Jul 31, 2009

A Couple of Kids

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Pictured on your left is an image from 1934 of my grandparents as teenaged lovebirds as they grew up in Depression-era Detroit. My wife and I spent most of the day with my grandfather helping him with a few last-minute funeral preparations, and we spent about a half-hour looking at some old photographs that will be part of a visual memorial tomorrow at services for my late grandmother.

It looks like my grandfather weighs about 130 pounds soaking wet, and my grandmother looks like she is still a child in this picture. I am sure, though, that at the time of the photo these two people could have never imagined that they would be together another 75 years, or that they would live to see the day when Outer Banks foreclosures would be commonplace.

May they spend eternity together when they are one day reunited.

Jul 30, 2009

June Carol Hoag Maples

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16 December 1915 - 29 July 2009

I received a call yesterday evening while driving on US-23 that my grandmother's struggle ended. I am saddened by her death, but strangely relieved that she did not have to suffer for weeks.

June Maples was an extraordinary person, and though I am biased, she really was one of those rare people loved by everyone who came into contact with her. For many years she was the organist and choir director at Christ the King Episcopal Church in Taylor, Michigan, and only the onset of macular degeneration could get her to retire about a decade ago.

June was also an avid fan of motorcycles in her younger years, and we grandkids get a kick out of hearing stories of our grandparents tooling around Detroit in the 1930s and 1940s, as though they were precursors to The Wild One. You see, despite their youthful carefree years, my grandparents have been models of consistency, with their 72-year marriage and almost seven decades in the same house.

Grani, as almost everyone called her, was also fond of painting and of a variety of crafts. She and my grandfather loved to golf, and even after her vision started to give out, she continued golfing for some time, saying that "the game is even better when you can't see - every shot might as well be a hole in one."

Her sense of humor was also legendary, and even up until her last days, she would continue to make unexpected jokes that put people at ease during the uncomfortable final visits. I drove up to see my grandfather after I learned of Grani's death, and he chuckled about how they liked to play pranks on each other. He told me about how at their last anniversary he asked if she wanted to go out to dinner at a fancy restaurant. "Sure!" she replied, falling for the bait. "Well, hold on a minute, and I'll call you a cab," Grandpa quipped.

A regular George Burns and Gracie Allen moment, that one.

Grani, you will be missed by many, many people, and I am saddened today as I try to adjust to life without your presence. This blog post only begins to sketch the outlines of your remarkable life, and mere words cannot express the gratitude I feel for being lucky enough to have been born your grandson. Your generosity, kindness, and helpfulness will be especially missed, and I trust that one day I will see you again in the hereafter.

Goodbye, my Grani.

Jul 29, 2009

Rogue Zinnia

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In the middle of a patch of magenta and lavender zinnias I planted this spring, there appeared a light orange blossom, one that almost resembled a pumpkin-orange or peach-orange in hue. I am not complaining about the color variation, mind you, as I paid only 20 cents a pack for the seeds at Rite Aid. I just found this to be an captivating contrast of pigments in the natural palette.

Interestingly, some of my best-performing seeds this year have been the very cheap packets I purchased at Rite Aid. The Rite Aid zucchinis far out-performed the Burpee packets that were eight times the price, and the marigolds and zinnias also exceeded my expectations.

I picked up some end-of-season foxglove seeds from a trip to Walgreen's last week, and I hope that my strategy of drugstore-as-nursery continues to pay horticultural dividends.

Jul 28, 2009

Update: Missy, A Rescued Terrier

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Several folks have emailed me regarding the status of Missy, a female terrier mix we are fostering. You can read the earlier posts about Missy's abusive former owners if you want to know the background of this abused dog.

We were worried about a abdominal lump we noticed recently on Missy, and the vet decided to operate on her. Luckily the lump turned out to be benign, one of those run-of-the-mill lipomas that generally cause no problems. After Missy gets out her sutures, she will be back to her old routines of chasing squirrels and hogging the human affection.

Anyways, thanks to all of you who have donated to Planned Pethood - especially regular blog visitor MadJack and several anonymous donors - as every donation helps dogs like Missy get a second chance on life. You can also visit the Planned Pethood site to learn about adopting Missy or any other rescue dog or cat.

Jul 27, 2009

City of Toledo: Shoddy Road Work

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Given the dire financial straits in which the city of Toledo finds itself, I would not have been irritated if the city elected to repave my street next year, or even 2011. However, if my choices are: a) wait until next year; or b) have a road crew do a half-arsed job, I prefer to wait.

Pictured is a 40-foot stretch of road along my property in which the most prominent feature of this new pavement is the shiny streak of sticky tar. The open, oozing adhesive material is over a foot wide in some spots, and anyone who fails to pay attention will get a sole full of the goo.

It would have taken a worker perhaps ten minutes to hand-shovel a little gravel on this stretch of pavement, but obviously the word "quality" is relative, especially to government workers. Still, one would think that a crew whose responsibilities include two tasks (laying down goo and spreading gravel, a type of cheap pavement known as "stone and pitch") could manage a reasonable facsimile of "quality" work, especially since they have machines that do most of the labor for them.

So now I am faced with a dilemma: should I spread some gravel myself from the piles of loose stone that abound, or should I complain to the city and take my chances that someone will actually give a shit about quality workmanship? Your comments would be appreciated as I ponder my options.

The Quote Shelf

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Medieval text with Latin script A frequent feature on this site; feel free to comment on the quote or to supply a competing quote.

It is a common experience that a problem difficult at night is resolved in the morning after the committee of sleep has worked on it.
-- John Steinbeck

Jul 26, 2009

He Brews Coffee House Ministry

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(Taylor, MI) One of my kids actually saw this sign first, and I laughed so hard I had to double back on Telegraph Road to get a picture of the sign for He Brews Coffee House Ministry. You can follow the link to the church's website if you have doubts as to the authenticity of the church, which is operated by pastors Butch and Barbara Kittle.

Now, the trend toward offering coffee drinks in churches is certainly not new, but the humorous java marketing of He Brews is unique. Pastor Butch also joins in on guitar during the services, and I imagine that the highly caffeinated service should be active, if nothing else.

The copy sign in the lower part of the picture mentions that "cruisers park free," and I am not sure if this includes recreational vehicles, but I would make sure my RV insurance was paid up, just in case. Taylor is not quite Detroit, but it is well known for auto thefts.

Jul 25, 2009

Smoke and Thunder

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I am not trying to make some sort of environmental statement with the following picture of what appears to be some sort of pavement-sealing vehicle. I simply found the contrast between the truck's orange paint job and the blue sky to be eye-catching, and the black diesel exhaust just highlights the industrial themes in the image.

Or something like that.

The sealing truck also produced a terrific roar as it thundered past me onto Centennial Road last week. This was one of those heavy, open-throttle blasts of pure noise that shakes loose anything not firmly secured, and the kind of deafening sound that can even drown out any hounds who might try to howl in protest.

I suspect that .wav file of the event, if stored in computer memory, would be a meager re-creation of the multi-sensory effects of this passing behemoth.

Jul 24, 2009

On Hospice Care and the Slow Decline to the Hereafter

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June Maples in late June of this year

I have not been much interested in the blogosphere the past week due to the poor health of my grandmother, who is affectionately known to her family members as "Grani." Her kidneys are slowly shutting down, and she and my grandfather made the decision a few days ago to opt for hospice care at home in favor of a medical prolongation of her life in a hospital or nursing home setting.

Dialysis might provide her with a few extra weeks or months of life, but this would mean multiple trips per week to a nephrology center. I suppose "quality of life" is a relatively meaningless term when a good portion of one's waking hours are spent being hooked up to a machine that does the work of a pair of worn-out kidneys.

So despite the desire of her younger family members for Grani to live forever, we are resigned to the fact that she is in the absolute twilight of her life.

Hospice is a mixed blessing. God has given us an uncertain time frame - perhaps a sort of advanced warning - of Grani's demise, so everyone who wants to say goodbye will get a chance to do so while she is still coherent and somewhat pain-free. Yet the American insurance system will only pay for a few hours a week of home visits by a nurse and health aides, so the family is thus responsible for 95 percent of the care she needs.

Funny: if Grani chose the hospital or a nursing home, 100 percent of these costs would be absorbed, and she would have access to the latest technology and monitoring equipment in her last few weeks on Earth. Yet because she chooses to die in the comfort of her own home, the most that Medicare will pay is for about 10 hours of care per week.

However, the extra work of caring for a loved one is in itself a sort of blessing. Certainly there are activities I would rather be doing than cleaning up after an elderly person who can no longer make it to the bathroom - the Tigers are playing well, and the end of the summer semester could mean a few days relaxing in the hammock - yet I would not shirk this responsibility. I would rather be "burdened" by helping out in this way and taking care shifts than to be denied the opportunity to say goodbye to a person who has meant so much to me.

So I write this post with a lump in my throat, brought on in part from being tired and rundown but mostly because I have to watch my grandmother slowly die. I also have to watch my fiercely independent grandfather suffer, as he watches his wife of 72 years inch closer to death, all the while knowing that he can do nothing to prevent the love of his life from dying.

And all the while in this unfolding drama of death I have to remind myself to be thankful, since most folks do not have the luxury of knowing that the end is near for loved ones, and many people would gladly trade places with me for a few final hours.

Bittersweet, these next few weeks.

Vacation Dreams: Tortola

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While I have always looked forward to the idea of one day taking a few Caribbean cruises, one of the ideal vacation spots for me would have to be the Eastern Caribbean. I am especially interested in visiting out-of-the-way destinations like Tortola, which is the largest of the British Virgin Islands.

Tortola was first settled by Europeans when the Dutch established a colonial settlement there in 1648. The British captured Tortola in 1672 as a sort of side dust-up in the military activities of the Third Anglo-Dutch War, and the island has been administered as an overseas territory of the United Kingdom ever since.

Though the island is quite populous and is no stranger to tourism, Tortola is not exactly a household name in the United States, and savvy travelers to the West Indies know that it is underrated as a vacation destination. I typically prefer the less traveled paths when I vacation, and a cruise that includes Tortola as a port of call would be high on my list of options.

After all: I might not return to the States if I were to set foot on Tortola, so I might simply slip off and become a beach bum.

Jul 22, 2009

On CNN, Proofreading, and Collective Distractedness

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Before: "Astronauts breath deep, prep for high-flying battery swap"; click for larger image

After: "Astronauts breathe deep, prep for high-flying battery swap"; click for larger image

The typographical error was only up for 10 minutes or so on the corporate website this morning, but I found it amusing that an international news powerhouse like CNN would even let out a headline without having some sort of proofreading system in place. True, it was only the missing letter "e," and the error was corrected, but this was at the very top of the main site of the corporate webpage.

Now, I rarely criticize individuals (even my students) for typographical errors, as I have generated more than a few myself. I have even made headline-level typos on this very blog; the difference, of course, is that I run a one-person show here, unless you count the voices in my head as separate people.

Just kidding. Or are we?

One would think that a company with some 4000 news professionals would make sure that at least the headlines were spelled properly. Heck, with the wide variety of spell-checking programs that abound, CNN does not even need to rely on a human proofreader, though I find that knowledgeable humans can out-perform most computerized spell-checkers.

Still, even the rather lame Microsoft Word © spell-checker managed to spot this error:

I suppose that this is the age of instant informational gratification, and a time when speed trumps accuracy and grammar. After all, this is an era where poor spelling and grammar are prized by text-happy fools, people who "write" in sentences like this:

LOL @ ur life becuz she wants nuttin to do wit u. n cuz ur not hers.

So I will return to my own little quasi-academic world, knowing that CNN's momentary spelling lapse is repaired, but remaining convinced that this is a sign of a linguistic apocalypse. I fear for the day when text-speak replaces structured language, for this surely will usher in an era of stupidity-as-fashion.

Or may b i should rite lik im part of teh nu wayz n stuff, n stop bein such a ol skool peep 2 worry bout wat ur readin n all dat - aiiieeet im out latr skatrz!

Jul 21, 2009

Memorable Lines from Pop and Rock Songs

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There are enjoyable pop and rock music songs, and then there are songs with lines that make us laugh out loud, nod our heads in agreement, or pause to reflect on the rhetorical power of the lyrics. This post is an unordered collection of lines from songs that moved me in some way, at least enough for me to dredge them up and list them here.

Feel free to offer your suggestions in the Comments section, along with a brief explanation of why the proffered lyrics affected you the way they did.

  • "Meet the new boss / same as the old boss." The Who, "Won't Get Fooled Again." This deceptively simple line resonates with anarchists as much as it does with libertarians and cynics, and Pete Townshend succinctly captured the skepticism that many people feel when listening to the platitudes of a vote-seeking politician or an institutional executive.

  • "The pain was enough to make a shy, bald Buddhist reflect and plan a mass murder." The Smiths, "Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before." I think this is the best line that Morrissey ever wrote, and I chuckle every time I hear this bit of graphic hyperbole.

  • "Now those memories come back to haunt me, they haunt me like a curse / Is a dream a lie if it don't come true or is it something worse?" Bruce Springsteen, "The River." Bruce, I do not have the answer to this question, which recollects the adage about whether it is better to be ignorant and at peace, or to be knowledgeable and troubled. Still, Springsteen's character is in a position many of us have endured, and there are days when listening to this song can be an exercise in catharsis.

  • "Just like Pagliacci did I try to keep my sadness hid / Smiling in the public eye but in my lonely room I cry / The tears of a clown when there's no one around." Smokey Robinson, "The Tears of a Clown." Listen: any pop song writer with the guts to include references to an opera by Ruggero Leoncavallo gets bonus points, but this line is both witty and moving.

  • "It's the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine." REM, "It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)." The song closely mirrors the sentiments of this line - that even the impending apocalypse cannot spoil the party - and Michael Stipe's stream-of-consciousness musical rant has become an underground favorite covered by every alternative bar band in the country.

  • "If depth of feeling is a currency / Then I'm the man who grew the money tree / Some of your friends are too brainy to see / That they're paupers and that's how they'll stay / Well, I don't know how many pounds make up a ton / Of all the Nobel prizes that I've never won / And I may be the Mayor of Simpleton / But I know one thing, and that's 'I love you.'" XTC, "Mayor of Simpleton." The irony here is that Andy Partridge's song about a not-so-brilliant protagonist's declaration of love is loaded with thoughtful wordplay and clever turns of phrase. Oh, and the fact that the song has a beautiful melody some intricate musical structures doesn't hurt, either.

Jul 20, 2009

Urban Wildflower Garden

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Last year I converted some dead space in my backyard to a wildflower garden, and I started by sowing a few packets of wildflower seeds indigenous to Ohio. This summer is the first time the garden produced any meaningful amount of flowers.

I have been trying to avoid the temptation to manage the space, which would sort of defeat the purpose of creating a "wildflower" garden. After all, if I extensively weed and selectively promote the growth of certain plants over others, I am just creating another artificial landscape, albeit with flowers considered to be wild.

I did draw the line at the raspberry runners, though. If I took a laissez faire approach to the raspberries, inevitably I would just wind up with another raspberry patch, as these plants are quite hardy and they dominate a given space.

Jul 19, 2009

On Motorcycles, Transportation, and the Wind in My Hair

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I know little about motorcycles, and I have operated a motorcycle exactly two times in my life for short drives down the street about 20 years ago. Yet I find appealing the idea of traveling around town or on short trips for such a low cost, and from time to time notions pop into my head that I might one day own a motorcycle.

I took the picture of the folks on your left west of Toledo, and they appeared to be enjoying the afternoon sunshine and mild temperatures last week. I envied their ability to feel the breeze in their faces as they drove, though the fear of a crushed skull would mean that I would wear a helmet if I ever took up the pastime of motorcycle riding.

However, my distaste for brand-name mania means that I would not make much of a spokesperson for the Harley Davidson lifestyle. I am not against riding a Hog, mind you, but the idea of being decked head-to-toe with HD insignias and logos appeals to me about as much as being draped in Nike apparel or Hollister gear.

Which is to say, not at all.

I would, however, have no problem outfitting myself with a complete black leather cycle gear set. I say this with an eye toward the traditional outcast cyclist motif, a la James Dean or even 1980s Bono Vox, but I suppose one could make a Freudian argument that this really says more about my latent tendencies toward bovine slaughter or dominatrix fascination.

Beats me.

Jul 18, 2009

Puggles on a Beach

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It certainly is no match for Strangers on a Train, or for that matter even Snakes on a Plane, but the following short video documents my two Puggles as they first encounter a lakeshore:



No Academy Awards appear to be in the offing, but Chauncey Gardiner and Eddie Haskell, the two Puggles who star in the film, enthusiastically wagged their tails at the film's premiere. Chauncey is the dog who deals with the lapping waves by alternately barking and charging at the water, while Eddie is the laid-back fellow who simply wants nothing to do with Lake Erie.

Jul 17, 2009

Fields of Daylilies

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Left: click image for a larger picture of the fields of daylilies

We paid a visit to a place on Samaria Road known simply as "The Farm," which in summertime serves as a tremendous retail repository of daylilies. Though we have previously visited owner Bill Cook in winters past to purchase Christmas trees, we were alerted to his hundreds of varieties of daylilies by a simple roadside sign: "Daylilies, $4.00 and up."

Walking through the tens of thousands of flowers was like a surreal, trippy dream; I encountered hues and color combinations I never imagined, and we returned home with dozens of plants.

Some of the varieties were pricier, fetching as much as $18 for an intriguing early season lily known as "Blueberry Sundae." Yet most of the plants were quite affordable, especially when you consider the fact that commercial nurseries charge double or more for the same plants.

Cook started the business in 1994 after retiring from his previous career as a teacher at Whitmer High School in Toledo. He spends part of the off-season traveling around the country looking for new varieties to cultivate, and you can find dozens of varieties that he created.

Cook's place is located at 4165 Samaria Road in Lambertville, MI, just west of Secor Road. He opens at 10 am, and he said not to come early because "I am usually eating my breakfast around 9:30 or so."

Jul 16, 2009

On Auto Accidents and Blocking the Road

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Sylvania police cars Sylvania's finest blocking off two lanes of traffic near the scene of an accident

While driving through downtown Sylvania this afternoon I found myself stuck in a rather lengthy traffic backup on eastbound Monroe Street just before the US-23 bridge. I could see the flashing lights about a quarter mile ahead, and I resigned myself to a 15-minute toasting in the hot July sun.

However, I was quite irritated to find that the source of the traffic jam was a 3-car (or maybe a 4-car) minor fender bender. In fact, I could see no visible signs of damage to any of the vehicles save for a few shards of plastic trim on the ground in front of one of the vehicles.

No injuries. No significant damage. Eight people milling about exchanging information, and four cops writing tickets and directing traffic.

Meanwhile, hundreds of other people traveling on Monroe Street each lost 15 minutes or so of their lives in this misguided vehicular farce. If we assume 300 people making $15 an hour were inconvenienced by this preventable delay, this accident represented $1125 in lost productivity. Add to this $100 or so in wasted fuel by all the idling cars, and this starts getting expensive.

All because a handful of well-meaning-but-clueless people are under the mistaken notion that a minor traffic accident somehow equates to a crime scene in need of pristine preservation.

auto accidentLeft: Dinged but driveable

The rule of thumb in a traffic accident is pretty simple: if the accident is relatively minor and there are no significant injuries, the motorists involved should move their cars off the road and out of the way of oncoming traffic. Yet many folks act as though a CSI squad is going to descend on the scene, collecting samples, conducting forensic tests, and taking measurements.

Heck, if anything the act of standing around a bunch of driveable vehicles in the road is likely to increase the chances of another (and perhaps more serious) accident occurring as motorists weave through the chaos. The Ohio Insurance Institue publishes an auto accident checklist with other tips to keep in mind in the event of an accident, and you can print the PDF document off and keep it in the glovebox.

I really cannot fault the police for the delays, as they arrived some time after the drivers of the vehicles decided to have a picnic in the middle of the road. Yet it seems that in this collection of rattled folks absorbed in their twists of accidental fate not a single person had the presence of mind to say: "Hey: everyone seems to be OK, so let's move the cars out of the way."

A little common sense is quite useful, but it is often in short supply these days.

Jul 15, 2009

On Meeting Virtual Friends in the Real World

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I had the opportunity to meet a group of local bloggers who get together from time to time at a local pub. I have "known" these people several years in a virtual sense from local discussion boards and through emails, yet this is the first time I met in person the likes of local blogosphere denizens MadJack, kateb, and Guest Zero.

Certainly the physical characteristics of each person might have differed from mental images that I might have conjured up, but what was more surprising to me was hearing the voices of people who I previously only knew through words on websites. Guest Zero, for example, sometimes uses boldfaced font in his writing to emphasize a point, yet he was almost soft-spoken in vocal tone.

It was also interesting to hear the real-life stories of people who operate online with pseudonyms for personal protection (they are quite wise for doing so, by the way, unlike the rather reckless and out-in-the-open narrator of this blog). Hearing life experiences helped me place into context the particular political and cultural views each person holds, and people are much more willing to share personal information in the safer environment of face-to-face conversation.

We yakked, ate, and chatted for a few hours; no world problems were solved, but no punches were thrown, and I mostly listened and learned different sides of people I knew only from what they choose to share in public. All of these people, of course, emerged as more "real" than their online personalities, but this is to be expected: a software platform cannot begin to duplicate a human being.

Perhaps that is the most important lesson of the evening.

Jul 14, 2009

On Academic Procrastination

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Pictured on your left is a screen image of the gradebook for one of my distance learning classes in world history, and the pen-and-paper icons in the column "Exam 3" represent students in the process of completing the exam. What is interesting in this particular class is that 16 of 20 students are still taking (or have yet to sign on for) the exam within 90 minutes of the time when it will be automatically closed.

I am not complaining, mind you, as I have the luxury of working from home as a distance learning instructor. True, I will be hanging around the computer at midnight when the exam locks out to be a problem-solver for the procrastinators, but this work sure beats any of the factory or restaurant jobs I found myself working over the years.

I typically provide a three-day window to take the exam, giving students 72 hours to fit the exam into their schedules, yet 80 percent of my students in this class procrastinated to the point where they risk running short of time to complete the exam. Inevitably there will be at least two students in this bunch who will send me a panicky email because the software booted them fro the exam before they could finish.

Luckily for them I am a patient and forgiving person, and I will make accommodations to let them finish via email. However, it never ceases to amaze me how folks will put of until the last possible minute the work that they need to do. I just refreshed the screen, and I noticed that since I posted, two students signed on after 10:45 pm for an exam that ends at midnight.

THAT is some serious additional stress these students self-inflict: not only are they on the clock, but they voluntarily said to themselves "heck, why not give myself only 75 percent of the allotted time!" Ah, the youthful impulsivity and distractability; I just hope these folks are better organized in a few decades when I need assistance with my paltry Social Security check.

The Quote Shelf

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Medieval text with Latin script A frequent feature on this site; feel free to comment on the quote or to supply a competing quote.

There are things I cannot even think of taking credit for. Pure luck. Dumb luck. Literally. I didn't get in the car. Or I moved two steps to the left. I could just as easily be in jail as be sitting here. I know that. A bad break -- over and out. Luck.
-- Lou Reed

Jul 13, 2009

A Recommended Writing and Editing Consultant

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A friend of mine has launched a consulting business that focuses on academic writing and professional writing service. The purpose of this post is simply to recommend Russ Sprinkle and RS Consulting to people who are looking for a high-quality and professional editing and proofreading service.

I have known Russ for about six years from our work together at the writing center of a local university, and he is among the brightest and most experienced people I know. Moreover, Russ has backgrounds in both business and academia, and he successfully works with clients in many fields.

Whether you are a graduate student who needs help elevating your writing to the pristine standards of academia, or whether you are a corporate representative concerned about the quality of your firm's written materials, Russ and his staff are excellent resources who deliver a level of quality second to none.

Full disclosure: This is an unpaid endorsement, not a paid advertisement. I write simply to highlight this nascent company and its laudable reputation.

Jul 12, 2009

Hannon's Block

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The exterior of the Hannon's Block building on Monroe Street in downtown Toledo caught my eye the other day. Built in 1874, the structure may have been the first Toledo building that was wired for electric light.

The Toledo Free Press reported in March that Hannon's Block will be "renovated into modern, “green living” apartment and town home-style residential spaces." Certainly the opening of the new downtown arena - coupled with the Mud Hens and Fifth Third Field - makes the area much more viable for development. The project is slated to be finished by November, and there will be street-level retail space that complements the lofts and town homes in the residential portion of the building.

It is indeed refreshing to see development in downtown Toledo, especially development that actually comes to fruition. Far too often in the recent past exciting projects have been announced that ultimately never seem to leave the initial demolition stage.

Jul 11, 2009

Walking Along the Toledo Riverfront

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Riverfront view of dowtown Toledo, Ohio Left: Riverfront view of dowtown Toledo, Ohio

I had a half hour to kill the other afternoon before meeting someone in downtown Toledo for lunch, and I decided to cross the Maumee River and spend a few minutes walking along the riverfront. I did not view any vistas previously unseen by my eyes, but I found the early afternoon sunshine and light waves lapping against the piers to be calming, almost peaceful.

Toledo, being in the middle of the American Rust Belt, has far more than its share of problems, yet none of the political and economic crises faced by the city manifested themselves as I strolled in front of the restaurants at International Park. No mayoral recalls, no unemployment spikes, and no city revenue struggles bothered me as I walked.

My own problems also faded from my consciousness as I made my way along the eastern shore of the Maumee. Work could have been a thousand miles away as far as I was concerned, and neither health concerns nor parental worries about my adult children troubled me.

While I was in no way ready to burst into a manic chorus of "The Sound of Music," neither was I weighed down with the uncertainties and vexations that had been my companions just minutes earlier. I certainly failed to achieve what Zen Buddhists call satori, yet the peace of mind I gained continued to stay with me the rest of the day.

I vow to spend more time walking on the riverfront.

Jul 10, 2009

It's Pea-Pickin' Time in Toledo

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I am cultivating a small crop of snow peas this year, and over the past few days the pink-white blossoms began to turn into the flat pods that are the hallmark of this variety of peas.

These snow pea pods have a mildly sweet taste, and they are best eaten before the seeds get too big, at which time the pod becomes fibrous and tough.

I experimented with a different system this year to get the vines to grow better. About every eight inches I placed a four-foot bamboo stake, and I wove hemp string in between the stakes to create a latticed string effect upon which the tendrils could grab hold. The result is a series of bushy vines almost four feet in height, and the yield seems to be much higher than in years past.

Of course, there are not enough pea pods for me to be checking out moving companies Los Angeles, but we had plenty for a side dish at dinner tonight.

On Lumbar Punctures and Bone Marrow Harvests

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Left: image of bone marrow harvesting courtesy of Wikipedia

If you ever hear a physician use the words "bone marrow harvest" or "bone marrow biopsy" or "lumbar puncture," I recommend that you discreetly sneak out the back door of whatever institution in which you might be present at that moment.

I'm just sayin'.

There can be nothing pleasant when a doctor inserts sharp pointy needles in your back, that's for sure, and despite all the promises that "Lidocaine will numb you up," there are some bizarre and painful sensations when those needles run into stray nerves. My physician assured me that I would only feel "heavy pressure," but there were some moments when the sharp pain in my back radiated down my left leg like a lightning strike.

Even stranger than the electrifying nerve sensations is the sound of hearing the T-handled trephine needle being twisted into your posterior iliac crest. This is a crunching and grinding noise that I assume is akin to that which accompanies a Velociraptor making quick work of your bony carcass.

The funny part was when the nurse said that "it's usually after the Lidocaine wears off in 3-4 hours that people feel pain." Oh, goody: you mean the real pain starts later?

If there is anything positive about such procedures, it is that they last about 10-15 minutes. This time will be reduced if you can manage to keep from tightening up your back muscles, though this is much easier said than done. Bone marrow harvesting also goes faster if the physician does not produce a "dry tap," which is when the syringe fails to suck out sufficient marrow.

I learned that term the hard way, I might add, as the first two suction attempts failed to produce any meaningful amount of marrow.

Luckily I have the weekend off, with the exception of some grading and lecture prep, so if I feel like bayoneted Jacobite Highlander after the Battle of Killiecrankie later today, I at least have the solace of knowing that work can wait another day.

Jul 9, 2009

On Plagiarism, PowerPoint, and Footnotes for Presentations

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Properly footnoted PowerPoint slide Left: Properly footnoted PowerPoint slide; click image for larger size

In a recent lecture I poked a bit of self-deprecating fun at myself for an especially erudite definition of a term that I put into a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation.

"Whoa - that's WAY too smart for me to have thought of on my own," I intoned. "I just HAD to have copied that from someplace."

The students chuckled, as this was an intended joke, but then I started thinking out loud.

"As I stand here," I said, "I regularly remind my students about the importance of proper citation in their work, and I wouldn't dream of writing a paper without copious footnotes, yet I think nothing of copy-and-pasting images and text into my PowerPoints."

I promised the class that I would do some research on the subject, and I have spent some time over the past day reading up on the use of citations in PowerPoint presentations. As I suspected, most style guides now recommend the use of citations for copyrighted material used in presentations, and some guides even recommend that ALL material not the property of the presentation author should be cited.

Yet there is a problem for historians, who still use the footnote/endnote citation method best exemplified by the Chicago Manual of Style: PowerPoint does not offer a footnote or endnote tab. However, after some experimentation, I developed a fairly simple method for footnoted references, which I share below. Feel free to offer any suggestions or criticisms in the Comments section of this post.

Footnotes in PowerPoint Presentations

1. You will need to add the superscript button to the Quick Access Toolbar. Right-click on the tool ribbon and highlight "Customize Quick Access Toolbar." Next, select "Choose from commands not on the ribbon," highlight "Superscript," and hit the "Add" button. This will move the Superscript button to the Quick Access Toolbar, and you can hit "OK" to make this change permanent in your PowerPoint toolbar.

2. When you want to add a superscripted footnote, hit the Superscript button and type the appropriate number. Hit the Superscript button again to turn off the function.

3. Next, go to the "Insert" tab and select "Text Box." Hit the Superscript button, type the number, and add the citation information (author, work title, publisher, year, and page number). You can adjust the font size to 10 or 12 to make the footnotes smaller and less obtrusive. I also recommend using the Slide Master (under the View tab) to set up the placement of an automatic text box at the bottom of every slide for your footnotes.

4. For endnotes, you will need to create an extra slide at the end of the presentation and manually type the endnotes using the same procedures as above. Of course, if someone has a question during the presentation such as "where did you get that picture," you will have to scroll ahead to the footnotes page. I personally think that the same-slide footnotes make better sense, but this is an aesthetics problem.
As Gigi Peterson noted in an excellent article entitled "Doing the “Write” Thing: Reflections on Academic Integrity," following proper citation practices in classroom presentations is not just good scholarship, but it also allows educators the opportunity to model these practices and set the example for our students.

One could make the argument that classroom teaching constitutes an example of the fair use doctrine, and you probably would win that debate on legal grounds, but ultimately instructors can best teach the high standards of academic scholarship by demonstrating this behavior in every lecture.

Jul 8, 2009

On the Death of Dr. Robert Brundage

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oil portrait of Robert Brundage by artist LisabelleLeft: oil portrait of Robert Brundage by artist Lisabelle

It saddened me to learn late yesterday of the death of Dr. Robert Brundage, a community activist, Renaissance man, and an all-around special human being. Dr. Bob clung to life for two weeks after being attacked by a teenager who stole his bicycle, an old 10-speed worth about a dollar per gear.

I only briefly knew Robert Brundage in passing, as he was one of those people who seemed to be traveling in some of the same circles as me. Yet the many testimonials from people who knew him better help me realize what a tremendous human asset this area has lost.

As for the bike-stealing thug: I will not wish him to rot in hell, but I have no problem with an especially long sentence being doled out. Dailahntae Jemison turns 16 next month, so the job of pushing for him to be tried as an adult is easier. It would be a shame if Jemison was tried as a juvenile and he left a detention facility at age 21.

I suspect Jemison's attorney will first fight to maintain juvenile status, and if that fails, that his attorney will seek a plea bargain for manslaughter or negligent homicide. Despite my outrage over this senseless killing, it is unlikely a jury would convict the young idiot Jemison of aggravated murder in what appears to be a robbery-gone-horribly-wrong.

Yet my thoughts keep returning to Robert Brundage, a man I wish I knew better. In re-reading a bunch of his old Toledo Talk posts, I realized how much wisdom I might have gleaned from him had I become his friend.

More importantly, though: Northwest Ohio and the world lost a caring and decent man who gave so much and asked for so little in return. Dr. Bob eschewed the trappings of material wealth in favor of a simpler lifestyle, and he championed causes that benefitted everyone.

Even the teenaged Dailahntae Jemison.

Jul 7, 2009

On Weight Loss and Milestones

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I climbed on the scale this morning and saw digits my eyes have not witnessed in years: I was under 220 pounds for the first time in almost a half-decade. Granted, at this moment my weight was precariously perched on the verge of lapsing into the next quintile, but there is a special satisfaction in knowing that the caloric sacrifices I have been making actually seem to be working.

My previous attempts at weight loss tended to run their courses after a week or so, and I used to quickly lose 5-10 pounds only to regain the weight in the following months. However, those diets simply involved eating less of the same sorts of unhealthy foods that caused me to gain weight in the first place.

While I would obviously prefer the fattier and carb-laden meals I have always enjoyed, the only way I am going to successfully get my weight, triglycerides, and glucose under control is by sticking to a healthier lifestyle: more fruits and vegetables, low lipid intake, and daily exercise.

I know, I know: those of you who actually practice healthy living already know this, but I humbly offer my insights to the rest of the world, those who struggle with weight loss and the hidden problems associated with the regular consumption of unhealthy foods.

Jul 4, 2009

Bonsai!

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While my neighbors invested many hundreds - and perhaps thousands - of dollars in loud fireworks, I spent the last few minutes of my Fourth of July looking at a nine-year-old Japanese juniper, the plant in the accompanying image. Yes, friends: I am now the proud owner of a bonsai tree thanks to my wife, who bought me the plant this afternoon.

Perhaps "owner" is too strong of a term, and maybe I should exchange it for a word such as "caretaker."

It should be no surprise to regular visitors of this blog that I would eventually gravitate toward the cultivation of such plants, given my affinity for horticulture and my periodic dabblings into philosophical traditions such as Zen Buddhism. Yet I have to admit my interest really grew after I repeatedly passed an outdoor vendor on a local thoroughfare who parks a van in front of vacant building.

I would post the corner where he occasionally sets up shop, but I would hate to tip off the city bureaucrats about an unlicensed merchant. After all, the city of Toledo cannot adequately repair the roads or keep a lid on crime, but they sure know how to harass citizens who run afoul of legal technicalities, like the folks who were ticketed for building gravel turnarounds on their own property.

If nothing else, caring for the bonsai tree will give me something to do between the end of fantasy football season and the last frost, when I start planting seeds.

Jul 3, 2009

Fiery Lilies

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Pictured on your left are a group of lilies in my yard that begin to bloom each year around the first of July. What I especially enjoy about these colorful flowers is the way that they almost seem to be on fire when sunlight hits them, as if scarlet-hued tongues of flame are leaping from the stems onto the fence and the house.

I think that the specific name of this flower is the Stargazer Lily, though I may be wrong since there are far too many many hybrids and new varieties that emerge in horticulture for any non-specialist to keep up with all the names.

The blossoms of this lily are so heavy that I have to assist the plants by tying a few strands of hemp string to keep the lengthy stems upright. Otherwise, the brilliant red petals would fall over and turn into fodder for the many feet that would trample the flowers, which are located near the front door of the house.

Jul 2, 2009

On the Slow Road to Ideal Weight and Optimal Health

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Left: seven down, lots to go

In my conscious decision to embrace a more healthy lifestyle, I decided that the cornerstone to my boost in physical exercise would be walking. In the past 11 days I have logged more than 40 miles, ranging anywhere from two to four miles on my 45-year-old legs per day.

My effort to lose 30 pounds is also based upon calorie counting and daily caloric reductions, and I initially tried eating only 1500 calories a day. However, after a week of this highly restrictive diet I found that I was actually more tired, and I recently upped my total to a more realistic 2000 per day.

My initial weight loss has been decent, and I am down seven pounds in just under two weeks (from just under 230 pounds to about 222 pounds). Yet I have to be on guard against complacency, since I am notorious for diets that last about 1-2 weeks, and in which I slowly regain the 5-10 pounds I lost.

This time, though, I am also paying attention to the quality of food I eat, and I have all but eliminated fats and refined sugars from my daily intake. Instead I am consuming whole grains, high-fiber cereals, low-fat meats like fish and chicken, and lots of fruits and vegetables. A snack for me over the past week is likely to be a banana, a tangerine, or a handful of edamame.

I would love to say that I am immediately reaping the benefits of healthier eating and increased exercise, but so far my body seems in transition. I suppose that it will be many weeks before it adjusts to dietary changes, and that the damage from years of excess sugars, fats, and cholesterol cannot be repaired with a couple of weeks of better living.

I can say, though, that most of my clothes fit better, and that my urges to pig out get satiated with low-calorie alternatives like soybeans and yogurt. Perhaps that is enough for the moment.

Jul 1, 2009

On Walking and Buffalo Heads

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One of the pleasant side effects of walking around the neighborhood is seeing the hidden features of your community, sights that would remain unseen if all you do is drive through your little corner of the Earth. Such is the case with the fungal growth on the oak tree pictured on your left, which struck me as rather buffalo-like when I approached it from the north.

I have driven this stretch of my street hundreds - perhaps thousands - of times, and I before never noticed the apparition of the snorting buffalo. Yet the creature loomed just over my head in my recent walks, and I wondered instead how previously I could have missed this three-foot appendage, even while I was driving.

Then, too, other people might see different shapes or objects in the misshapen formation, and what appears to me as obvious might be completely missed by another viewer from a different angle, or even from a person standing in the same spot I did. Also, the image undoubtedly looks different through the lens of a digital camera as it might when captured by people with digital camcorders.

Feel free to offer your interpretations of the arboreal tumor in the comments section.