Monday, July 30, 2012

Where did the last 20 years go?

This past weekend, I met a group of complete strangers at a bar in Wheatfield to celebrate our 20-year high school reunion.

OK, so not all of them were complete strangers. A few I’ve kept up with over the years — or more specifically, a few I’ve stalked on Facebook — but the majority of them are people that I’ve said very little to since we all walked across the stage at Artpark some 20 years ago.

Some I don’t remember at all. I really wanted to ask them, “are you sure you went to Niagara-Wheatfield?” I’m sure that’s more a testament to my poor memory than anything else. Oddly, they remembered me. It’s not so much that I was shocked that they remembered me, as much as I was shocked that they knew who I was in the first place. You see, I wasn’t really in the cool-kids crowd in high school.

Hard to believe, huh?

I learned a lot about myself during the reunion. For one thing, I’ve apparently always been the pain in the posterior that I am today. I don’t always remember being so obstinate. I thought that was something I picked up while working in radio. Or maybe in college. I thought I was quiet and mousy in high school.

“You were the guy that sat in the front seat in law class and gave the teacher a hard time,” one of my fellow class members said Friday night. In other words, not only did I not remember some of my classmates, I didn’t remember myself.

There was a 10-year reunion. I skipped it. I think a lot of people skipped it. I have a feeling 10 years isn’t a long enough absence from high school to miss it.

We had a 17-year reunion. It was at a bar in Niagara Falls. I remember it being a little more superficial than the 20-year one. And I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much, but it did reconnect me with a couple classmates in particular who I’ve since stayed in touch with a little more closely than I had before.

This time around, I reconnected with a couple more classmates whom I hope to stay in touch with in a similar manner as to how I’ve stayed in touch with those I talked with at the last go-round.

We talked about life, liberty and the pursuit. Nothing seemed as though it was out of bounds. From jobs to exes to politics to (for at least one classmate) time spent in jail.

Everyone had such a great time, there’s already talk of doing a 21-year reunion. This, of course, won’t happen, but it’s cool to think that people had such a good time.

Scott Leffler is a decent guy … no matter what his schoolmates may tell you. Follow him on Twitter @scottleffler.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Fun with want ads (part deux) ...

As much as I like my job, I'm always on the lookout for something with better pay, benefits, hours, etc. So when I ran across the following ad on Craigslist, I was somewhat intrigued.

Pay sounds good ... and the benefits are apparently, "awesome." Who wouldn't like that?

But ... um ... what is the job? So ... I asked:

And (s)he responded:

Oh. Now I understand completely. Except ... that ... no ... I don't.

Always helpful in nature, I replied:

So ... I think I'll pass on this unknown job with "awesome" benefits. 

Also, I flagged the job on Craigslist. Seems to me like is phishing for something. Because there's no way in hell it's a real job.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Damn the NRA ...

... for ever framing the 2nd Amendment debate as a hunting issue.

Any Constitutional scholar will tell you that the Bill of Rights was put in place as a promise to the American people that power flowed upward — from the people — and the the people allowed the  government to exist — not the other way around.

So when I see people asking "why people need an assault rifle to go hunting?" the simple answer is, they don't. They need an assault rifle to protect themselves from a potential totalitarian government.

Those who would make gun ownership illegal would start with assault rifles, making the hunting argument.

Then they'd add handguns. "Who hunts with a Glock 9mm, anyway?"

Then hunting rifles. "Hunting is totally unnecessary in this day and age. You can just buy your bear meat at Super Walmart."

And finally, pointy sticks. "I mean, what good is a pointy stick anyway, aside from inflicting harm on people ... and marshmallows?"

Next thing you know, we have no means of defending ourselves. But the anti-gun types will tell you that the police can defend us ... moreover, the government can defend us. But who's going to defend us against the government? Are we just to assume that these people with complete power over us will rule benevolently? Has that ever happened before?

Personally, I think we should go in the other direction. People think I'm crazy, but I believe that if the federal government can own something (napalm, kevlar-piercing bullets, atomic bombs) then we should be able to own it, too.

How can we control the government if they have more firepower than us? At the voting booth? Please. Do you really think that Romney and Obama are all that different? If we elect Romney, he's going to undo all the bad laws from his predecessors? If there's one thing that's been consistent over the generations, it's the constant erosion of our rights. Romney's not going to stop that. He'll just think of a new law that's bigger and more erosive than all the previous ones put together.

In terms of practicality, do I think that the people should own atomic bombs? No. But I don't think the government should either. And before you make the argument that the government is diligent enough to own nukes, I'd like to remind you or Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Further, there seems to be an argument that if everyone in the theater in Aurora, Colo. was packing heat, someone would have taken out James Holmes before he could have shot 50+ people and killed 12. I don't necessarily believe that. I'm not suggesting that everyone SHOULD carry firearms. I'm just saying that it is — and should remain — our right to do so.

What happened in Colorado Friday morning was a horrible tragedy. A dozen people were senselessly killed. And there is no defense for Holmes' actions. But to respond by stripping 300,000,000 of our rights is sure as hell not the answer.

Sometimes bad people do bad things. That's no reason to make new laws preventing good people from doing the right thing.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Wanted: Ross Perot or someone like him

Twenty years ago I made the most life-altering change a boy of 17 can make; I left my parents’ home, put Western New York in my rearview mirror and moved to Ohio to attend school.

Sometimes it’s hard to imagine that was 20 years ago. It seems like the fear and excitement of being dependent upon myself was just yesterday. And sometimes it’s hard to imagine it was only 20 years ago. I’ve done at least 100 years worth of stuff between then and now.

I spent the summer of 1992 watching political ads and reading every story I could find about the candidates. I knew I would be voting in November and I wanted to know as much as I could about the candidates.

I knew I didn’t like George H. W. Bush. He ruined my trip to Italy. Well, not really, but the planned Latin Club trip to Rome in 1991 got nixed on account of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait when we ran to the defense of the poor brutal dictators there. 

Bill Clinton wasn’t really on my radar too much. He was governor of Arkansas, played the saxaphone and had smoked pot. None of those feats sounded all that impressive, honestly. I was looking for someone capable of more.

Then there was this guy with big ears, a funny voice and an incredible affinity to charts.

I fell in love with H. Ross Perot early on. Then he dropped out of the race and lost me. Then he came back. I was a little leary after that, as I think many people were.

I arrived at college in late August, 1992. Like every other teenage boy moving away from his parents’ house, I had one thing on my mind — registering to vote. 

Okay, so maybe I wasn’t like every other teenage boy. While many of my schoolmates were focused on parties and social activities, I kept a keen watch on the presidential election. To be fair here, I’m not saying I didn’t drink my share of really cheap and tasteless beer my freshman year of college. But I interspersed it with discussions about the two-party system and the ballooning deficit.

In the end, Perot’s dropping out had lost him my vote. I voted for Clinton in 1992 … and again in 1996. I liked Clinton, but I’ve always kind of regretted not sticking with Perot. I haven’t voted for a major-party candidate since 1996 and I don’t plan to this year. I just wish I had a candidate that inspired me — and had a chance to sway the election — this year.

In truth, I wish Ross Perot would come out of retirement and run again. I don’t think that either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney have a clue how to (or a real desire to) fix what’s ailing us. And it would appear that the things that are wrong with America today are things that Perot discussed some 20 years ago.

I’m not saying that Perot is our only hope. But he’s a better candidate than the two we have now.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Crazy GOP types are the BANE of my existence

Having a little back-and-forth with a crazy conservative on Google+ who seems to believe Limbaugh's theory that the new Dark Knight Rises villain, Bane, was created just to allow President Barack Obama to use him as a comparison to Mitt Romney.

A snippet of my response below:

"But if Birthers can believe that Obama's mother rushed him from Kenya to Hawaii to get a forged birth announcement in the paper days after he was born in hopes that he could some day be president, then why not believe that DC Comics created Bane in 1993 with the forethought that Mitt Romney would work at a similarly named place and then run for president at some point in the future." - Scott Leffler

Monday, July 16, 2012

I changed the toner!

This is why I seldom try to do any "real work." I made a mess.

via Instagram

Obama’s subtle class warfare may work

Seldom do I put my hand up to my gaping mouth and say, “Oh my God” following a television commercial. Almost never following a political ad. But President Barack Obama’s recent anti-Romney salvo, “Firms” made me do just that.

The television commercial features former Governor Mitt Romney singing America the Beautiful in a horrible off-key voice. A series of screen posts say that Romney had jobs shipped to Mexico and China, presumably while with Bain. It says that as governor, Romney outsourced jobs to India. And it points out that he keeps his money in Swiss bank accounts and offshore in the Cayman Islands and Bermuda. It ends with the tagline, “Mitt Romney’s not the solution. He’s the problem.”

Couple this with the Obama camp’s hammering Romney over his tax returns and it seems clear to me that the president wants to make sure everyone knows that Mitt Romney is not one of us. It is class warfare at its finest — or worst, depending on how you see it.

The genius in the ad, though, is that it’s designed not so much to make us fear what he would do as president, but angry over what he’s done to this point.

Romney’s people have said repeatedly that the economy is the issue and that no one cares about Mitt’s tax returns. I’d agree with them. Except …

If Obama can make people believe that one of the reason we’re in the dire straits we’re in is because of Mitt Romney (and people like him) then he can ensure that those people won’t vote for Romney. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll vote for Obama either, but in real logistical terms, any vote not for Romney is a vote for Obama and the administration’s guns know this.

Don’t be fooled — Barack Obama is not one of us, either. But he doesn’t need to convince you that he is. He doesn’t need to convince you to vote for him. Just not to vote for Romney.

When it comes down to it, the president is running against himself. This might not be the case if the GOP had found a stronger candidate, but they didn’t. The found Romney. And all the nose holding in the world won’t make him palatable with those on the far right. And it won’t make him any more likable with the left, either.

As much as I despise class warfare — I hope to be one of those 1 percenters myself some day — it can be effective. The GOP has used it effectively for years, essentially telling the middle class that any desire it has to get a bigger piece of the pie is an attempted theft from the wealthy.

For years, Democratic efforts to combat this attack has been feeble. For the first time in recent memory, they’ve found an effort that seems to work in the Obama ad.

Of course, for me the most interesting thing here is that Obama is playing offense. I’m not used to seeing Democrats play offense. Neither is the GOP.

I’m looking forward to seeing how the Romney camp responds.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

10 Android apps you should save space for

I've seen several lists of Android apps that are must-haves. Throughout the course of the past year, I've tried every single "must-have" app I could find, hoping for gold and mostly finding tin. It made me wonder, what is wrong with the people that are making these lists? How boring must their lives be to suggest such mundanity?

I'd like to start with a disclaimer: I like Google. Some would say I'm a fan-boy. I've been early adopter to almost all things Google. I even signed up for Buzz at the earliest possible convenience. This could be one explanation to all the Google apps in the list. Or it could just be that they make good stuff.

1) Google Drive - I've tried several online document backups including SugarSync and DropBox. What makes Google Drive better is the ability to create documents from within the app. Create a document on your phone or tablet, edit it on your PC, send it to a friend to edit on their Mac, and finish it up back on your phone. 

2) - There are many all-in-one instant messaging apps. What makes IMO great is that not only can it take the place of Google Talk, AIM, Y! Messenger, MSN Messenger and even Jabber. It also handles Facebook IM and Skype. And it does voice calls. 

3) IMDb - If you're anything like me, whenever you watch a movie, you invariably say "what else was (s)he in?" Sure, you could check it out on your mobile browser, but the app is so slick and quick, it's worth the download. Watch trailers, add movies to your watch list or rate movies right from the app.

4) Google Play Music - It's your entire music library ... on your phone ... with the searching power of Google ... and without taking up any space. It beats Pandora in that it's customizable, but the drawback is that if you don't already own it, you're not going to hear it.

5) Google Googles - The multifunctionality of Google Goggles is what really makes it stand out. Not only does it search images (and well, I might add). It also works as a QR scanner, OCR scanner and can scan UPC codes.

6) Pixlr-o-matic - How is this app free? Made by Autodesk, Pixlr-o-matic has more frames, filters and lighting effects than any other image editing software I've seen. It saves back to your card or shares to GMail, Blogger, Instagram, Facebook, whatever.

7) JustPictures - Have all of your photos (Flickr, Picasa, Facebook, Smugmug, Photobucket, etc.) in one spot. Plus it will take photos from your phone and batch upload them to that same service. An easy way to backup all your photos at the end of the day.

8) TouchPal Keyboard - A great replacement keyboard to the standard Android keyboard. Don't tap your words, slide your finger from letter to letter and your word just appears. It's similar to but even better than Swype in that it's more customizable.

9) Orbital - Sometimes you just need to kill a few minutes between meetings or blow off some steam before finishing up that big assignment. Orbital is a fun game that requires just a touch of thought and no real investment of time. Shoot lasers against the wall to try to blow up circles. But don't let them bounce back to you.

10) Google Sky Map - If you've ever wondered what stars those are in the sky, Google Sky Map can answer that easily. Just open it, point it to the sky and compare the screen with the celestial bodies you see. It may not be particularly *useful,* but you can impress friends with it at the very least. An interesting feature allows you to "time travel," so you can see what the sky looked like a year ago, 10 years ago, the day of your birth or the day of Christ's birth. You can also go forward. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Walgreens does IT right (almost)

The new(ish) Walgreens app for Andoid seems to understand what it is people want.

Walgreens smartphone app is easy to
download and heavily promoted.
First of all, the app is heavily promoted in their ads, emails and throughout in-store POS materials. There's a QR code on everything making it easily downloadable in just a couple of taps.

Once downloaded, you enter your email and password (if you have a account) and you're off and running. You can fill prescriptions using your phone's camera, order the photo you just took at the park and pick it up on the way home, and use your GPS to determine what Walgreens is closest. You can also look at their weekly ad, get exclusive coupons, etc.

Many stores have their own Android app. Walmart does. Target. Best Buy. Etc. But not of them seem to have fully invested in their app to the degree that Walgreens has. Walgreens has worked their app into everything and they've worked everything into their app.

It's nice to see that there are some companies that aren't afraid of the internet, social media and smartphone apps. Seems to me like most big corporations just don't get it. Either they minimize the importance of new technologies or they overindulge, putting all of their eggs into one basket, which they swing around in hopes of dazzling people. Most often, they jump onto the bandwagon too late, afraid of looking like fools getting into something too early.

What do you think? What big company actually "gets it?"

By the way, the (almost) part of this is that the app doesn't seem to work on a lot of tablets and my phone had connectivity issues using wi-fi.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Monday, July 09, 2012

Who might you be if you were someone else?

There aren’t many Scott Lefflers in the world. And there’s only one me. (No doubt there are scores of people who would tell you that’s a good thing — I’m inclined to agree.)

The previous paragraph is a purely unintentional poem, I assure you. But I digress … already.

Occasionally, I get emails or phone calls for people who aren’t me. Surely, you have the same issue from time to time. My standard operating procedure is to respond to the email or phone call and tell them that they person they intended their message for didn’t receive it. I’d hate to think that some day someone was calling me and got someone else and they just deleted it. I may have already won the Publishers Clearinghouse or something and I wouldn’t even know it.

I work with a man named Bill Wolcott. I’ve known Bill all of my adult life. I admire him greatly. He has the best stories and an incredible work ethic. Occasionally, I have to call him to ask him a question about a story he’s written so I can make sure I understand it. It’s part of my job here at the paper.

I used to work with another man named Bill Wolcott. I have his phone number as well. Occasionally, apparently, I called and left him voicemail intended for the other Bill Wolcott. One day he called me back to let me know that he’d received numerous messages for the other Bill. Hilarity ensued.

I digressed again. Sorry.

A couple weeks ago, I got an email intended for another Scott Leffler. See, there are a few of us. There’s me, there’s a professional baseball player and there’s a mixed martial arts fighter. I’m sure there are others as well, but when I google myself, those are the other two I often find.

The email I got was a contract for a professional fight in Las Vegas. It offered me more money for a single fight than I’ll make this year. I considered accepting the offer. I mean, I’d be willing to get beaten up for a few minutes in exchange for the ability to pay off my car loan. Heck, I got beat up in high school for free!

Instead, I emailed back telling the guy he had the wrong Scott Leffler. I was a little miffed that I never got a thank you. It’s not that I did it to get any sort of recognition, but a thank you would have been nice, don’t you think?

Oddly, the baseball player and I have mutual acquaintances. A couple of years ago a friend of mine told me she ran into him at a Buffalo Bisons baseball game. She mentioned to him that she had a friend named Scott Leffler. He said, “The radio guy?!” Apparently, he’d googled himself, too. Either that or he had gotten a contract offer for me, too … and it never got forwarded on to me.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Hey board of education members! Read This!

I found a great story on (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 ...

As found on Google+

Click the photo or my profile (on the right hand side of the page on the web version, bottom of the page on the mobile version) to follow me on Google+ ...