Monday, February 28, 2011

Rock and Roll - The Louder the Better?

Thanks to OSHA millions of workers in industries across the country are able to earn a living without fear of workplace conditions leading to disabilities such as black lung, carpal tunnel, and hearing loss.  Fortunately for those who yearn for the life debilitating injuries of days gone by there is ... the rock concert. 

Heather and I attended one of these feasts of loud music and light shows yesterday, and I'm afraid I'm showing my age.  While others excitingly jumped up and down, or put their hands up in the air, waving them around as if they just didn't care, I was straining through my earplugs to try and discern the actual lyrics. 

If you've never attended a concert past the age of 30, either because you outgrew that phase of your life, or because you are still enjoying the youthful bliss of ignorance, it is not the same experience as you grow older.  To give you a feel of what this is like, think of one of those cars that pull up next to yours at a stoplight and rattle your windows with their subwoofers.  Now, imagine what it would be like if you were a mouse and you fell into the trunk of said car.  Now pretend you are surrounded by 10,000 other mice, who think this is nirvana (the experience, not the band.  That dream is similar but has an even more traumatic ending that coincides with the car backfiring.)

I concede that I should have known better.  I love music, but not seizure inducing light shows, pyrotechnic propelled streamers and heart rattling bass.  (Ok, I have to admit the streamers were actually kind of cool.)  I prefer to be able to hear the individual notes of the singer and all the instruments blending together during the song, and something other than tinnitus afterwards.

Even though the price of concessions were so high that I felt a compulsion to swab my wallet for DNA samples after paying, and even though I felt like an old geezer as I vainly squeezed my ears trying to save my chochlia from disintegrating, it was fun going out with Heather, and as a bonus I found a new use for my iPod Touch.  Since lighters are so 20th Century, we all wave handheld devices now.  At least these kids won't be getting lung cancer from smoking when they're in their 50's, although their hearing will be gone.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Best Laid Plans

I have found that while skiing on Saturdays is fun, skiing on Mondays, with a fraction of the crowds infesting the slopes and clogging the roads to the mountains, is exponentially more enjoyable. Combine this with a shortened work week and an excuse to miss the one workday the Air Force requires us to wear our dress uniforms (kind of a Bizarro World version of Casual Fridays, known alternatively as “Blues” Mondays, “Sucky” Mondays and “Man I’m glad I don’t have to wear this monkey suit every day” Mondays) and it’s easy to see the allure of burning one of my vacation days and heading for the hills.

Knowing this would not be possible for three weeks while my boss is out of town, a while ago I signed up to take an upcoming Monday off.  Of course it didn’t take my wife long to make the connection that I had failed to make – Monday was the 14th, also known as Valentine’s Day. Short of your anniversary there’s probably not a worse day to spend enjoying one of your favorite activities while your significant other is at home alone watching movies like “The Notebook”.

Not only would this have considerably increased my qualifications for "Bad Husband of the Year Award", but would have seriously reduced my chances of having someone to nurse me back to health if I miraculously survived a collision with a 3 legged bear coming early out of hibernation.  (Obviously it would have to have 3 legs, because a fully limbed bear could get out of the way in time).  I can just hear the conversation in the hospital -
Doctor 1:" Absolutely Amazing!" 
Doctor 2: "What, surviving a collision with a 700 pound animal while flying downhill on skis?" 
Doctor 1: "No, he left his wife at home and went skiing without her on Valentine's Day!" 
Doctor 2: "And to think I just spent 6 hours separating his liver from his bowels."

So after some contemplation I decided to let Heather think I was going away and then surprise her with a day together.  Unfortunately I wasn't sure what this would entail, so I looked online for some ideas of things to do in town and came up with a couple of interesting looking museums.  At least they seemed interesting to me. Heather's from Kentucky, so "cultural" excursions aren't exactly up her alley.  Unfortunately it's a bit late in the season to get a hunting license so my options were a bit limited.

All of this planning went out the window when Heather decided at the 11th hour that she would go with me to hang out on the 3 hour ride each way plus during lunch. She would bring her laptop and some books to keep her entertained while I was enjoying the great outdoors.  Since I normally don’t get to enjoy Heather’s company when I go skiing or snowboarding I couldn't pass up this offer, figuring we could spend the day downtown at a later date.

Unfortunately, since this decision had been made at 9:30 Sunday night, I was totally unprepared for the ski trip.  I figured it wouldn't take long to pack in the morning, but wasn't counting on not being able to find my helmet and goggles, which was the case in the wee hours of the morning (so called because it's when old folks go wee-wee) when I was trying to put my gear together. 

While I am not adverse to buying new goggles, partially because they aren't too expensive, and partially because I'm pretty sure my zebra striped pink-lensed goggles were designed with someone with a lot more estrogen than I produce in mind, I'm not really keen on buying a new helmet to replace the $140 one I bought at the end of last year.  Needless to saay, as I tore the house apart looking for my helmet my frustration rose and I soon realized that I was not going to be a fun person to share a car ride with for 3 hours.  Rather than ruin Heather's day I decided to go back to plan B.

So we both went back to bed, (it's not like anything was going to be open at 5:30 in the morning) and got up at a more decent hour.  It's amazing what a few hours extra sleep will do for your disposition.  We had our morning coffee, then jumped in the car to restart our day together.  Up first was the money museum.  We were able to find it without any major issues and walked up to the front door.  A nice lady on the other side of the glass let us know that they were closed on Mondays.  After letting out a slow-motion "NOOOOOO", we walked back to the car, disappointed, but buoyed by the fact that we had a second location on the agenda.  The Pioneer museum was just a few blocks away in the heart of downtown.

Unfortunately, after feeding the meter with all the change I could scrounge out of my car (1 hour and 10 minutes worth), we discovered that the money museum wasn't the only museum in town that is closed on Mondays.  Needless to say our "NOOOOOO" was even longer this time.  More like "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!"  Well, at least mine was.  With Heather less enthused about my selections hers was probably a more tepid "Eh".  But I couldn't hear that over my "NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!"

So I learned a few lessons.  1. If you're going to surprise someone, don't let their attempts at kindness change your plans 2.  If your significant other doesn't give you good feedback on what they would like to do on a holiday, don't default to activities you know you would enjoy, because it just isn't going to happen.  3. Don't feed the meter until you check the hours of operation where you're going. 4. While you're at it, don't go somewhere without checking their hours online first.  That's what the web is for.

Hopefully my tale of woe serves you well in avoiding my mistakes.  As a postmark, it was still worth taking the day off, as Heather and I enjoyed the rest of the day lounging around the house playing Wii.  In life it's not so much about what you're doing as it is about whom you're with.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

How Could I Say No?

Last year I had the unpleasant experience of attending a 2 year old's birthday party at Chuck E Cheese, which was slightly more fun than getting my annual teeth cleaning.  I realize it's not all about me, so I didn't mind the screaming kids and the rubberized pizza.  My main complaint was how the whole thing felt so industialized.  The party room had multiple tables, with one lucky birthday boy or girl heading each table, waiting for their recognition of their special day.  After herding a dozen kids to the table for the scheduled show time, we sat waiting for some teenage kid in a Chuck E Cheese costume to show up and reward each child with his 15 seconds of individualized attention.

And we waited.  And waited.  Apparently Chuck was doing double duty as the short order chef or out taking a smoke break because he was no where to be found.  If you think that a bunch of kids who would rather be playing any number of video games rather than sitting around a table waiting for a giant mouse to make his appearance would get bored and annoyed at this delay, you are grossly underestimating the impatience and inpertinence of children. 

Finally the giant furry creature showed up, and we sang Happy Birthday while Chuck E. made his way down the line and put an inflatable crown on each kid's head and they blew out their candles.  Then it was on to the next kid.  I'm surprised they didn't simplify the procedure by making an assembly line and putting the kids on a conveyor belt.  I have to give credit to the teenage girls trying their best to keep everyone's attention and get everyone to sing their birthday songs while Chuck danced in that odd way that all mascots have to try to express themselves without speaking.  They showed an indefatigable spirit that must be Herculean to muster by the third day on the job.  After that event I determined that I was done with formal birthday parties with hordes of children.

Then today I got a call from the 2 year old's mom.  She tells me that the little guy decided he wants me to come to his 3rd birthday party.  Knowing my feelings on such events she told him he would have to call and ask me himself.  Suprisingly, he exuberantly agreed to do so.  She thought he might forget but after dinner he reminded her that he needed to call me, so she placed the call and put him on the phone.  He asked me if I would come to his birthday party, and proceeded to let me know that it would be at McDonalds, he was going to have a construction theme, and he would be blowing out his construction candles.  After we chatted for a couple of minutes, mom told him it was time to get off the phone and so I told him I would see him tomorrow and he said "Bye, I love you".

How could I say no to that!  That little guy totally melted my heart.  So if you're looking for me tomorrow around 2 O'clock, I'll be the dude with no kids at the McDonald play land with a big smile on my face, thoroughly enjoying myself. 

Unwelcome Visitors

Recently I discovered that some freeloading tenants had moved into my house.  This was an unpleasant discovery that warranted extreme measures to provide relief.  Don't get me wrong, I love animals, but only if they are somewhere in the food chain or show me some sort of loyalty.  Until mice can be engineered to eagerly greet me at the door when I come home or can be the main ingredient at a BBQ, I have no need of them.

A friend of mine told me he had experienced great success with glue traps.  I have always been a fan of the traditional spring loaded mouse trap (isn't that the point of the saying about building a better mousetrap, that this simple device is as good as it gets?) but I foolishly took his advice and purchased a set of glue traps and placed two of them behind the piano and one under the sink.  I knew they had been around the piano because they had held a party on my keyboard which I discovered when I lifted the wooden tray which prevents dust from accumulating on it, but also creates a cool, dark place for mice to do their business, both number 1 and number 2, if you catch my drift.  They also left reminders of their visit under the sink.

Needless to say, cleaning mouse poop and pee off my piano keys did not make me want to accept my new guests into my house.  In fact, relieving yourself on any of my furniture is a sure way to not get invited back, FYI.  Unfortunately, the glue traps did not do the trick.  After briefly considering setting up a trap that involved 2 ball bearings, a boot and a mini-bathtub, among other things, I settled on the traditional design baited with peanut butter.  (Most people don't realize it, but George Washington Carver spent countless hours trying to develop a suitable substitute for cheese before finally creating this irresistable, gooey delight.  Had he not been alergic to cats, millions of school children may have missed this staple of the sack lunch.)  

So I stopped by Walmart and got a 4 pack of the traditional mousetraps.  The next morning I found the first victim testifying to the supremacy of this excellent invention.  3 days later and I had eliminated 3 more invaders.  Apparently mice don't communicate danger very well, nor do they learn from the mistakes of others.  The last one finally met his demise a week later, after I noticed the peanut butter on the trap was gone but it hadn't been set off.  A new, slightly more hair-triggered trap fixed that shortfall, and my home is now rodent free.  If anybody wants to buy some unused glue traps let me know.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Monday Morning Quarterback

It's always easier to make decisions in the clear view of hindsight, hence there will always be a tendency to be a "Monday Morning Quarterback", and what better Monday is there for this tendency to rear its ugly head than on the Monday after the Superbowl?  Normally watercooler conversation on the day after the Superbowl revolves around a bad throw that was intercepted, or poor use of timeouts by the losing team.  This year the conversation revolves around the biggest blunder of the Superbowl, which ocurred prior to the coin toss.  I am speaking, of course, of Christina Aquilera's lyrical fumbling of our nation's anthem.

Arguably the most important and certainly longest lasting contribution of the  War of 1812 (which was actually fought from 1812 to 1815 and was almost called "The War That No One Will Care About in 200 Years")  was the penning of Francis Scott Key's "The Star Spangled Banner", inspired by the British attack on Fort McHenry in Baltimore.  Fortunately for us Mary Pickersgill had sewn an enormous 1200 square foot flag which Francis was able to see through the night, illuminated by the red glare of the British rockets, to say nothing of the bombs which were bursting in the air.  Were it not for this supersized symbol of American freedom we may have been left to open sporting events and school assemblies with a rousing rendition of "Fort McHenry".

Granted, for some that would be an improvement.  It doesn't take much contemplation to realize that our national anthem could be summed up as follows: Can you see this morning the American flag that we so proudly saw flying as the sun set, and caught glimses of throughout the night, illuminated by the battle raging nearby?  Is our flag still there? 

Fortunately it is not the meaning of the words, or even the poetic beauty of their expression, that is the heart and soul of the Star Spangled Banner, but instead the majestic arrangement that lends the song its heartfelt passion and stirs the soul.  At least, that is, until you mangle the lyrics in front of 70 million viewers.  Suddenly the words take on an importance not attached to an expression since Neil Armstrong botched "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind" by leaving out the seemingly insignificant "a", which changed the meaning in such a way that he was contradicting himself.

We shouldn't be too hard on Christina however.  Although she wasn't trying to come to terms with being the first representative of the human race to leave a footprint outside mother Earth while trying to descend a ladder wearing a bulky suit and adjusting to fractional gravitational forces, keep in mind it's probably tough for her to concentrate on singing with so much clothing on.  Not to mention, it's difficult for the new generation of singers to perform without some combination of lip syncing and choreography.  Notice Usher didn't mess up his lyrics during the halftime show.  And what she lacked in lost phrasing she more than made up for in finding a plethora of additional notes that aren't part of the actual song. 

So really she showed her artistic chops by composing a completely new anthem, lyrically and musically, in real-time, while getting the timing just right to have the flyby occur as she was screaming out the last note, even if she had to hold it for 15 seconds.  I'm still not sure if the sonic boom was from the fighter jets or Christina's diaphram exploding.  You try doing that on national tv.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Cyberspace: I Love You and Loathe You

I've been thinking about the internet recently.  I have been reading a book on cyber war and how unprepared the U.S. is for protecting itself against cyber attack.  The book is on a list propagated each year by the Air Force as "professional reading".  Reading this book has been an eye opening experience that has me worried.  Sure, it would be disruptive if the power grid were shut down or elevators suddenly dropped dozens of floors without braking, but didn't we already face those fears with Y2K?  Now we have much bigger disruptions to worry about.  Like what if I can't play "Angry Birds"?  Or what if Pandora stops working and I have to listen to my local radio station DJs blathering on again?  Does Obama know how angry American citizens can get?  If we are cyber attacked and lose our connectivity we may just riot in the streets, especially if we can't access the comments sections of e-articles to vent. 

Ok, maybe rioting is a bit overly ambitious for Americans, but  so help me if someone creates an app for rioting I am so shelling out the 99 cents to digitally express my vehement opposition to this flagrant disregard for my cyber security.  Although if they put out a free "lite" version that only allows protesting without escalating to rioting I would go for that first, just to make sure I like it before I commit.

Another reason I've been thinking about the internet is because I can't help but notice how pervasive it has become in our lives.  Can you remember the last time you went a whole day without surfing the web?  At least 3 times in the day?  If you're snickering at the number 3 we're in even deeper trouble than I thought.  For many of us it's one of the first things we do in the morning and last things we do before returning to bed at night.  Now with smart phones we aren't even limited to being tied down to a hot-spot.  I find it's quicker to look something up on Wikipedia than trying to comb the recesses of my mind to recall a fact I once knew.  Will the internet make us more knowledgeable by putting terabytes of information at our fingertips while reducing our ability to cognitively process said information?  I know, I'm overthinking this one, but I have to do it while I still can.

I've thought about doing an experiment where I go unplugged for a period of time, maybe a month, or possibly even a year.  But how would I do my banking, or read the news, check the weather or look up directions?  I may as well sell my car and buy a horse and buggy, or dig a well in the back yard.  Could I handle doing sudoku in a book again?  Perhaps some day I will carry out my experiment, if only for a week.  When do you think would be the easiest week of the year to take such a thing on?  I wonder where I could find some info on that on the web...