Tuesday, June 26, 2012

They’re going to have the Olympics this year, right?

Maybe I’m in my own zone. Or maybe I’m out of touch with the rest of the world. But I feel like I should be overwhelmed by something. And I barely know that something exists.

The 2012 Olympics start in just over a month and I feel like I’ve barely heard anything about it. 

Sure, there have been a couple stories in the sports pages here and there about teams qualifying, but hardly the bombardment I would expect.

It seems to me that prior to the last summer Olympics NBC was promoting the upcoming games the previous summer. In fact, I recall getting sick of the Olympics prior to them even beginning.

I’ll be honest, I’m not a huge fan of the summer Olympics. I much prefer the winter ones. There’s just cooler events in the winter: skiing, skating, hockey, bobsleigh, the luge and ski jumping. I’m even a fan of curling for some reason. In the summer the offerings are running, jumping, wrestling and gymnastics. Oh, and badminton. Yawn.

It’s not like I’ve been waiting for the Olympics and disappointed about the missing ads, but after a lifetime of conditioning, their absence is noted.

It makes me wonder. Is NBC not looking forward to this year’s Olympics? Did they get hate mail last time around and decide to hold off on the bombardment? Is the overwhelming crush of ads coming soon? Should I steer clear of watching NBC? 

Maybe I have been steering clear and just didn’t realize it. Truth be told, I don’t watch too much TV and most of what I do watch, I skip over the commercials, but nonetheless, I still feel like the Olympics should be everywhere and they’re not.

Instead, the presidential election is everywhere. All the time. News. Polls. Scandals. You name it, we’re inundated with the stuff.

Now, anyone who knows me knows that I love politics. It’s what I went to school for. It’s my most-often talked about thing in this column. But I feel lately that I could use a respite from politics. By lately, I mean since the Reagan administration. 

Frankly, I’ll be happy to replace the humdrum of politics with the humdrum of fencing and handball for two weeks. 

My favorite part of the Olympics, actually, is usually the opening ceremonies. The events themselves rarely live up to my expectations. The lighting of the cauldron, however, always seems magical to me. 

The best cauldron lighting I’ve ever seen was in Barcelona in 1992. It was the one where the archer shot the arrow over the cauldron and it caught fire. I have that image embedded deep in my psyche. It’s a good image. Beats the heck out of John Kerry looking like a deranged muppet in the crazy space suit. I have that image burned into my skull, too. 

I’m sure that come late July, we’ll find more iconic Olympic images to remember forever. I’m equally sure that some time between now and November, we’ll get goofy photos of politicians looking stupid.

Personally, I’d prefer more Olympics and less politics — at least for a while — starting now.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Hey board of education members! Read this!

I found a great story on Slate.com (link below) detailing the nation's problems with math and science education thanks to a friend and former co-worker of mine, Tasha Kates.

The story explains that technology is destroying the standard teaching method for math and science by making it easy (and fun) for students and teachers alike, while dumbing it down and using incorrect examples and analogies.

It says that many things worth learning in life aren't exactly fun and even uses a sports example:
“Some of the best basketball players on Earth will stand at that foul line and shoot foul shots for hours and be bored out of their minds,” says Williams. Math students, too, need to practice foul shots: adding fractions, factoring polynomials. And whether or not the students are bright, “once they buy into the idea that hard work leads to cool results,” Williams says, you can work with them.
The same analogy could have been made with musical instruments. I was bored as hell learning and practicing scales over and over again. But it drilled the fundamentals of music into my head. And because of that, 20 years after leaving high school, I can still pick up a trumpet and play it, as well as read music.

On the education level, the same analogy could be made with foreign language. Sure, teachers make it fun. I thoroughly enjoyed Bruce Stassburg's Latin class in high school. But there was no cheating. He drilled conjugations into our heads starting on day one ... and continuing for four years. If today's math teachers taught Latin, we would have used an electronic Speak & Spell, no doubt.

One of the things the story mentions is that the graphing calculators used in most schools today are completely unnecessary, something I've said for a long time. Amazing considering the nearly $100 every parent has to shell out for these unnecessary calculators.

Personally, I've always though the calculators were unneeded because after students leave the classes which use them, they almost never go on to talk about sine, cosines, etc. In fact, to be quite frank, I have no idea what those terms mean. I just remember that they go along with those calculators.

One telling point in the story is the fact that 89 percent of high school math teachers believe their students are ready for college math at graduation and only 26 percent of college math teachers believe their students are ready when they get there. That's a huge disparity. (63 percent for those of you without calculators)

I'm not saying that American math teachers are bad. And I'm not saying they're lazy. One teacher oft-quoted in the story had to rebel against his school board to be allowed to keep a chalk board in his class instead of going with one of the new "interactive whiteboards" that seem so popular today.

I think we get seduced by technology. I know I do. If it has electricity running through it, I like it. If it also has an Amoled screen, I like it even more. I'm hardly a technophobe. I read books and play games on my Android phone. I have a work laptop (Mac) as well as a personal one (Windows). I have the internet on my TV (GoogleTV) and I've been coveting a Kindle. But I still know how to use a typewriter, a pad of paper, and read a real honest-to-goodness book. Just because something is shiny and noisy and makes us go "ooh and ahh," doesn't mean it's a useful tool for education.

And it's not just math and science where technology is taking over. The Niagara Falls School District several years ago started giving laptops to all students. Tool or distraction? I don't honestly know. In the Lockport City School District, many students are using iPads on a regular basis. Are they learning with them? Again, I don't know, but my daughter told me she loves playing MineCraft.

The story even takes potshots at standardized tests, showing statistics that they don't actually help kids to learn anything and actually hurt in terms of teaching kids how to learn.

I can't really speak to "how things are" in high school now. It's been 20 years since I exited those hallowed halls. But I remember that when I was in high school, I didn't really feel like I learned much (aside from Latin conjugation). What it felt like to me was that I was in a holding pattern until I got to college and my maturity caught up with my brain. I felt like I was learning how to learn. So if we aren't teaching kids how to learn, but instead are making it "fun" and "easy," then what the hell is the point of education system?

Seriously, check out this story on Slate.com ...

Friday, June 22, 2012

Catching up on Dilbert ...

One of the many RSS feeds I subscribe to is a daily Dilbert cartoon.

This evening, I caught up on the last month. The following were my favorites.

That is all ... 

Monday, June 18, 2012

Some people just aren’t happy unless they're complaining

Personally, I rooted for Nik Wallenda on his high wire over Niagara Falls Friday night. I wanted to see him perform well. I wanted the world to be mystified by the feat. And I wanted Western New York to rally around his accomplishment.

I got most of what I wanted.

Yes, there were things about the historic wire walk that didn’t go as people would have liked. There were aspects which disappointed me. I would have liked to have seen him do it without the safety harness, but I didn’t make an issue of it because I knew he would have liked to have done it without the safety harness. In fact, he said he felt like a “jackass” for wearing it. But given he didn’t “use” it, it was sort of a moot point. He proved he could have done it without it.

I thought his pandering for extra donations sullied the event somewhat. But I understand that things end up costing more money than you had planned sometimes and just because it was his dream, I didn’t think he should have to go poor to accomplish it. Besides, it’s not like he held anyone for ransom and said he wouldn't perform without those donations. So I didn’t let it bother me too much.

Aside from those two minor disappointments, I was thoroughly impressed with Wallenda himself. He held himself to a very high standard and proved that with perseverance and faith, we can accomplish our dreams.

Some people thought his open faith while on the wire was a bit over the top. I thought it was awesome to see someone profess their love of God on national television. It seemed like that faith helped keep him on the straight and narrow while crossing the wire.

The one thing that truly bothered me about the Wallenda event, though, had nothing to do with Wallenda himself. Not directly, at least. The thing that bothered me the most was the number of people who took a negative tone about the occasion.

Even before Nik stepped onto that wire to traverse over the falls and slowly make his way into Canada, I was astonished by the amount of people who seemed angry at him. For what, I don’t know, but they wanted him to fail miserably. Some even proclaimed that they wanted him to fall into the abyss.

I lost track of the number of people on Facebook and Twitter who said after the event that they “could have done it,” too. Suddenly everyone was a high wire artist. In earnest, I don’t think those people truly believed they could have done it. They just wanted to let the world know that they didn’t think it was that big of a deal.

There were a lot of people that didn’t think it was that big of a deal. People said it would be a blip and it wouldn’t matter in the long run. The numbers seem to disagree.

Final numbers aren’t out yet, but ABC won that time slot for the first time in six years, I read over the weekend. There were 120,000 people watching live on location, according to estimates. There were said to be hundreds of vendors — on the American side of the falls. Something that hasn’t happened in decades.

I believe that there will be a generation of people who come to Niagara Falls because of what they saw on TV Friday night. And while they’re in Niagara Falls, they’ll venture out into the rest of Western New York and eat dinner, stay at hotels, buy trinkets, etc. The economic influx granted to us by Nik Wallenda will be immeasurable.

I can’t prove that, but I believe it. I have faith, if you will. Just like Nik Wallenda has faith. And with faith, we can accomplish a lot.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Niagara Falls #wirewalk trending ...

To the naysayers who want to believe that the Nik Wallenda wirewalk over Niagara Falls and into Canada doesn't matter, the following two photos are the twitter trending topics for the US and worldwide at 11:30 p.m. — nearly an hour after the completion of the walk. 

American trending topics include four references to the walk.

I have no idea what was trending during the walk, but I have to assume that interest faded at the conclusion. This just goes to show that there was interest in the event - and people watching it. And those who watched it were treated to a three-hour infomercial about Niagara Falls. The value of the publicity generated is immeasurable. 

Worldwide trending topics include Niagara Falls.
Don't get me wrong, I understand that trending twitter topics is a fickle business. But for a while, the world was talking about Niagara Falls. And on ABC, we looked good. I'm hoping that the commercials just before the walk began from Niagara-USA Chamber and the Seneca Niagara Casino ran in more than just Buffalo. I'd hope they focused some advertising in Cleveland and Pittsburgh and maybe even NYC. 

Long story short — we looked good tonight. I hope we can capitalize on it.

It's Nik Wallenda Day!

I know that some people aren't all that excited about Nik Wallenda of the Flying Wallenda Family walking a tight rope across Niagara Falls tonight, a spectacle that is expected to be seen by over 100,000 people on solid ground on the American and Canadian side of the falls, as well as by millions on ABC, which is covering the stunt live as part of a three-hour special. 
What I don't understand is why? 

A sign outside the Seneca Niagara Casino has touted
Wallenda's upcoming walk for weeks.
I mean, seriously — how could this feat do anything but help this region? Granted, maybe it's not going to be worth the 400 bazillion dollars we're told it's going to be worth, but Niagara Falls — and as such, Western New York — is getting a free three hour commercial on national television. Plus we're getting exposure from international media because of the performance in addition to the many media appearances Wallenda has granted in the weeks and months leading up to the event.

Wallenda offered to talk with anyone who took the time. He also posed
for pictures for anyone with a camera and granted media  requests almost
without thought. His self-promotion has been impressive. If we can harness
that for the area, think of how much good that can do us.
Wallenda says he's dreamed of walking across the falls since his parents brought him here when he was six years old. I have no idea whether that's true or not, but it's a great story.

What I do know is that this is the most publicity Niagara Falls (WNY for that matter) has gotten for something that that wasn't negative in decades. The last thing of this magnitude was David Copperfield.

Let's hope that tonight's wire walk turns out better than the sham that was the David Copperfield event. I'm sure anyone my age or older remembers that the rapids shredded his equipment and proved Copperfield to be a fake. At least I believe Wallenda will actually walk across on his rope.

Some people took offense when Wallenda asked for donations to help offset his costs. Personally, I think it's a bit cheesy, but I'm hardly offended. And he's right to claim that local businesses on both sides of the border will see residual economic benefits for years to come.

Personally, I'm looking very much forward to watching tonight. And between now and then, I'll be reading and watching updates leading to the event ... as well as casually playing a game called "Where in the World is Doctor Jorden?"

Wallenda tweet announcing #WireWalk as the official hashtag of tonight's event.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Crass 98.5 ...

I'm not usually one to make a big ordeal over what someone's Facebook status is, but I found the following to be of very poor taste ...

Maybe it's just semantics, but they want you to "LIKE" their photo if you think he's going to fall ... not if you think he's going to make it across. Backwards at best. Juvenile at least. Possibly evil.

Monday, June 11, 2012

I can clearly see the errors I make

For some reason, God — in his infinite wisdom — made me just shy of perfect. Yes, it’s true. I have faults, but being humble isn’t one of them.

While there are scores of people who would likely disagree, in my opinion, my less-than-20/20 vision ranks right up there amongst my biggest flaws.

This particular imperfection is somewhat cruel, given that I read and write for a living. Making it even crueler is the fact that I tend to do a considerable amount of reading and writing in my spare time.

Imperfections tend to get more pronounced the more you are forced to reckon with them. Spending a minimum of eight hours a day, five days a week “focusing” on mine meant that dealing with it (sooner or later) was inevitable. I had gotten to the point where at the end of my shift or after any length of time spent reading, my eyes had trouble focusing and they — along with the rest of me — got tired.

So a couple weeks ago, I went and got my vision checked. And just as I expected, I needed glasses.

Truth be told, my vision wasn’t as bad as I thought it was. I have 20/25 vision in my left eye and 20/40 vision in my right eye. I half expected the optometrist to wonder aloud how I was able to find my way to his office. Mind you, my vision isn’t always blurry. But when it is, it’s bad. Add in the fact that I wore glasses 20 years ago before swearing them off, and I would have thought my vision would have degraded considerably.

Actually when I wore glasses before — in high school, college and shortly thereafter — my eyesight miraculously improved somehow. So at some point, I could see well again. I imagine it’s because I wasn’t reading Machiavelli and writing term papers any more. Apparently, reading is bad for you.

My optometrist told me to wear the glasses as much as I wanted to and to not worry about wearing them whenever I didn’t feel like it. I was glad to hear that. I don’t like to be told that I have to do things, as anyone who’s read this column before is well aware.

Nonetheless, I now have an extra thing to carry around with me — and lose. It wasn’t bad enough that I constantly lose my “wallet” (I don’t have a wallet, I just keep my money, drivers’ license and debit card together at all times) and my keys.

It’s funny, I have about half a dozen places I lose things in. The place I most frequently lose my keys? The hook that they “belong on.” They’re there so infrequently that it’s the last place I look. Second most frequent hiding place? My hands. My “wallet,” meanwhile is most often lost the front pocket of a pair of jeans. I launder my money frequently. I’ve only lost my glasses once in the near-week that I’ve had them. They were on top of the fridge, a clearinghouse for “things” and “stuff.”

I once lost a check stuck to the front of my fridge with a magnet. I must have looked at it half a dozen times before I found it. I even called places I had been asking if a check had been turned in. Three days later, I found it — right where I had put it “so I wouldn’t lose it.”

Just as I’m sure to continue to lose things, I’m equally certain that there are many future instances of me saying, “Hey, have you seen my glasses?” I figure as long as I don’t say it while wearing them, I’ll be okay.

I like being able to see better. It makes reading and writing much easier but it doesn’t help with arithmetic. It also doesn’t seem to help with my losing things. But at least now I clearly see that flaw.

Allentown pix ...

Little One and Photo Girl look at some cool fairy tale art.
Click the picture for more photos on Picasa.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Ahhhh! Zombies!

Photo from last year's Allentown Art Festival. (My kids are the one's not covered in blood) Don't forget  that the festival is this weekend! Have fun and remember where you park!

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

On fate and faith ...

I have what others may call an "addictive personality." When I take an interest in something, it consumes me — and I consume it — until whatever it may be grows tiresome.

If I find a movie I like, I have to learn all of it. I study the dialog. I research the actors. I read up on the trivia and secrets. I feel as if I must learn all there is to know. And once I've done so, I may move on ... or I may linger.

For some reason that escapes me, it's words that consume me lately — specifically, the printed word. When I'm not reading, I'm writing. And when I'm not reading or writing, I'm thinking of things I've read and/or things I'll write. This may not seem so odd, but considering I read and write for a living, I'd think my heart would choose another addiction as its pastime.

Currently, I'm a little more than half way through Jane Eyre. I'm reading it on the Kindle app on my phone, as I have most of the books I've read this year (save for the Hunger Games trilogy, which I read in paperback format thanks to my daughter).

It strikes me as odd that I find myself rooting for Jane and wishing for certain things to happen or not happen. Noteworthy: I've never read Jane Eyre before so it's all new to me. I have no idea the outcome so I'm not soiled with any predisposition.

It may not seem odd to root for the book's heroin or even a movie hero. In fact, I think it's quite natural. But the oddity is apparent when you think about the fact that the book is 165 years old. Whatever happened to Jane happened well before any of us was born — before even our grandparents were born — so how can the outcome affect me in any way?

The same is true with any movie you watch. You can root and hope all you want, the outcome is predetermined. And on top of that it's almost always fictitious. So getting emotionally attached just seems so peculiar. And yet we do.

To take it to another level, for anyone that believes in fate, it is equally silly to hope or wish for things to come. Either they will come or they won't. All the hoping in the world won't change that fact if destiny exists. Likewise, lamenting past happenings is just as frivolous if fate exists. Even if you have the capacity to change the small things in life, the mere belief in fate suggests that no matter how you deviate from its path, you'll end up back on it eventually. So whatever happened was meant to happen. "Don't cry over spilled milk," if you will.

I'm wondering lately if life isn't just a book that's already been written and we're just acting out our parts or if we truly have freedom to do as we wish. Sometimes I find myself trapped in thought about whether I truly had any choice in the things that have happened in life or if God or the fates conspired eons ago that today I do all the things I've done today. Occasionally, I find myself making a seemingly bizarre spur-of-the-moment change in plans to try to trick the fates, taking Locust Street instead of Transit — or whatever. But then after I make the turn, I wonder if that isn't what I was supposed to do all along.

And if it's true that whatever I do, I was supposed to do, why not do the most outlandish things possible? If destiny will return me to the pre-selected path, why not go awry for a while and see what fun can be dug up in the bushes?

In truth, I'm not sure whether it scares me more to think that there is such a thing as fate ... or that there might not be.

And still, I hope that things turn out well for Jane.

I'm brilliant on Twitter ...

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Can't touch this ...

Forget my column on the Zombie Apocalypse. The following video is - hands down - the best thing on the internet today.

Just in case you still want to read my column, though ... find it here. (Personally, I think it's pretty good)

These are weird and scary times

Florida always has some of the strangest news. I’m not sure if it’s that we pay more attention to Florida news because it’s strange or if all the weirdos moved to Florida or that their media is better at digging up odd stories, but for peculiar news stories, Florida is where it’s at.

A little over a week ago, a news item out of Miami caught my eye. It was about a naked man eating the face off a homeless man on a bridge and being shot to death by Miami police when he refused to stop.

In that story alone, there are three oddities:

• Naked guy on a bridge
• Guy eating someone’s face
• Police having to shoot an unarmed man multiple times to get him to go down

If you add them all up, some people would have you believe that the Zombie Apocalypse is upon us.

Maybe it’s because I’m twisted. Or maybe it’s because I’ve watched all the Walking Dead episodes, along with Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Shaun of the Dead, Slither, Zombieland and even Mutant Vampire Zombies from the ‘Hood, but I have a strange affinity for Zombies. Okay, maybe it’s not so strange. A study recently showed that as much as $5 billion was spent on Zombies in 2011 — between movies and TV shows and t-shirts, &c.

But Zombies aren’t real. They’re just something made up in movies. Right?

I thought the same thing until a few days ago when Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spokesman David Daigle told The Huffington Post that "CDC does not know of a virus or condition that would reanimate the dead (or one that would present zombie-like symptoms)."

In short, the government is denying the existence of Zombies. This news factoid is simultaneously humorous and unnerving.

On one hand, the CDC probably added fuel to the fire year ago when it released a “Zombie Preparedness” campaign. The campaign is, to date, the single best government-sponsored public service announcement that I’ve ever seen, taking a meme that people have shown interest in and making it relevant to real-life situations. Basically, if you’re prepared for the Zombie Apocalypse, you’re prepared for other types of disasters which actually happen, such as hurricanes, floods, blizzards, &c.

On the other hand, I’m of the mind that the government doesn’t take time to refute things which aren’t true. They simply ignore those things. Denying a rumor usually only helps to spread it faster. Remember high school? Maybe, the CDC is just trying to get more milage out of that campaign. Really, it’s brilliant. Check it out at http://tinyurl.com/6xbtvuk.

Whether the Zombie Apocalypse is real or not, I’m glad to see it in the news. It’s much more interesting to read about the Undead in Florida (and many other places) than about the brain dead in Washington. And, hey! I got to write a column about Zombies! Didn’t think that would ever happen.

For more Zombie news, check out my twitter feed at twitter.com/scottleffler … or just search for Zombies on Google.