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Archive for May, 2010

It was a great Towel Day yesterday (read here about all the international festivities) and I only have 364 more days to plan for Towel Day 2011.

What is Towel Day? Jump here (and Don’t Panic) and the amazing Wikipedia shall explain all.

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Well, there’s always next week.

Washington Nationals relief pitcher Tyler Clippard suffered his second “L” (7-2) in a 2-1 loss to the Colorado Rockies. He still leads the National League in wins, but his recent setbacks could be the result of the Nationals’s bullpen not being able to step up.

In NASCAR, Mike Bliss wound up in 40th place at Dove this weekend and he remains in 37th place overall in the Sprint Cup standings. Granted, he is doing better in the Nationwide Series standings (25th), but Sprint is where the action is.

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Cavlands – The First Four

Long, long ago (okay, about eleven years ago), when I lived in San Diego, I would pick up the city’s version of The Reader newspaper. It was a lovely large weekly periodical, but I enjoyed it for its weekly puzzle. One puzzle (eons ago) was a series of pictures that were drawn using nothing but the letters of the word itself. The purpose of the puzzle was to figure out what the objects were. For example, a kite was drawn using only the letters “K”, “I”, “T”, and “E”. The letters could be in any combination, could be lower or upper case, and could be manipulated in any way so long as the letter still remained recognizable.

Intrigued by this concept, I created my own versions of this puzzle. Recently, I re-discovered this cache of drawings and (surprise, surprise) I feel like sharing them with you.

Now I cannot recall what these puzzles (which were all the rage in the 1920s, if memory serves) were called, but I have given them my own name: Cavlands.

So…here we go with my first four that I found. Can you guess what they are:

Ideal for a proposition

Cavland Number One

Appropriate if it was made of tin

Cavland Number Two

Fine to eat on a Saturday also

Cavland Number Three

Proudly serving from 1960 to 1998

Cavland Number Four

Hope you had fun with these and I’ll see if I can post more.

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On the October 28, 2009 episode of the public radio program Marketplace, David Frum (former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, former fellow of the American Enterprise Institute, current blogger for FrumForum) made the assertion that gold was a bubble. A more in-depth explanation by Frum for this assertion can found in his October 17, 2009 post on the National Post.

On October 28, 2009, the price of gold stood at $1029.90 an ounce.

On April 28, 2010, six months after Frum made his annoucement that gold was a bubble, the price stood at $1171.30 an ounce, an increase of 13.7%.

Since I have posted this blog piece under the category of “Veridiction”, which is my concept of verifying predictions, you might be wondering if this piece is to say whether or not Frum is correct in stating that gold is a bubble.

He’s right becaue, six months after his prediction, the price of gold continues to rise.

However, he’s wrong because, six months after his prediction, the price of gold continues to rise.

Actually, this blog piece isn’t so much to say, like my other Veridiction pieces about sportswriters or the Congressional Budget Office, whether Frum was right or wrong in his prediction, but it is to pop the bubble of those who would make predicitions about what is or is not a bubble.

Frum is correct in stating that gold is a bubble, because every investment is a bubble. Sooner or later, the value of an asset goes down. When the price of gold dips below $1000 an ounce, Frum can proudly state that he called it. However that dip in value may take six more weeks, six more months, six more decades, or when the sun finally exhausts its fuel and becomes a red giant. Whenever the dip happens, Frum can say that he called it before anyone else did.

Anyone can say an asset (whether it be gold, the housing market, Beanie Babies, or baseball cards) is a bubble because sooner or later, the value will drop.

The trick in calling a bubble is not to say that something is a bubble (because all investments are bubbles), the real trick (and the only thing worthy to hang your swami hat on) is calling when the bubble pops right before it pops.

Now that would be a blog post or a guest commentator stint on Marketplace to watch for.

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What follows is the second chapter of the unfinished manuscript of a book left to me by my former college roommate, David G. The first chapter, Chapter 00, can be found here. You can link back to that first chapter to catch up on the story of what this manuscript is about and how I obtained it.

A quick note about David’s style. He wrote in a somewhat rambling style and often left parts of the manuscript incomplete or with notes to himself on how to possibly improve his choice of words. I will try to recreate this mode of his by using brackets and the bold font [Like this]. I have also attempted to correct some of his spelling errors, but not all.

So…moving on…here we go…

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
Form Your Troika – Chapter 01

BUT NOT TO ME

The first lesson that I took to heart from personal experience was one that I learned in the sixth grade. It is not one of those sweet, sappy lessons that Robert Fulghum [check spelling of the author of All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten] would like us to learn such as “Clean up your own mess”, “Share with others”, or “Hemlock is poisonous”.  No, this lesson was taught to me by the cold, cruel hand of Experience. I, of course, can speak of this life-altering lesson in such stark terms because when you are eleven years old, everything is dramatic and stark and poignant. The feelings that sweep over an American male sixth-grader are only a harbinger of what the teenage years will bring. That’s something they don’t teach you in kindergarten, but dammit, they should.

I am convinced [that?] the creation of the modern system of education we know today and the beginning of the Industrial Revolution happened at the same time for a reason. The grade school playground is simply the incubator for all the skills and tools an adult will need in the corporate world. It is the crucible in which all unnecessary traits are brewed out leaving only those purities which will prosper in the adult milieu. The blacktop is the whetting-stone where children are honed to take their place in the world’s knife rack.

Stop me before I create more metaphors!

Go to any elementary school playground and you will see what I am talking about. Of course, you can’t go to any elementary school playground because the moment you show up unannounced you will be immediately surrounded by hostile, accusatory faculty members who will quickly (and rightfully so) call the authorities and your perverted little nalguitas will be warming the back seat of a police cruiser.

Therefore, first set up an appointment and then go to any elementary school playground and you will see what I’m talking about. You can also view the same thing at a middle school or high school. I would suggest the high school but only because the girls are cuter. Don’t think the last sentence of the preceding paragraph isn’t also brought to you by the cold, cruel hand of Experience.

As mandated by the Unified Movie Code of 1972 (last updated in 2001), any film featuring high-schoolers must contain one critical element. As seen as recently as Mean Girls and down through the ages from Drumline to Can’t Buy Me Love (quite possible the worst movie ever placed on celluloid) to Heathers to Sixteen Candles to Blackboard Jungle [how far back should I go?], the clique is an important aspect of the silver screen version of grades nine through twelve.

The clique is the key to survival for the high school denizen. There is safety in numbers and the clique provides that safety. The name and the makeup [hyphenated or not?] of the clique are meaningless. Whether it is the nerds, the jocks, the smokers, the tramps, the cool ones, or the beautiful ones, all cliques provide a shelter. Some cliques are more desirable to be in than others, but in the same way that a mansion is preferable to a shack, both provide cover from the harsh elements. Woe to the teen-ager sans clique. Like an antelope on the savannah without a herd, the outsider will be preyed upon by the vultures, hyenas, and the occasional lion until decimated or until the loner finds a herd of their own.

For the adults in the crowd, think of your workplace. It, too, is full of cliques. The names may be different but you most likely classify your fellow workers as propeller-heads, suits, brown nosers, gossipers, or tramps (okay, that last clique is the same as in high school and thank goodness for that). Just like high school, there are office cliques that are more popular [and desirable?] than others. These are the groups that the higher-ups listen to and can do no wrong and then there are some bands that are covertly shunned. From my own experience in the world of software development, the individuals who work as testers are universally detested because they keep showing developers what is wrong with their code. No one likes to be criticized, especially by people who couldn’t code a DO-WHILE loop for a million dollars.

When a new person enters an established workplace, the newbie relies on the skills acquired and shaped in school to sniff out the safest path. [Where does this sentence belong?]

Other than safety, the school clique imparts the lesson that conformity is desirable and that non-conformity is bad. This conformity I speak of is not akin to a cookie cutter mold where all people are exactly the same. Clique participants come in all shapes, sizes, philosophies, and styles of dress so it is obvious that no clique teaches that one size fits all. However, it should also be noted that American mythology embraces the non-conformist. Movies, television, and folk tales glory in the exploits of the outsider. John Henry’s strength is immortalized in stories, [I need a television example here] , and the rugged bravery of the characters played by John Wayne in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and The Shootist is celebrated. America’s image of herself and its citizens depends (nay, demands) on the construct of non-conformity.

This brings up a paradox of the nation’s belief system. How can American story tellers hold the rebel outsider in such high regard while society (which is the largest clique known) demands conformity? The answer, as with all things in that gray area between the black and white of two contrasts, requires some analysis. [huh? This "answer" sentence needs to be rewritten.]

When the examples of fictional non-conformity are examined closely, it becomes clear that society as a whole does not want these outsiders. It may need them, but it certainly does not embrace them. John Henry dies at the end, [TV example here] , and John Wayne’s characters either die in battle or don’t wind up with the girl. The lesson here may be that society does not advance if it doesn’t empower its citizens to be creative and think up new ways to solve old problems. However, society and its citizens can only tolerate so much non-conformist behavior. Therefore, society has set up an ideal of outside behavior, but only within paradoxically rigidly defined parameters. Think of it as conformist non-conformity.

Cliques enforce this paradigm by letting kids know that it is perfectly acceptable for them to be into Goth, Sartre, smoking, chess, evangelicalism, Monty Python, or on-line role-playing games, but they can only be part of those sub-groups as long as they adhere to certain rules. The Goth who won’t wear black, the chess player who loathes Kasparov, and the football player who won’t harass the freshmen [or "...the football player who is gay"?] will all soon face a choice: Behave like the rest or face being ostracized. It takes a strong character [of will?] to be a true outsider and yet stay within the group. Rare is the adult, and rarer the high-schooler, who possesses this strength.

Into the world of Office-Land troops the American worker ingrained with the knowledge from school that to be “in” is good and to be “out” is bad. Every business has its own culture and philosophy that is meant to be followed. Some examples of this culture, such as dress codes, are fairly obvious. Up until the late 1990s, male workers at the information technology company Electronic Data Systems were still required to wear suit jackets at work even when they were having lunch in the cafeteria. Other examples are more subtle. The response of “It’s always been done that way” is common when a new member of a department asks why a certain policy or procedure exists. Think about the last time you took the initiative and tried to change how something was done in your office. Raise your hand if you found it easy and your efforts were embraced warmly.

[insert cricket sounds here]

I thought so.

Out of one hundred of you holding this book, probably two hands went up. When you gained a little experience and knew the right people, now raise your paws if you found it easier to have your ideas listened to…if not implemented?

Wow! Okay, all of you can put your hands down.

The path was made easier because you knew how to work the system and that is the beauty of conformist non-conformity. As long as certain standards are obeyed, non-conformist behavior is tolerated and rewarded. However, step outside the lines and let the stoning of the heretic begin.

Knowing when lines are about to be crossed helps frame the Lesson for this chapter. My education took place in a roller rink and let me introduce you to my teacher.

Her name was Kylie and she was a vision of sixth-grade loveliness. As a grade-schooler, I stood out because I knew, earlier than my peers, that girls were not yucky aliens. My first kiss came in third grade when I pecked Patricia Renfall on the check in the hallway. Sure, I was teased until summer by all the other guys, but I knew the secret that girls felt good [how else to say that other than "felt good"?]. Because I did not view the fairer sex as the opposition, I had many female friends by the time sixth grade rolled around. This was the grade where it became permissible to pair up as couples (at least when I was growing up – I have no idea where the cut-off is now) and it did not mean instant teasing if a boy were to have a girlfriend and vice versa. Because of my head start in viewing girls as friends and not as carriers of cooties, I had an advantage in attempting to becoming a couple. This advantage was nullified by my short stature and pudgy stomach. While my physical outlook prevented me from having a girlfriend, my mental outlook allowed me to have friends who were girls. One of them was Kylie.

Kylie had straight brown hair, a slight overbite, and glasses. If her looks weren’t stunning enough to my sixth-grade mind, she also knew how to throw a football spiral, knew what offside in soccer was, and also thought Batman could beat the pants off of Superman because the Dark Knight was smarter than the Man of Steel (and brains always beats brawn!). She was perfect in every way to being my first real girlfriend except for one obstacle. His name was Jeff and he was Kylie’s boyfriend, while I was merely a friend that was a boy.

I knew I was a better match for Kylie than Jeff. I had been her friend longer than he had. Technically, I had only been her friend for one year longer than Jeff, but at that age fifty-two weeks can feel like a lifetime. Kylie and I both cried at the ending when our teacher, Mrs. Robbins, read The Bridge to Terabithia, while Jeff thought it was cool that [name of female character? Laura?] drowned. It was true that Jeff was so good-looking that when Mrs. Robbins planned for our class to stage a mini-version of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Jeff was cast as the Danish prince while I was placed in the glamorous role of lighting director. Jeff may have been able to read the lines of the Bard’s soliloquies, but I knew what they meant as did Kylie. It was obvious to me that I was the boyfriend for Kylie.

I was determined to set things right and restore the balance of the Universe by making my move for Kylie. My opportunity came at our school’s roller skating party. Grade-school social activities are awkward enough without having the added stress of trying to balance on wheeled footwear. Regardless of the possibility of falling flat on my back in front of my classmates, I decided to make my move [I’ve used ‘make my move’ twice…what other descriptor can go here?] and let Kylie know how I felt towards her during that staple of the roller rink circa 1980 known as the couples skate. The announcer took to the microphone and called out, “Clear the floor! It’s time for the couples skate. Couples only!” I rolled over to Kylie and asked if she wanted to join me. She said yes and off we went. The floor was virtually vacant as there were few real couples in the sixth grade. Holding hands, Kylie and I shuffled our legs together in time to the music as I tried to manage enough semblance of balance so that I could make my case to Kylie. We chatted aimlessly at first about school, but then I decided my moment had arrived. As I opened my mouth to express, in my sixth-grade way, how much I really, really liked Kylie, I looked over to the railing where I could see Jeff glaring at me with daggers in his eyes. I also couldn’t help but notice the way his right hand was in a fist and pounding his open left palm.

With his simple non-verbal communication, I understood his message completely. I shut my mouth and kept my feelings for Kylie to myself. I surmised that I if could reason with him, I might be able to avoid a pounding at Jeff’s hands. After the couples skate (and after thanking Kylie for a nice time…I am a gentleman, after all), I went over to Jeff to explain that Kylie and I were simply friends and that we had always done the couples skate thing together. When emotions are high, as Jeff’s were, reason can find no entry. I began my explanation/apology/plea only to find that I was talking to a brick wall – an extremely angry, strong brick wall. I stammered out as much as I could before beating a hasty retreat.

Back in school, two days later on Monday, I thought that matters, and Jeff, had cooled down. Notice the use of the word “thought”. During recess, I went to the boys’ bathroom. As I was getting ready to approach the urinal, I heard the heavy bathroom doors open and close along with Jeff’s voice saying, “Hello, David.” I turned around and was facing Jeff and his best (and toughest) friend. I shall point out for all who care to care that restrooms only have one entrance which is a safety violation that needs to be rectified in the United States Civil Code as soon as possible.

I’ll spare you the blow-by-blow as I was on the receiving end of all of them. Basically, it was the first and only time I had the shit (almost literally given the situation) beaten out of me. There were no cuts, no torn clothing, no blood, no bruises showing (yet) to document the assault that had just been bestowed upon me. The pugilistic duo departed chuckling to themselves and left me lying on the cool tile floor. There may be more humiliating things to a sixth-grader than being positioned face-down on a damp bathroom floor crying, but, at the moment, I am hard pressed to think of any. It was in that position that I learned my first Lesson:

Never make a move on another guy’s girlfriend

I would go on to refer to those eight words as Lesson One or my Prime Directive of Non-interference. There would be times later in my life when I would find myself attracted to a woman but would do nothing because she was already involved. Even when I knew I was better for her or when I knew her current beau couldn’t hold a candle to me, I would do nothing but be her friend and wait patiently for the break-up. During those times, I found the following poem by Sara Teasdale to be a soothing balm. I always found it comforting to know that someone else felt the same way I did. [truly...I need a better introduction here to this poem]

BUT NOT TO ME

The April night is still and sweet

With flowers on every tree;

Peace comes to them on quiet feet,

But not to me.

My peace is hidden in his breast

Where I shall never be,

Loves come to-night to all the rest,

But not to me.

 

Since sixth grade, I have inadvertently violated my Prime Directive once and have purposely crossed that line twice.

The accidental discretion allowed me to complete Step Two on my To Death List.

As for my deliberate choices to break Lesson One…

Well,…

Yeah,…

Look, we’ve just met as author and reader, so let’s continue becoming better acquainted with each other before we deal with all that messiness, shall we?

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Back to me and it is my plan to have a new chapter deciphered each month…but don’t hold me to it.

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Mondays through Fridays, fifty weeks out of the year, find me sitting in a cubicle testing software and looking for bugs in other people’s applications.

Today was different as I took a personal day off. Not that there was much personal about it as I spent most of the day taking care of my children and shopping for necessities. What I found fascinating about my day off was what happens in the outside world when I am indoors tied to my PC screen. This was my opportunity to see what occurs during the daylight hours. My take-away was that I am missing a great deal while I sit under flourescent lights.

Item One occurred outside a pet shop as I picked up extra bedding for our pet hamsters. As I left, two young (relative to me) women were walking in and one of them stopped and asked me if I liked baseball. Now a quick search of this blog shows that I do indeed enjoy America’s National Pastime (as shown here, here, and here among others). So, of course, I said “No”, and kept on walking.

It is obvious to me that when two twenty-something and fairly attractive women stop and initiate a conversation with a balding forty-one year-old man carrying hamster paraphenalia, they are selling something and I wanted no part of it. Although I am curious to know what they were peddling, but I moved on.

Item Two happened inside a Target store that also has a grocery. As I walked toward the freezer section to pick up some strawberry ice cream, I noticed that the lights were out behind the glass doors where the frozen treats were. Odd, I thought, but as I approached the area, the lights popped on. My lights came on also as I realized that, in a fit of eco-responsibility, the green folks at Target had installed motion-sensitive lights to save on electricity.

In my own pique of eco-irresponsibility, I ran down the entire length of the frozen section turning on all the lights. It’s fun…try it.

Item Three was a bumper sticker I saw that made me laugh out loud. It simply reads: “Out of my Way. I Have to Poo.” As someone who has been in that situation, I could relate.

Holy glockenspiel…what else am I missing in this great wide world?

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On Friday, April 30, with their third win in a row, the Washington Nationals defeated the Florida Marlins 7-1. Sure, the team is excited with the return of third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who homered twice and sure it was nice to see the starting hurler Scott Olsen go six innings deep.

However, for me, the real thrill is watching relief pitcher Tyler Clippard go another 1.1 innings in relief and fan three while giving up no hits and no walks.

In twelve games and eigtheen innings of work, Clippard has struck out 23 while only allowing 9 base on balls. His record is 3-0 and since he has only given up one run, his ERA is a remarkable 0.50 (there’s your number for the day).

It’s wonderful to see other people write glowingly about Mr. Clippard, but I really would like to see other Nationals relief pitchers step up to the plate (how’s that for a mixed metaphor) and take some of the heat off Clippard lest the Nationals burn him out too soon.

Just my two cents.

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