so, anyway.

I've picked up a handful of high school era friends on Facebook, and almost to a man (or woman), the act of becoming friends has not initiated any actual communication. Trying to catch up with people after 12 years of silence is not for the faint of heart, and it's a heck of a lot easier to just leave your Facebook profile open. I can wander over at my leisure and see where they went to school, their job history, their current photos of pets, lovers, or kids, all without needing to commit to hours spent writing a life story. It works well. It allows old friends to stay "familiar", even if they never actually interact. Similar to getting the yearly newsletter from your high school reunion class.

In case of this particular friend, I found out she's married, involved with military music-making, and living in the great vast Kansas plains somewhere. A nice little jaunt down memory lane. Over the next couple of weeks, I'd see her update her status message, which is a single-line comment on life that shows up chronologically (with all your other friends) on the main page.

Then, about three weeks ago, I went to show my parents a map indicating the links between my old high school friends, and I found that she wasn't where I thought she'd be. Weird. Was the utility on the fritz, leaving people out randomly? Not that I could tell. I wondered if she'd pulled out of the Facebook entirely, as others have done before her.

Not so. A quick search showed that she was still in the main directory, but that the link between us had been severed. We were no longer "friends". That means she specifically went in and intentionally disconnected us. To its credit, Facebook is very low-key when you are "un-friended". The service makes a big deal when you accept friendship requests, announcing them on your homepage for all your other friends to see. When a friendship dissolves, nothing is said. Facebook does not notify the user when someone has ceased to be friends with them. In fact, had I not looked for her specifically, I probably wouldn't have noticed she was gone for quite some time, since we weren't directly communicating.

Why did she decide to interrupt a non-interactive connection? She didn't say, and I can only guess. Maybe she got tired of seeing my face every time I updated my status? Maybe she had a good think and decided to refine the criteria of her friendship parameters, sometime after inviting me and before the uninviting. Maybe she came to this blog and didn't like the color scheme. Maybe she didn't like my political leaning. Maybe she disliked the fact that I *didn't* say anything to begin with, and she certainly wasn't going to speak first!

Who knows? If it were a long-time friend, I'd be moved to action. As it is, it's worth a shrug and some meandering thoughts after dinner.
.