Dec 30, 2010

My New Career: Cover Model

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The periodical is not exactly Vogue (or even People) but I can hold my head high and proudly announce that my ugly mug has made the cover of at least one magazine.

I was contacted by an editor of Obesity: A Research Journal for an upcoming issue dedicated to sleep apnea. The editors had scoured the Internet looking for a photograph they could use of a patient wired for a sleep study, and they came across a blog post last year in which I discussed my own sleep study experience. We negotiated the terms (admittedly light years away from the sort of cash commanded by supermodels) and voila! Instant cover model status for yours truly.

Though I am about 20 pounds overweight today, at the time of the photo I was only about 10 pounds beyond my ideal weight. Luckily, the upward angle of the self-held camera made me look considerably pudgier, but a 2010 photo of me would be much more appropriate in terms of heftiness than this image.

And to those who chuckle and scoff: exactly how many covers has your face graced? I thought so.

Dec 28, 2010

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.

Here in America we are descended in blood and in spirit from revolutionists and rebels - men and women who dare to dissent from accepted doctrine. As their heirs, may we never confuse honest dissent with disloyal subversion.

-- Dwight D. Eisenhower

Dec 23, 2010

Film Review: The Fighter

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Paramount Pictures, 2010
Directed by David O. Russell


I reluctantly agreed to go to the movies the other day, and my less-than-enthusiastic attitude had nothing to do with David O. Russell's The Fighter. I was simply in a rotten mood and would have preferred to wallow in my self-pity for a few hours.

Thus, the fact that I actually enjoyed The Fighter says something about the quality of this film.

Mark Wahlberg stars in the true story of "Irish" Micky Ward, a blue collar boxer from the town of Lowell Massachusetts who achieved a measure of fame (and a few titles) in his thirties, an age when many fighters are trending down in their careers. This is one of the better roles that Wahlberg has ever appeared in, and I have since discarded my formerly dismissive attitude toward Wahlberg's acting abilities: Wahlberg was convincing, and he showed significant talent at developing a nuanced character.

Yet what most engrossed me was the portrayal by Christian Bale of Ward's older brother, Dicky Eklund. Bales must have lost 30 pounds in getting ready to play the crack-addicted Dicky, and the drug-induced insanity of Dicky was almost frightening in its stark reality.

The Fighter is not a pretty film, nor is it a sentimental heart-tugging piece of maudlin film making. You will cheer at times, and at others you will cringe at the harsh depictions of life on the meanest East Coast streets you might imagine. Ultimately you will walk away with a much greater understanding of the seamy world of professional boxing, and the cinematic ride is much more enjoyable than watching one of the cartoon-esque Rocky installments.

Dec 22, 2010

Rapid Rhetoric: TINTINNABULATE

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Raphael's depiction of Plato defining the difference between true and false rhetoric This is an irregular feature - both in frequency and oddness - dedicated to a word or phrase I came across that I have never previously used.

tintinnabulate (tin-tin-AH-byoo-layt) v. to ring; to sound like a small bell; to make a tinkling sound, like the chime of bells.

I knew that this word was somehow related to bells, as I recognized the Latin root word tintinnabulum ("bell"). I came across the word tintinnabulate in an 1874 collection of the works of John Ruskin:
Which indeed it is; and travellers are always greatly amused at being allowed to ring this bell; but it never occurs to them to ask how it came to be ringable:—how that tintinnabulate roof differs from the dome of the Pantheon, expands into the dome of Florence, or declines into the whispering gallery of St. Paul's.
Here, though, Ruskin used the word tintinnabulate as an adjective, whereas modern writers would be more likely to use the adjectival forms tintinnabular or tintinnabulous.

And no: you may not ring my bell.

Dec 16, 2010

Unhappy Clown

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I came across this photograph in a collection that my 93-year-old grandfather recently dusted off for us. In this 1968 image I have been dressed up for Halloween, and it is clear that I was unhappy about the choice of costume.

Or unhappy about something.

I was a rather difficult child for my parents to raise, as my interests were quirky. I loved collecting rocks and conducting quasi-scientific experiments, activities for which I found few fellow participants in the blue collar Detroit neighborhoods in which I grew up. I suspect that this particular Halloween I wanted to get dressed up as an astronaut or something equally geeky, and that the costume my mom lovingly designed was utterly deplorable to me.

I think I was well into my teen years before I started learning the value of interpersonal relationships, as well as the need to make at least something of an effort to fit in. Some folks go through their early years being outcasts on the basis of social rejection, but for the first 12 or 13 years of my life I had little use for other people, and I almost willingly chose isolation over engaging in activities that did not appeal to me.

This was less of a built-in rebelliousness and more of a stubborn willfulness to follow my internal agendas. I still have some of this streak, but I think I am better at going along with the group in social settings than I used to be, and my wife knows how to subtly encourage me toward social interaction whenever I gravitate toward my metaphorical island of isolation.

But I'll be damned if I will ever wear a clown costume again. Sorry, Ma.

Dec 14, 2010

Facts I Learned From Grading College World History Exams Today

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As a college history instructor, I come into contact with all sorts of desperate attempts by students to accumulate enough points to achieve a desired grade in my classes. While grading final exams today I came across enough nuggets of dubious wisdom to create a blog post.

Truth be told, I could probably write a book with this funny stuff, but I would likely get sued for royalties.

Anyways, on with the lowlights:

1. The short term cause of the breakup of the Soviet Union was the way the Soviet Union betrayed everyone.

2. Killing fields - important because you couldn't step foot in them, if you were caught in it you had to be ready or you were instantly killed. The field was full of war all the time.

3. Vietnamization: Where Vietnam people changed. The people changed the outlook on where they lived. It went from everyone trying to kill each other to the people actually getting along.

4. Ayatollah Khomeini: Was a Soviet leader who replaced Nikita Khruschev. Ayatollah made the first republic party.

5. Karol Wojtyla: Was a king of Iran before the revolution who spent a lot of money on unnecessary gala parties and on secret police.

6. Le Duan was a Communist of the Vietnam War, and a lot of people part of the war knew who he was. Le Duan was arrested by the French and taken to jail during the years 1955-1975.

7. The Vietnam War itself was between the Northside of Vietnam and the Red, White, and Blue beautiful United States of America. People were loosing [sic] their family and friends to this war left and right. April 1 of 1975 is when the war really started. Or you could say the first fired shots gets [sic] popped off.

8. The Soviet Union and the United Stats [sic] of America fought against each other in the "Cold War," they were rivals until the end of WWI. After WWI the Rusian [sic] Empire grew a revolution to kill the Royal Family. After they were killed Russia was under the rule of Stallin [sic].

9. [Short term causes of the breakup of the Soviet Union] There were a shortage of food, supplies, and plant detilization [sic] that killed alot of people. The citizens of the Soviet Union wanted to turn to capitalization for their country.

10. The 1954 battle in which the Vietminh defeated the French was better known by name the First Intifada.

12. The Soviet leader who came to power in 1985 was named Mikhail Grovenstock.

Dec 11, 2010

Dogs Round a Fireplace

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We added a gas fireplace to our home last year, and the occupants of the house who are most enthusiastic about the acquisition are the canines. When we fire up the gas jets the dogs almost immediately gravitate to positions near the warm hearth.

There are occasionally turf battles over the best spots, but the 35,000 BTU fireplace kicks off enough heat that even the most determined pooches can only sit in front of it for 20-30 minutes before they start to pant and move away. Interestingly, our furnace rarely kicks on when we have the fireplace going, and our gas usage actually dropped last year, since we can set the thermostat low and only heat the rooms where we are most active.

Dec 8, 2010

Bombed Japanese Radio Station: Peleliu, 1945

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I have been looking through my grandfather's collection of old photographs in recent weeks, and I never cease to be amazed at the amount of history he has witnessed in his 93 years on the planet.

My grandfather served in World War II as a SeaBee on the Pacific island of Peleliu a few arriving a few months after the Battle of Peleliu. Pictured on your left is an image he took with a Brownie camera in early 1945 of a building that once housed Japanese radio operations for the island of Peleliu.

The pockmarked scene looks positively desolate, even for being a casualty of war. My grandfather told me that every week or so another Japanese soldier would be discovered on the island, continuing to hide and hold out hope until the end that the Japanese would eventually prevail against the Americans. Of course, with radio communications being severed to the Japanese imperial military command, these lone soldiers had no way of knowing that the war was mere months away from being over.

Dec 4, 2010

New Wheels

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Pictured on your left is my 1995 Hyundai, an extremely dependable vehicle I purchased a few years ago for the almost-criminal price of $700. Over the past few years I have sunk very little into this vehicle, and since it has just over 100,000 miles, I figured that an investment in new wheels and tires would be worthwhile.

The rusted steel wheels that came with the vehicle were increasingly difficult to balance, and I also grew tired of pumping up the tires every few days, as tire sealant only goes so far with pitted and dented wheels.

Yet what really surprised me was not the smooth ride on the new wheels and tires, but how good this car looks without four rusted steel wheels. I almost did not recognize the car when I picked it up from the tire store.

I also had the tire guys go to a 14-inch rim over the 13-inch wheels that came with the original vehicle. This was in part due to the fact that the 13-inch OEM wheels are scarce, and frankly a bit more expensive than the 14-inch wheels that were modified for my car.

Anyways, I look forward to a smoother ride and fewer chuckles from some of my new car-obsessed friends: this car looks pretty damned sharp for a 15-year-old machine.

Dec 3, 2010

Navy SeaBee Daredevil: World War II

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I have been spending quite a bit of extra time with my 93-year-old grandfather in the two years, and my wife and I visit him every week. Pictured on your left is a somewhat blurry image of my grandfather as a younger man during the Second World War.

He served in World War II as a SeaBee on the Pacific island of Peleliu a few arriving a few months after the Battle of Peleliu. In the image my grandfather is engaging in some hijinks with fellow SeaBees, and they were trying to get the military Jeep to go airborne on a small hill on the rocky beaches of Peleliu.

On an island with no women, scarce alcohol, and little in the way of entertainment (not to mention encountering the occasional solitary Japanese soldier who had refused to surrender), you take advantage of any opportunity for amusement that presents itself.

My grandfather's primary role was as a vehicle mechanic, so I suppose he could justify such tomfoolery as a "road test" of a vehicle sent in for repairs. He also has some funny stories about "borrowing" a steamroller that he fixed to tool around the island with his buddies.

Dec 1, 2010

First Snow

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Nothing puts an exclamation mark on the change of seasons in quite the same manner as the first arrival of snow each winter. Folks in Northwest Ohio received a brief dusting of snowflakes today, and though fall and spring are my favorite seasons, I do look forward to the occasional accumulation of snow.

The dogs seemed a bit surprised to see the fluffy white stuff on the ground today, and they are about equally split between the frolickers and the finicky canines. Two of the dogs rather gingerly wandered out, while the two Puggles (Eddie Haskell and Chauncey Gardner) romped in the light snow like polar bears.

Me? I had to dig up the window scraper and drive a bit more slowly to work, though I allowed myself a few moments to feel a few melting snowflakes on my face, drifting back for a moment to a time when snow could mean a snow day, with limitless possibilities and a break from the school day routine.

Reality quickly returned, however, and it is back to work for me.

Nov 26, 2010

Book Review: Freedom

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Franzen, Jonathan
New York: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux
2010, 562 pages


I became familiar with the work of Jonathan Franzen some years ago when I stumbled upon his 2001 novel The Corrections, a witty and sometimes scathing satire of contemporary American suburbia. While I found the novel fascinating, I found Franzen's prose to be even more spectacular, and I marvelled at the author's ability to create beautiful and challenging sentences that simultaneously seemed effortless.

Franzen's newest novel, Freedom, will certainly appeal to those who enjoyed The Corrections, though the satire is toned down a bit in favor of social commentary. Using the lives of a dysfunctional family as a literary vehicle, Franzen examines such issues as metastatic consumerism, unthinking partisanship, and ecological sustainability. Franzen toiled to make readers dislike most of the main characters, and yet they manage to redeem themselves and even offer hope for the future.

Part of the appeal of Freedom to me is the depth of knowledge that Franzen possesses in a wide range of fields, and several times I found myself putting down the book to read up on topics the author referenced, subjects as seemingly diverse as the Cerulean warbler and mountaintop removal mining.

Part of Franzen's appeal as a writer can be found in the esoteric bits of humor and pathos found throughout the book. It takes a little knowledge of the Vedic traditions to known that the character Lalitha - devoted to reducing human population growth - has a name associated with the devotion to the Hindu Divine Mother, and the fact that Lalitha at one point considers getting her tubes tied cannot be a coincidence. Likewise, the Berglund family comes of age on Barrier Street, which seems to be a wry commentary about conflict in a gentrified and atomized neighborhood.

The conceptual understanding of freedom takes on many meanings in Freedom, from an individual desire to be free from want and worry to larger issues about the freedom of entire nations. Moreover, Franzen challenges readers on simplistic notions about what, exactly, constitutes a state of freedom, and examines people who attain what they believe to be freedom only to find that the freedom they sought was a chimera, and perhaps they were freer while still shackled to obligations like marriage, family, and work.

Freedom is not a light read, nor is it the kind of book that offers simple solutions to complex problems. Yet the book will likely stay with readers long afterward, forcing them to re-examine their lives and question their place in the world. Freedom is far more than literary gymnastics, and the ride is well worth the metaphorical ticket.

Nov 25, 2010

Random Wikiness

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When I am bored beyond measure - or when I am seeking intellectual inspiration - I occasionally visit Wikipedia and make use of the Random Article function. This button is located on the left sidebar of the main Wikipedia page, and a click on the Random Article link is a journey into the millions of constantly changing Wiki articles that Wikipedians have created and edited.

My first stop into the world of random Wikiness took me to a page that examines the life of major league baseball manager Joe McCarthy,
the first skipper to win pennants with both National and American League teams. A 1997 poll by the Baseball Writers Association of America named McCarthy as the second greatest manager of all time, right behind Casey Stengel. McCarthy, who managed MLB teams from 1926-50, was well before my time, and I only knew of him from reading books like Strange But True Baseball Stories as a kid growing up in the 1970s.

My next randomized journey took me to a page dedicated to Bill Nelson, an experimental rock musician and composer. I was vaguely familiar with the band Be-Bop Deluxe, for which Nelson might be most famous, though only in a tangential way. This page served as a reminder to check out some of Nelson's music. Here is a YouTube clip of Be-Bop Deluxe if you are curious about the band and the man who some call one of England's greatest guitarists.

I next took a Wiki-trip to the unrecognized nation of Transnistria, a territory that broke away from the Republic of Moldova in 1992. The Moldovan government does not recognize the secession, which was triggered by the perception that Moldova restricted the civil rights of ethnic minorities. The region contains about a half-million people, and though the 1992 cease-fire has held, repeated attempts to broker a peace settlement have stalled.

My random page-viewing ended with a reading about the California barberry, a holly-like shrub with serrated leaves that produces round purple fruits that resemble grapes. Typically found on coastal mountain slopes, the California barberry is edible, but it is sour and contains quite a few seeds, or so I am told. The fruit has also been used as a dye, and there is a history of the California barberry being used for medicinal purposes. Some gardeners prize the plant as an ornamental, though the growth rate of the California barberry may be a bit slow for impatient horticulturalists.

Nov 23, 2010

A Bunch of Dogs

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The lighting in this image is horrible, as the sudden appearance of the sun this afternoon made futile my attempt to capture all of my dogs in a single frame. Still, it was a moment of peace and happiness for the canine members of my family.

We adopted all of the dogs in the photograph, by the way, from Planned Pethood, a Northwest Ohio volunteer organization involved in pet rescue and low-cost spay/neuter programs. If you have a couple of dollars in a PayPal or checking account that you have a burning desire to see go to a worthy cause, consider donating to the group.

I have worked with many volunteer and charitable groups over the years, and Planned Pethood by far delivers the most bang for the donated buck. The group uses almost every penny of the received donations in programs that directly benefit rescued animals and that reduce the overpopulation associated with unwanted pets.

Nov 21, 2010

The Perils of Failing to Proofread

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Despite the fact that I teach college for a living (and in the writing-heavy field of history) I am not normally a grammar or spelling Nazi in the real world. Yes, I have my pet peeves, such as writers who start using apostophe's where apostrophe's are not needed as plural's in sentence's, but other than my stance as a radical apostrophist, I am quite forgiving of poor spelling and tortured grammar.

Still, occasionally I have to scratch my head at the benighted efforts of business owners when they create advertising with spelling or grammatical errors. Such was the case with the gutter cleaning entrepreneur, who promised "debree-free" gutters in a Xeroxed flyer that appeared on my porch today.

Perhaps the owner is being deliberately cute here, misspelling the word "debris" in an attempt to appeal to the sort of person who thinks it is kewl to spel badd 'n' stuff. But to most of the literate world, misspellings reflect poorly on a business owner.

Jess sayin', dood.

Nov 17, 2010

Book Review: The Professor of Secrets

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Eamon, William
National Geographic, 2010
368 pages


The mailboxes at my university office and house regularly fill up with more books than I could ever possibly read, let alone review, and there are times when I stare at the growing stacks of unread texts and feel almost guilty at the collecting dust. Then I grab a duster and the guilt dissipates, while the books often wind up on shelves, lonely reminders of unfinished business.

Yet there was something about William Eamon's The Professor of Secrets that immediately jumped out at me, and I found myself quickly hooked by the story of 16th century surgeon and alchemist Leonardo Fioravanti. Eamon, who is the Regents Professor of History and dean of the Honors College at New Mexico State University, crafted a highly entertaining work of medical history that reads like a novel, and the book is the rare text that can be appreciated by scholars as much as general readers.

Fioravanti was as much a showman as a healer, and his barnstorming brand of medicine contrasted sharply with the highly theoretical world of Renaissance physicians. Surgeons as well as physicians in the 16th century were quite different from their modern counterparts, and one of the most fascinating aspects of The Professor of Secrets involves Eamon's inclusion of standard medical treatments for common ailments. Syphilis patients might be subjected to a regimen of highly toxic substances such as mercuric oxide by the likes of Fioravanti, while the "wonder drug" known as theriac - which had its origins in the classical world - might be prescribed for almost any acquired illness or ingested poison. Of course, these "cures" might be even worse than the conditions for which they were administered, but this was a world just entering the beginnings of the Scientific Revolution.

The Professor of Secrets will delight as much as the book will edify, and I highly recommend this intriguing look at early modern medicine. The book contains thorough footnotes, an extensive bibliography, and quite a few illustrations and images that further enhance the textual narrative.

Nov 15, 2010

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.

An error does not become truth by reason of multiplied propagation, nor does truth become error because nobody sees it.

-- Mohandas Gandhi

Nov 10, 2010

Busy...Busy...Busy

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Sorry for the lack of posts in the past few days. I took on some extra teaching this semester, and one class in particular is giving me a workout: this is an upper level American economic history class, and I have been spending an unprecedented amount of time (by my standards, at least) reading and prepping.

I expect that this is the peak of zaniness, and that by the weekend I will have reduced the mountain of work back down to a manageable size.

Unless, of course, it becomes animate and devours me.

Nov 6, 2010

Missing His Mama

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Pictured on your left is our quirky Puggle, Eddie Haskell. He is forlorn because his favorite human being, my wife, is away for the weekend, and his sole source of comfort is the last shoe my wife wore before leaving for her trip.

Truth be told, I miss my wife, too, though I draw the line at shoe-sniffing, at least as far as you know.

Eddie Haskell sulks and sighs when my wife is away for more than an hour or so, and he seems to be smart enough to know that when she takes a small suitcase out the door that his mama will be away for a while. Eddie had the prototypical "hang dog" look as she left, and no amount of extra attention from me is going to distract him much from pining away for his mama.

Nov 4, 2010

Rapid Rhetoric: RUFESCENT

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Raphael's depiction of Plato defining the difference between true and false rhetoric This is an irregular feature - both in frequency and oddness - dedicated to a word or phrase I came across that I have never previously used.

rufescent (roo-FESS-ent) adj. tinged with red; reddish in tint.

I came across the adjective rangiferine today while perusing an 1888 book entitled The Avifauna of British India and its Dependencies. The word is of Latin origin, and is derived from the present participle of the verb rufescere ("to become red" or "to redden").

The term was used quite a bit in relation to a discussion of an Indian example of the Asian desert warbler (Sylvia nana):
The whole of the lower parts white, with, in the freshly-killed birds, a just perceptible rufescent tinge; wing lining and axillaries pure white ; wing pale brown, narrowly margined and tipped with rufescent white ; the tertiaries pale dingy rufescent with brown shafts.
The term rufescent seems to be a favorite among ornithologists, as the Rufescent Tiger Heron, the Rufescent Screech-owl, the Rufescent White-eye, and the Rufescent Prinia are among the many birds whose rufescence has been an inspiration to their monikers.

Nov 1, 2010

Book Review: A Photographic History of the 82nd Airborne Division at War

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Nordyke, Phil
Zenith Press, 2010
192 pages


Few American fighting forces can boast the sort of storied history associated with the exploits of the members of the 82nd Airborne Division, an airborne infantry unit of the United States Army. Phil Nordyke's A Photographic History of the 82nd Airborne Division at War provides a laudatory collection of images (some never before published) related to the unit's role in numerous campaigns in the European theater during the Second World War.

Over the years I typically cast a wary eye at pictorial histories, as there is a tendency in such books to produce trivial or superficial text to accompany the images. Nordyke, however, skillfully avoided this trap, and the chapters provide both detailed photographic captions as well as insightful accompanying text.

What I liked most about this book is its intriguing blend of photographic themes. There are of course plenty of images in the book related to combat, but Nordyke also included some fascinating shots of everyday life for members of the 82nd Airborne Division, like the image of troopers walking with a pair of mules hauling 81 mm mortars. Both World War II specialists and general readers will find A Photographic History of the 82nd Airborne Division at War a useful and informative addition to their libraries.

Oct 30, 2010

Trying to Catch an Image of a Falling Leaf

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I had this idea yesterday that I would run outside and take a few pictures of falling leaves. In my vision of the planned activity, I would just set up the camera, look for a leaf, and POOF! Instant image.

Reality, however, was a long distance from my simplistic plan.

For starters, leaves are in constant motions, and the first few images I took were quite blurry. After fooling with the shutter speed for a bit, I came to the conclusion that it would be virtually impossible to try and predict the sudden twists and turns a leaf might take, and that an automatic setting was just as good as trying to plan this shot. I wanted top contrast the bright blue sky with a red, yellow, or brown leaf as it wafted to the ground. Easy enough, right?

I snapped dozens of pictures, achieving clarity on some half-leaves while winding up with muddled, out-of-focus images of many other leaves. Finally, on what might have been my 50th image, I was rewarded with an image that, well, did not quite suck.

I did not get all of the stem on this one, but it satisfied my desire to capture the image of a falling leaf. After I finished, my neighbor said I should have just taken a picture of a leaf still attached to a tree and then cropped it.

I would have called him a wiseguy, but his method would have achieved the same effect in 1/10 of the time, and truth be told: it is more fun to simply watch falling leaves than to get irritated trying to preserve such images for posterity.

Oct 26, 2010

October Tornado Warning - Lucas County

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It seems strange to think of tornadoes in late October, but the National Weather Service just issued a tornado warning for Lucas County in Northwest Ohio. The screaming sirens reminded me that we folks at the northern end of Tornado Alley can find severe weather in all seasons.

To the southwest the skies are darkening quickly, and this storm may bring winds of 90 mph, so if you are reading this post and live near Lucas County, consider taking cover.

I am herding my dogs into the house and getting ready to relocate to the basement if this storm rolls in as predicted.

Oct 24, 2010

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.

People need trouble: a little frustration to sharpen the spirit on, toughen it. Artists do; I don't mean you need to live in a rat hole or gutter, but you have to learn fortitude, endurance.
-- William Faulkner

Oct 20, 2010

Red-Tailed Hawk

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I heard the Red-tailed hawk pictured on your left long before I saw the magnificent raptor circling over my house this afternoon while I was raking leaves. Also known by its scientific name Buteo jamaicensis, the Red-tailed hawk is one of the most common birds of prey in North America, though as someone who has spent most of his life in the city I still get excited to see one in my neighborhood.

I thought I lost the bird in the time it took me to run in and grab my camera, but a minute or two later I saw the hawk circling again, its four-foot wingspan large enough to create a shadow on the ground below.

I suspect that the hawks in the vicinity of my house have been feasting at times on the rats that have wandered into our neighborhood due to the recent construction on Secor Road, which likely disturbed rodent habitats in sewers. In 20 years of living in this West Toledo house I never saw a rat until this summer, and just this morning I found another dead rat in my front yard.

So I welcome the presence of these large raptors, which not only provide entertainment but likely keep down the population of unwanted pests.

Oct 18, 2010

On Moments of Sheer Beauty and Jackasses Who Disrupt Moments of Serenity

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I paused yesterday afternoon for a few moments to appreciate to the red roses pictured on your left, a series of out-of-season blossoms from a rose bush that I may have tricked into thinking it is still growing season by extra watering. It had been a stressful and depressing week, and for a brief few moments the red roses seemed to auger the possibility of a period of better days.

I walked into the house to find my camera to record the moment, and as I snapped a few pictures I heard the sound of an approaching vehicle in need of exhaust work. It turned out to be an older model red pickup truck, and there were about five young men in the cab and the truck bed.

"Nice shirt you are wearing, faggot!" was the first words I heard, the jeering clown referencing the formal clothing I was wearing to go to a funeral a little later. Then the stupidity of the brave idiot was joined by other similar drivel from the chicken-shit occupants of the rapidly accelerating truck.

My first instinct was to throw down a challenge to the morons, but I thought that this course of action was pointless. At best I would just end up in a verbal exchange with a group of quasi-Neanderthals, and the worst case scenario would be that they would return in the middle of the night and vandalize my property.

So I watched the laughing fools drive off, continuing to shout at random people they encountered. I suspect that alcohol may have fueled the impulsivity and recklessness of the teenagers, but I was mostly disappointed in the disruption of my Zen moment. Yet the irritation soon passed, and the beauty of the red roses remained. I could choose to hold on to my resentment, or I could spend a few more minutes enjoying the warm fall afternoon with the unexpected pleasure of brilliant red roses.

I chose the latter.

Oct 16, 2010

On Erie Orchards and Small Children

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Like many Midwesterners, we heeded to the call of the cider mill this sunny October afternoon, taking a drive up to Erie Orchards to partake in the fall festivities. Normally I grumble a bit at the tackiness of some of these places, and certainly the presence of an Elvis impersonator and vendors selling plastic trinkets would normally rile up my inner curmudgeon.

Yet this was a different sort of trip, as we brought along my baby granddaughter Isabella and my niece's toddler, Lily (pictured on your left). Some of the activities that seem mundane or even kitschy take on a different meaning when you are accompanied by small children. For the kiddies such events are grand fun, or are at least new and exciting, so we can derive a different sort of enjoyment just being around the little rascals as they run in the hay, feed the reindeer, and fend off the yellow jackets.

Oh, and surprisingly we saw very few yellow jackets at Erie Orchards today. I am not sure if this was coincidental, or if the folks running the place actively suppressed the populations of hornets and wasps, but this was the first time I ever visited an apple orchard in which I was not at least momentarily annoyed by the persistence of buzzing pests.

Sun, cider, doughnuts, and good company were aplenty, and perhaps I turned the corner on being more amenable to the tradition of pumping currency into local apple orchards.

Oct 15, 2010

In Memoriam: Glenn J. Ames, Scholar and Mentor

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It was with great sadness that I learned yesterday of the death of University of Toledo Professor Glenn J. Ames, my dissertation advisor and a longtime friend and mentor. I knew that he had medical issues, as I took over several classes for him this semester when he went on medical leave, but I was unaware of the seriousness of his health concerns; when I last saw him two months ago he looked fine.

Rather, in retrospect, I now know that he simply put on a brave face and convinced me he was fine, despite what turned out to be terminal cancer: this must have been the stoic New Englander in him.

Glenn Ames was a prolific writer, with six academic books and countless articles to his credit. Yet I will remember him most for his excellence in teaching and guiding his graduate students, and I know that I learned a great deal from him in the decade that I worked with him.

Glenn loved to make history relevant to students, especially non-history majors in the survey classes. He had a remarkable lecture style in the large section surveys, which often had as many as 300 students. He effortlessly blended humor, pathos, and history into lectures that were as entertaining as they were instructional, and when I was his teaching assistant in some of these classes students frequently described Glenn as their all-time favorite history teacher.

I liked working with Glenn at the graduate level, as his style fit my own approach to research and writing. He allowed his graduate students to find their own research topics, and he tried not to interfere with the academic self-discovery process that comes with working on a project like a dissertation. Yet when necessary he knew when to step in and redirect a struggling student, and he was quite helpful in navigating the Byzantine bureaucracy that goes along with completing a graduate degree.

I would be remiss in this brief panegyric if I did not mention my appreciation to Glenn Ames for his help in completing my own dissertation last year. He enthusiastically backed a project that is much broader in temporal and geographical scope than is typical for a dissertation, and he recognized that the dearth of comprehensive literature on my topic meant that this was a needed contribution to the historiography of European expansion. My research in many ways reflects the efforts of Glenn to guide me in the process of being a professional historian, and I will forever be grateful for his advice.

Glenn regularly attended commencement exercises at UT, even when he did not have a graduate student walking in the ceremony. You could always spot him in the crowd, as he wore doctoral garb from his alma mater, which featured the distinctive University of Minnesota colors. Little did I know that when he hooded me last year that he would be participating in one of the last graduations in his life.

One of my favorite Glenn Ames stories is related to a guest lecture he gave at a graduate seminar called "Teaching History in College." He was talking about teaching a large section of undergraduates in a survey (1000-level) class, and one of the graduate students remarked that it seemed daunting to teach in front of a crowd of hundreds of students. Glenn told the class: "Look, these are college freshman, and they know almost nothing about world history. All you really have to remember is that Hitler lost the Second World War, and even then: you could probably let him win it once in a while and none of the students would notice the error."

Glenn's point was not to trivialize history, mind you, but to remind the next generation of college history teachers that it is understood that a beginning teacher will forget facts or misspeak on occasion, and that generally survey-level students are unaware of minor weaknesses in a lecture. In fact, part of the process of becoming a teacher is to work through a screw-up and learn to better prepare for unanticipated questions and lecture gaffes: they will happen, and they can be opportunities to improve the next time you teach the topic.

The greatest joys in Glenn's life were his two children, Miranda and Ethan. When he taught summer classes, the kids were frequently guests in his classes, and he frequently talked about the children in and out of class. Glenn used to have this ongoing gag that he worked with his son in which he would supply Ethan with a couple of answers to obscure questions he would ask in the class. When the students would be clueless, he would have Ethan supply the answers. Imagine the looks on the faces of the college students when a kid of eight or so would nail the answers to these difficult questions.

I am glad that Glenn got to spend so much time with his children, as he was able to take them to places like India and Portugal when he was working in archives. Yet it seems patently unfair that a guy of only 55 years of age should be called away while he was still so young; my heart goes out to Miranda, Ethan and the rest of his family, whose own pain must be excruciating.

The world has lost a good person, and while Glenn Ames might not be a household name, I am sure that the many thousands of students he taught in his 22 years at the University of Toledo would agree that he was an extraordinary individual with a love for life. Adeus, meu amigo.

Oct 11, 2010

Yellow Archangel - Lamiastrum galeobdolon

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I have a few shady spots in my yard that I have called "dead zones" over the years for their seeming inability to sustain any significant ornamental plant growth. This year I decided to try out a few hardy perennials in an effort to dispel the notion that these places must forever remain barren.

One of the most successful of the additions has been yellow archangel, pictured on your left. Also known by the scientific name of Lamiastrum galeobdolon, this rhizome-based plant appears to be thriving in a nutrient-poor area under a maple tree in my yard. I started out with a handful of small plants I ordered on eBay, and in just a few months I have cultivated a pair of thick 6-square-foot stands of yellow archangel.

Yet not all horticulturalists and botanists love the lowly yellow archangel, and it is considered by some folks to be a noxious weed for its invasive tendencies. I can see where this plant would be difficult to control by a casual or lazy gardener, as it sends out tendril-like vines that spread fairly quickly, and the plant can be propagated by even the smallest piece of the rhizome.

So if you are thinking of adding this plant to your garden, be aware that yellow archangel should be isolated from other plants and that you may need to be aggressive in controlling its spread.

Oct 9, 2010

On Rich Iott, Nazi Uniforms, and Imploding Campaigns

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Pictured: Rich Iott, second from right, in a Nazi Waffen SS uniform; photo courtesy of The Atlantic

I have been watching with some amazement the news reports related to the revelation that congressional candidate Rich Iott has participated in historical re-enactments as a Nazi soldier. For at least four years Iott was a member of the Wiking Historical Re-enactment Society, which is dedicated to the study and re-enactment of the history of the 5th SS Panzer Division Wiking.

Let me begin by saying that as a historian I see significant pedagogical value in historical re-enactment, and that participants can learn a great deal about the periods and peoples they are covering. And no: I do not believe Rich Iott has any Nazi sympathies. Moreover, as a voter I had yet to decide (until this debacle, at least) whether I would vote for Marcy Kaptur (thus preserving the Toledo area's influence in the powerful House Appropriations Committee) or Rich Iott (who at least talks about a return to fiscal responsibility).

That being said, there are few controversies that Kaptur operatives could dream up that would be as effective as the gift that Rich Iott provided them with these Nazi uniform photos. I can just imagine Kaptur campaign aides sitting around the table when word of the photos emerged:

"Let me get this straight: we have photos of Rich Iott in Nazi regalia? Not Photoshopped, right? Hmmm...... HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!"

And so on.

Here is how this will probably play out: Iott will spend an entire week just before the election backpedaling and denying he is a Nazi. Kaptuir will take the high road, saying something like: "I have no reason to think Rich Iott is a Nazi sympathizer, and it is perfectly acceptable for historical re-enactors to wear period clothing, like Rich Iott and his son when they wore Waffen-SS uniforms for several years." She probably will not even put a loaded qualifier in there, like "Rich Iott needs to come clean to the voters about his views on the Nazis," because the photos are enough of a bombshell.

But the coverage from newspapers, television programs, radio talk shows, and Internet blogs and message boards will inevitably cement the terms "Rich Iott" and "Nazi" in the minds of voters. Military veterans and adherents of the various forms of Judaism will be the groups most likely to turn away from Iott, of course, but the word "Nazi" does not play well with very many voters. Just turning away a few thousand voters offended by pictures of Iott in a Nazi uniform is highly significant in an off-year election in which the total vote will probably be 220,000 or so.

What is going to hurt Iott more from this is the slowing of the money spigot in the remaining weeks. The last-minute cash that would normally be thrown at what seemed to be a fairly close race is going to drop off to a trickle, as no one likes to toss money into what is perceived to be a doomed campaign. Let's face it: for the next 3-7 days there will be thousands of news stories and blog posts with images of Rich Iott in a Nazi uniform, and only the most true-believing of Iott supporters are going to cough up cash as this story continues to circulate.

Prior to the Nazi photos I saw this race as something like a 53-47 Kaptur lead, but after the next week those numbers are going to move decidedly in Kaptur's favor, and I suspect Kaptur will wind up in the high fifties after Nazi-gate. Unless the Iott campaign has its own nuclear option, like a picture of Kaptur in a BDSM outfit or one of Kaptur tossing puppies off a bridge, Rich Iott is doomed. And the PMA scandal seems to have zero traction in this race, so Iott is wasting his time trying to beat this dead horse to pull the campaign plow.

Things look pretty grim for Rich Iott based on the New York Times and their FiveThirtyEight Forecast for Ohio's 9th congressional district. They are predicting a 61-36 victory for Kaptur (margin of error at the moment is 8.9 percent) and they give Kaptur a 99.7 percent chance of victory.

Pictured: Rich Iott in a Nazi Waffen SS uniform at an undated Wiking ceremony; photo courtesy of The Atlantic

Imagine if Iott had collected and released a bunch of images from his re-enactment events and included the so-called Nazi image in its proper context: as part of a larger interest in military history. Then pundits who took the Nazi image out of context would look like people deliberately twisting an innocent image for political gain, and this "story" would have little effect (I do not believe for a single second that Rich Iott is a Nazi sympathizer or fetishist).

Instead, we have Iott scrambling to explain why he is in a Waffen-SS uniform, and this will dog him for at least a few days. Moreover, the repeated airing of these images will stick to Iott in subtle-but-substantial ways among undecided voters.

In my opinion this is a significant PR problem for Iott, and unfortunately it was handled stupidly. This is yet another race that should have been focused on issues, but instead will be derailed by poor planning and irrelevant Internet history.

Moral to the story: if a politician has anything that could be twisted and used as political hay, it is best to get it out in the open and "own" the material. Getting it sprung into the campaign by a political opponent almost always guarantees that the candidate will be on the defensive addressing the charge, and this is a waste of both financial and political capital. Also, just deleting material from a website doesn't make it disappear, as tools like the Wayback Machine theoretically keep Internet material alive forever.

In the case of Rich Iott, the Internet images he thought had been erased are going to sink his campaign.

Oct 8, 2010

A Tale of Gubernatorial Debates, University Administrators, Lowly Adjuncts, and Misplaced Priorities

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Left: Governor Ted Strickland and challenger John Kasich at the University of Toledo's Driscoll Alumni Center; photo courtesy of AP/Andy Morrison

I did not watch the debate between Governor Ted Strickland and challenger John Kasich last night. The reason, though, had less to do with political disinterest and much more to do with extra work I created for myself by standing up for the rights of my students.

And also, because of my proclivity for being bull-headed.

I arrived about 8:40 am on Wednesday for my scheduled 9:00 am class in the University of Toledo's Driscoll Alumni Center. I am a full time faculty member at Bowling Green State University, but I agreed at the last minute this semester to take a teaching assignment that unexpectedly opened up at UT, the institution at which I earned my doctorate. This is kind of a Yoda-Young Jedi situation of sorts, except that I am more like a middle-aged and graying Jedi whose powers are mostly limited to those involving PowerPoint and dry erase markers.

Anyways, I was immediately bombarded by students who told them that construction contractors were telling them to go to a classroom in the Memorial Field House. The contractors said that the classroom was going to be used for the gubernatorial debate. Neither I nor my TAs received any notice of this. No emails, no memos, no text messages: no communication whatsoever.

Even worse is the fact that I was giving a scheduled midterm exam that day to my class of 240 students. In a logistical sense this took priority over simply canceling class, because it would be a full week before class meets again, and frankly I have never unilaterally cancelled a class in my teaching career.

So I first had to retrieve the 80 or so students mistakenly sent a quarter mile away to the Memorial Field House, and they were understandably angry about the disruptions. Even stranger was the fact that my students were directed to a room that already contained a class in session, so two classes were simultaneously disrupted for the price of one.

I had a rather heated exchange with one construction worker who marched into the class just before the test to tell me I wasn't supposed to be in my own classroom (admittedly my less-than-cordial discussions with the construction workers probably fueled their irritation, and I am a long ways from the sort of Gandhi-esque Satyagraha that might have been a more useful approach, but I digress).

However, what most disturbs me is the repeated interruptions by University officials and construction workers during the exam. Several times UT officials walked into the room and asked questions like "what time are you going to be finished" and "I thought this class was cancelled," while the construction workers seemed to be going out of their way to make as much noise as possible. Saws and drills continued in the hallways and entranceways, bulky equipment kept being noisily dropped, and I could see that a number of my students were irritated at the chaos.

I will pause and point out that the sole exception to the institutional insanity was C. Vernon Snyder, the University's Vice President for Institutional Advancement. He walked into the room, told me that the exam could go on as scheduled, and seemed to be one of the few people in this saga who understood that educating students should be UT's top priority. Unfortunately, the marketing/communications folks and construction workers more than made up for Snyder's voice of reason.

This situation was almost like the Keystone Kops in its unfolding, except for the fact that my students are real human beings who pay a great deal of money for the privilege of attending classes at UT. Surely they deserve at least as much notice of the disruption as the aides to the candidates, and undoubtedly the planning for this event began months ago.

Left: screen shot of a spreadsheet I received several hours after my class detailing the proposed shifting of classes to accommodate the gubernatorial debate

So now I have a class of angry and confused students, and I will inevitably wind up with extra work in trying to make things right (drawing up replacement exams, working with the Testing Center to schedule retakes, determining the statistical effects of the disruptions on exam scores, developing a reasonable scoring adjustment, and manually changing 240 grades). It would have been easier to simply cave in and reschedule the exam, but there were larger principles at stake.

While this is not quite a David-and-Goliath story, I write this post with the full recognition that my words might one day haunt me. Perhaps I might some day seek full time employment teaching at UT, or perhaps on another job search this type of post will mark me as a malcontent. However, occasionally we need to take public stands when we encounter wrongheadedness, and to my way of thinking the importance or teaching and learning at a university trumps the fleeting publicity associated with hosting a gubernatorial debate.

But enough about me: this is a class largely composed of first-year students new to college life, and for many of these students this may have been their very first college exam. I ask what it says about a university when no one bothers to take the time to give advance notice on room cancellations, or when televised political debates are more important than what is supposed to be our principal mission: educating students. In addition, a total of 14 classes and approximately 2000 students were inconvenienced through this decision by university officials, and these problems could have been avoided had the university simply used one of its existing non-academic auditoriums, like the Doermann Theater.

Or better yet, simply passing on the event. After all, other than a few brief mentions during coverage on C-SPAN and local television, the University really received little publicity from this event.

In all my years in academia as a student and as an instructor I have never seen a series of events more dysfunctional and ill-conceived than this decision, and I think the University's half-hearted, after-the-fact mea culpa via email to me rings hollow. It seems that it is more important for UT to garner a few moments of televised publicity than to concentrate on its core responsibilities to students.

Yet to be fair I was in some ways blessed yesterday morning: the teaching assistants assigned to the class - Stephanie Crawford and Emily Ruckel - kept their cool while the course professor fumed and muttered, and they helped brainstorm ways to deal with the chaos. At one point I was reluctant to leave the stage at the front of the classroom, perhaps irrationally thinking that if I walked into the hallway someone from the university would grab the stage and announce the closing of the room. The TAs gave me the figurative and literal muscle I needed to manage a multi-faceted maelstrom, and ultimately the exam happened.

Boo-yah.

Oct 5, 2010

Lost Dog, Secor-Laskey Area 10-5-2010

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Pictured on your left is Buddy, a Puggle we are fostering with Planned Pethood. He escaped earlier this afternoon in the Secor-Laskey area.

Buddy is a five-year-old male Puggle who weighs about 40 pounds. He is gentle and friendly, though sometimes a bit of a fraidy cat around strangers. Unfortunately, he is wearing his old name tag and collar, so people who find him might try to return him to the house of his deceased owner.

If you find Buddy, you can email Planned Pethood at pets@plannedpethood.org or call 419-826-FIXX(3499), or you can email me at mebrook@bgsu.edu. Thanks for any help you can provide!

Oct 3, 2010

Out Sick

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Sorry for the lack of posts the last few days, as I have been hit by a wicked little influenza-type bug. I did get the combination influenza shot this year, which is normally the epidemiological equivalent of gold bullion, but over the past two days I have been lethargic, achy, feverish, and flat-out grumpy as heck.

This short post is the first moment in the past few days in which I can stay upright for more than 10 minutes at a stretch, so perhaps I am on the mend.

I trust that your visiting of this site will not result in acquisition of the contagion that sidelined me.

Sep 29, 2010

Brown Marmorated Stink Bug in Northwest Ohio?

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Possible Northwest Ohio sighting of the brown marmorated stink bugLeft: possible Northwest Ohio sighting of the brown marmorated stink bug

I have been reading about the rapid spread of the brown marmorated stink bug in parts of the U.S., especially along the eastern seaboard. So it was with some surprise - and a bit of trepidation - that I noticed what appeared to be a brown marmorated stink bug crawling up the siding of my house today.

The insect, also known by the scientific name of Halyomorpha halys, gives off a pungent odor when crushed, and homeowners in problem areas are having a difficult time getting rid of the pests. While the insects are not harmful and do not carry disease, their telltale aroma has frustrated many U.S. homeowners. They are attracted both to landscape lighting as well as warmth, but most folks seem to find that there are few preventive measures one can take to make a yard less attractive to these bugs.

The reason I think that this is the brown marmorated stink bug is the presence of white bands on the antennae, which is supposed to be the signifier of the species. Unfortunately, I did not think to collect the creature and ship it for analysis, but I am sending along to entomologists the photograph for study.

On Ray Padula, Disappointing Purchases, and Poor Quality Merchandise

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Ray Padula hose nozzle: creative design but cheap constructionRay Padula hose nozzle: creative design but cheap construction

Before recently purchasing a Ray Padula thumb control hose nozzle, I was just remotely aware of the multi-million dollar business that Ray Padula has developed. Since a 2007 push to enter the national retail market, Padula's company has developed 300 newly patented, patent pending, and exclusive hose-end products, according to the corporate website.

When I needed a new hose nozzle, I was intrigued by the new design on the Series R hose nozzle I saw at a local retailer. Instead of squeezing a trigger, you simply flick a lever with your thumb to turn on the water.

For the first two weeks I was quite happy with my $10 purchase, but today I learned that this hose nozzle is a poorly-constructed waste of money. I reached for the nozzle after dropping it on the ground and I noticed that the mechanism upon which the nozzle adjustment is seated had cracked.

A closer inspection showed that this mechanism is plastic, and that even a three-foot fall onto the lawn was enough force to break the nozzle adjustment device, rendering the hose nozzle worthless. The internal mechanism looked to be PVC coated with a shiny metallic finish, a far cry from the "die cast metal inner housing" the website claims for nozzle construction.

So, potential buyers beware: my experience with Ray Padula hose nozzles has been a bust. The traditional metal trigger-handled hose nozzle looks a lot more enticing right about now, and I doubt I will ever purchase a Ray Padula product again after this disappointing experience.

Sep 27, 2010

On the Merits of Driving Used Cars

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Pictured on your left is the 1995 Hyundai that I purchased approximately 40 months ago for $700. In the period of time that I have owned this vehicle, I have spent approximately a thousand dollars on various mechanical issues, including brakes, shocks, a tuneup, a set of tires, and a pair of door handles.

A friend once kidded me about the "clown car" I bought, citing its purple color and relatively small body as evidence of its supposed hilarity. Yet when I crunch the numbers, this vehicle has cost me about $42 a month in initial investment and repairs, and with only 104,000 miles on the odometer, I suspect that this car has many more years of reliable service left.

So to those of you contemplating the purchase of a new automobile or truck, I suggest that you take a closer look at buying a used vehicle. Sure, my 1995 Hyundai is nothing special to look at, but in my 30 years of driving I have never owned a vehicle that cost me so little while providing almost uninterrupted service.

Moreover, the body on this car has just a handful of rust spots and even fewer dings. It is true that purple is an unusual color, but the vehicle still has a glossy sheen to its paint job. If I choose to continue to drive it at the rate of 10-12 thousand miles a year, I might have ten more years of life left in the machine, and that overall cost of ownership continues to shrink every month I keep this vehicle on the road.

Think about the money you are tossing away on a brand new vehicle every month before you sign that loan agreement for a shiny car at the dealership. Consider also the lost income from investments that $200-$400 per month in savings might bring you, and then look me in the eye and tell me a new car is worth every penny.

Sep 24, 2010

Microsoft CAPTCHA Hell

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Unintelligible Windows Live - Microsoft screen CAPTCHA Left: Unintelligible Windows Live - Microsoft screen CAPTCHA

All I wanted to do was unsubscribe from an annoying email from Microsoft. However, I wound up with a 30-minute ordeal trying a variety of methods to get the Microsoft Windows Live site to issue me a new password so I could remove my email address from their system.

The process seemed simple enough, as there was a friendly "Forgot your password?" prompt. However, most of the written CAPTCHA character collections contained at least a few indecipherable squiggles, and after about a dozen CAPTCHA failures I decided to try the audio CAPTCHA.

Fail.

The audio CAPTCHA used by Microsoft has a woman speaking numbers as several other voices speak, making it difficult to even hear the 10-digit sequence, let alone type it in as the voice rapidly ripped through the numbers. On top of that, it sounded like the Microsoft CAPTCHA designers deliberately added electronic hiss and crackle to the mix, making for an audio production almost beyond comprehension.

After about a half-hour of frustration, bouncing back and forth between audio and written CAPTCHAS, I managed to get lucky and find a written string that I could actually read. This, however, was a heavy price to pay for unsubscribing to Microsoft's emails, and it leads me to believe that this is a deliberate attempt by the Windows Live folks to make it almost impossible to stop receiving their quasi-spam.

Sep 23, 2010

Facebook Fail: Popular Social Networking Site Crashes

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Left: screenshot of Facebook's DNS message to users Left: screenshot of Facebook's DNS message to users

In what is probably evidence of the popularity of the social networking site (yet an event that will likely double the productivity of American workers), Facebook has been unavailable to users for at least an hour today.

Facebook down? Perish the thought.

This comes on the proverbial heels of yesterday's outage, though the official Facebook statement (via their Twitter page) denies a connection:
We’re currently experiencing some site issues causing Facebook to be slow or unavailable for some users. We are working to resolve this issue as quickly as possible. This is unrelated to yesterday’s outage.
Judging from the hundreds of Tweets and blog posts already floating around the Internet, I suspect that "some users" is probably a number in the millions.

I began noticing slow page loading around 1:00 PM EDT, and by 2:00 PM or so the site was offline. As of this writing (4:09 PM EDT) the site remains unavailable, and the half-dozen or so people I conversed with on other sites confirmed that this is a systemic problem.

On the Beaches of the Outer Banks

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An acquaintance sent me a link about a house built by Carolina Designs that caught my eye, and I thought back to several trips we have taken to the Outer Banks. While the weather is still quite warm in Northwest Ohio, I have fond memories of times spent on the peaceful beaches of the Outer Banks.

Some of my favorite vacations have been those laid-back trips where there are no significant plans beyond sitting in the sun and watching the waves roll in, like a vacation a few years ago to Atlantic Beach. While there are sections of the Outer Banks that are certainly commercialized, much of the region is still relatively undeveloped: lots of uncluttered beaches and a sense of time unchanging.

Such pristine settings are more likely to be found in a Southern Shores vacation, as other stretches of the Outer Banks have become tourist meccas. I recall driving for long stretches in the Southern Shores without seeing the sort of commercial and residential sprawl associated with overdeveloped places like Nags Head.

The end of the fall semester is a long ways off for me, but for a few moments this morning I allowed myself to pine away for some time at the beaches of the Outer Banks.

Sep 22, 2010

On the Restorative Powers of Green

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I was out working in the yard for a few hours, time I should have been spending on lecture prep, when I paused to wipe my brow. I was taken aback by the brilliant green colors that surrounded me, and I went inside to fetch the camera to try to recapture the moment.

The image on the left gets some, but not all, of the powerful hues of green that caught my eyes. My lawn is a work in progress, and truth be told there are plenty of weeds and non-fescue grasses in the mix, but I generally keep the lawn watered throughout the summer. With the recent rains my lawn is a collection of brilliant green hues, and I stood for a moment in awe of the strength of the green that seemed to blanket my yard.

There are certainly other angles of my yard that lack eye appeal, but for this one moment the yard seemed more than just a collection of plants and lawn: it seemed to be animated and burgeoning with life.

Sep 21, 2010

Two Pretty Girls

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Pictured are Missy (left) and Candy (right), two rescue dogs we have adopted over the past few years. They both just returned from the grooming salon, and if I might be so vain, they are the prettiest girls around.

Of course, they had only been home an hour or so before the squirrel-chasing and grass-rolling began to tarnish their newly coiffed fur, but after all: they are just dogs.

Just glad I was able to take a picture before the canine hijinks commenced.

Sep 20, 2010

Rapid Rhetoric: RANGIFERINE

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Raphael's depiction of Plato defining the difference between true and false rhetoric This is an irregular feature - both in frequency and oddness - dedicated to a word or phrase I came across that I have never previously used.

rangiferine (rahn-gee-FAIR-een) adj. related to or like reindeer; belonging to the animal genus Rangifer; resembling a reindeer.

I stumbled upon the adjective rangiferine today while perusing a 2001 book entitled Infectious Diseases of Wild Mammals. Humans, it turns out, are prone to debilitating infection by all types of animal brucellosis, including rangiferine brucellosis. The disease typically can be found among reindeer and caribou in northern Canada, and the transmission between members of the genus Rangifer and humans is usually caused by ingestion of unsterilized milk or meat from infected animals.

Interestingly, the U.S. experimented with a variety of brucellosis bacteria known as B. suis as a potential biological weapon. B. suis became the first weaponized biological agent in its development at Pine Bluff Arsenal in Arkansas, but brucellosis did not prove to be deadly enough to warrant mass production. I suppose we will really be in serious trouble when (not if) biological weapons experts figure out a way to weaponize a disease like malignant Mesothelioma.

Sep 18, 2010

Dog Days of September

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I spent most of the day at the annual Dog Days of September, which is held at the Lucas County Fairgrounds. Non-profit organizations and a wide variety of commercial vendors related to dogs gather here each year, and the event usually draws a few thousand people and their canine pals.

Interestingly, I saw new Lucas County dog warden Julie Lyle at the event. In the many years that I have attended this event (and other area events associated with dog ownership) I never saw the previous warden Tom Skeldon in attendance. It was refreshing to see the dog warden walking around, chatting with people and petting the numerous pooches.

Left: Dachshunds running in the Wiener Nationals

Another component of the Dog Days of September is the annual Wiener Nationals races, featuring local Dachshunds and their owners competing to see which of the short-legged rascals is the fastest. There was quite a crowd for the four-plus hours of Dachshund racing, though admittedly many of the dogs need coaxing to reach the finish line on the 20-yard course. Of course, I would want to make sure that my laptop insurance was paid up before bringing along the computer, but that is another story altogether.

So, if you have a few hours to kill on this day next year, you could do far worse than the Dog Days of September. There are lots of dog-related activities and some food vendors (human as well as canine), and non-profit organizations like Planned Pethood benefit from greater exposure and the material and monetary donations collected at these events.

Sep 16, 2010

Blog Slackery - An Apology

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slacker post-it note My apologies for the lack of posts the last few days: I am eyeball-deep in work right now, and after a series of 14-hour days (plus some extra duties playing nurse as my wife recuperated from a two-week illness) I have found myself both exhausted and time-limited.

I hope to return to some semblance of "blog-active" in the next few days. If not, I might always take advantage of the energy boosts associated with a product like a fat burner in order to improve my levels of motivation and concentration.

Sep 13, 2010

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.

Every revolution evaporates and leaves behind only the slime of a new bureaucracy.
-- Franz Kafka

Sep 12, 2010

Denard Robinson: An Early Assessment

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Denard Robinson stiff arms a Notre Dame defender; Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Like all Michigan fans, I was wowed by the superhuman performance yesterday of Wolverines quarterback Denard Robinson. The sophomore rolled up 258 rushing yards and 502 yards of total offense against Notre Dame, rushing for two TDs and passing for another score.

While Robinson's season is only two games old (and these are the only two games in his career that Robinson has started at quarterback for Michigan), I think a few observations are in order.

1. Robinson reads defenses well. I was impressed with the way the young quarterback changed plays several times after getting a look at the defensive packages shown by both Connecticut and Notre Dame. Robinson also made adjustments after the snap, and he has excellent vision of the field for such an untested player.

2. Robinson has a stronger arm than we were led to believe. The passes that were most off the mark in the first few games tended to be those beyond the reach of receivers on deep patterns, and if I were a football coach, I would much rather have a quarterback overthrow a receiver than to loft up an underthrown, easy-to-intercept pigskin, like a dieter choosing a thick juicy steak instead of the best OTC appetite suppressant.

3. Robinson has confidence. Tons of it. What most impressed me about Denard Robinson in these first two games was how self-assured and poised this kid looked. After most plays he had a smile on his face, and on the game-winning TD drive Robinson looked positively unflappable.

4. As good as he has looked, Robinson can play better. While Robinson has a solid grasp of the offensive system, he will begin to better finesse the possibilities. This is especially true at the tight end position, as Robinson has yet to fully exploit starting tight end Kevin Koger and his running backs.

5. Robinson needs to temper his killer instinct. While I liked his aggressive decision making, there were several third down short-yardage situations yesterday when Robinson should have focused on getting the first down instead of taking shots downfield. This is especially critical in closer games, and one might argue that several offensive drives were stalled by Robinson's eagerness to target an open receiver deep downfield.

6. Robinson has displayed remarkable accuracy. The statistics tell a considerable part of the story: 69.4 percent completion rate, 138.3 passer rating, and zero interceptions in the first two games. Yet even some of Robinson's incompletions were remarkable, including a beautiful pass in the corner of the end zone that was dropped by the wide receiver.

7. Robinson should be a surprise early favorite for the Heisman Trophy. Yes, it is only the second week, and we really do not know the true quality levels of opponents Notre Dame and Conneticut, but the numbers Robinson has posted in two weeks are jaw-dropping. The second half of Michigan's season is brutal, though at least the Wolverines get to play Iowa and Wisconsin at the Big House. Still, even Heisman frontrunner Terelle Pryor cannot match the yardage totals Robinson has accumulated thus far. Landry Jones, the Oklahoma QB, has been impressive (albeit while throwing a few picks), while Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder probably torched his Heisman chances in an ugly loss to the Sooners yesterday. Boise State's Kellen Moore has been consistently strong, but the Broncos never seem to get enough love from experts and voters. At this point I see Robinson and Pryor as the top two Heisman candidates.

Sep 10, 2010

Deadheading Sunflowers

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I began experimenting with the process of deadheading sunflowers by accident, as I merely wanted to remove some of the unsightly half-chewed flowers heads that the squirrels and goldfinches have attacked. After a few weeks, though, I noticed that the plants in which I removed dead flower heads seemed to undergo an additional burst of flowering, as though they suddenly found the horticultural equivalent of a product like apidexin UK.

In years past I simply allowed the sunflower plants to bloom, wither, and die, after which I chopped down the stalks for compost. However, this year the plants seem to be productive much longer, and the pruning of dead flower heads and withered leaves seems to force the plants to continue the mechanism by which flower buds appear.

The flowers that appear after the deadheading process commences tend to be smaller and a sometimes bit on the spindly side, but I suppose this is the price one pays for screwing around with natural plant rhythms. I also would not recommend sunflower deadheading if you plan to collect seeds, or if you plant sunflowers to feed the local wildlife. However, if sunflower blooms are what drives you to plant the seeds in the first place, consider aggressively pruning your sunflowers to stimulate more blossoms.