Jun 30, 2010

A Tale of Theaters and Malignant Egos

My wife and I took a break yesterday from our routines and drove to Maumee's Rave Motion Pictures Maumee 18 to see Iron Man 2 (mini-review: a few laughs, lots of stuff blows up, about what you'd expect from a comic-turned-film, and I give it a B-minus). Just off to our side in the theater was a sixty-something couple, and the man was chatting loudly as the film began.

Mr. Talkative continued to keep a running commentary during the film, which normally is a source of annoyance to me. However, the guy was so over the top with his banter that it was almost funny: he read on-screen billboards and newspaper headlines, offered guesses as to what would next happen in the film, and engaged in a lot of "that reminds me of the movie where..."

Now, this encounter probably would not have merited a blog post were it not for what we witnessed upon exiting the theater. The well-dressed man, who looked a bit like Bill O'Reilly of FOX News, wandered away from his female companion, and the woman sat down on a bench for a moment. Mr. Talkative, in an effort to hurry his female companion along, loudly snapped his fingers.


This was not just an effort to get her attention, though: the woman positively jumped and obediently walked right to his side in an almost Pavlovian reaction to the finger snaps.

I was astounded, and I cannot remember the last time I saw a human being exert such public control over another person. I turned to my wife, and luckily she witnessed the same events I just described. This was such a bizarre scene that people would think I was exaggerating when I inevitably recount the tale, and I have a living witness to the egotistical boorishness of Mr. Talkative (perhaps he now deserves to be called "Mr. Jackass" or "Mr. Neanderthal" now).

I felt a bit sorry for the woman, who looked a bit embarrassed at being snapped to attention. However, as both parties were in their sixties, she probably couldn't change the relationship even if she wanted to, and she likely prefers a dysfunctional relationship over being alone.

And Mr. Talkative? You are just a jerk, sir.

Jun 29, 2010

On Tech Support Uselessness

Over the past few weeks I have interacted with a variety of technical support personnel over the telephone on issues related to hardware and software, and every one of these encounters has been unfavorable. My poor run of luck with technical "experts" began a few weeks ago, when my hard drive crashed on my Toshiba laptop (quick thanks again to Computer Renaissance of Toledo, who installed a new hard drive for me in record time).

I experienced some problems related to the backup files I created using the Toshiba Media Recovery software. Specifically, I wanted to know how to upload the final two disks worth of data, as the software only accepted the first three disks. The first clueless tech told me to wipe the hard drive and start over again, which I was hesitant to do, but I followed his instructions.

Three hours later, same problem.

I called Toshiba back and talked with an even more vacant-eyed support tech. This genius suggested that I download drivers for all my software and peripherals, which had absolutely nothing to do with my problem. It was as if he was deliberately trying to confuse the issue:

Me: "I am not having any problems with drivers yet. All of my non-Toshiba software has yet to be loaded."

Tech: "If you go to the Toshiba webpage, you will find all sorts of useful drivers that will make your Toshiba laptop run more efficiently."

Me: "My Toshiba runs very efficiently, thank you, because there are no programs on my hard drive yet besides Solitaire and IE Explorer to make it run slowly!"

And on and on. Luckily I am married to a computer whiz, and she quickly pointed me in the correct direction (the extra disks contained duplicate data, and my non-Toshiba software was ready to load from our gazillion-GB home external drive).

Then this morning I interacted vicariously with a tech support person via a student in one of my online classes who was having a problem with his brand new laptop. The machine runs Windows 7, and our university operating system is Blackboard, the leading online classroom platform in the known universe. The student was frustrated because he kept getting booted out of a quiz.

The student called the tech support folks, who dismissed his query with a comment that "Blackboard is not compatible with IE-8." This puzzled me, as it boggles the mind that the leading online software would not be compatible with the leading Internet browser. This is almost like saying unleaded gasoline is incompatible with 2010 model American automobiles (E-85 models excepted).

I politely told the student that the techie may have been stoned or something, because I use IE-8 without problems on Blackboard. My very first Google query using the terms "Blackboard" and "IE 8 issues" turned up the solution, which is that there is a quirk in IE-8 settings that can be easily fixed to eliminate the Blackboard booting problem.

Each of the above tech support people are supposed to be experts in their respective fields, yet none of them could provide even a dollop of useful advice. Now, I know that some folks who call tech support centers are clueless themselves, but in the above three cases the person making the queries clearly communicated the problems, and the techies seemed to either be incompetent or deliberately sabotaging the "help" process.

It almost gets to the point where I start thinking that tech support is an utter waste of my time, which makes me question why we as consumers are paying for this uselessness.

Jun 27, 2010

The Quote Shelf

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

Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.
-- John Ruskin

Jun 26, 2010

Brick Identification Mystery - COLL-B CO

We purchased a few hundred used bricks from a local resident after reading an ad on Craigslist the other day. When we arrived today to pick up the bricks, I noticed that a dozen or so of the bricks were not the modern paving/landscaping bricks we expected, but were instead much older and contained the following inscription: COLL-B CO.

I spent the last 20 minutes or so scanning a few brick collector websites, but had no luck in identifying the manufacturer and range of dates during which these bricks might have been manufactured. Unfortunately, just in Ohio alone there have been more than 2,300 brickmakers over the past 200 years, and I have not been able to locate a definitive encyclopedia or Web reference dedicated to American brick makers with images useful in identification. The wear and erosion on the brick reminds me of the sort of wear I would expect to see on a late-19th century building, but of course I am not an sort of expert in determining the age of a piece of masonry.

Thus, I throw my brick query to the Internet: if you can identify the manufacturer, or if you have better suggestions on identifying these bricks, feel free to post your thoughts in the Comments section. What I find amazing on a needle-in-haystack post like this is that someone, somewhere, and sometime will have the same question and will wind up on this post via Google.

Jun 25, 2010

Gargantuan Killer Lilies on Steroids!

Left: gargantuan lilies

The post title is meant to convey a projected title for a potential film on some lilies that achieved colossal proportions in one of my gardens. When I purchased these flowers last year from a vendor at Toledo's Erie Street Market, they were about two feet in height, the sort of lilies one might purchase for Mom on Easter or Mother's Day.

Then over the winter these lilies decided to go all Hulk on me.

To give you a sense of scale, the lilies in the first picture are approaching the size of the flower stalk of a yucca plant that is over eight feet in height. When the uppermost blossoms open, the tallest of these lilies will be about six-and-a-half feet tall. These lilies have stalks as thick as a broom handle, and the blossoms span almost a foot across.

These lilies are like the Manute Bol of horticulture.

Left: colossal pink lily

Yet these prodigious perennials possess much more than mere size in their catalog. I have been impatiently waiting for the blossoms on these plants to open, and this morning they finally began to offer up their colorful petals to the world. For a moment I was almost in awe of the bright magenta hues that literally appeared overnight, and I reminded myself that they were worth the wait.

I have no special gardening tips for producing such giant lilies out of otherwise ordinary plants. I water them briefly every day there is no rain, and I added some leaf mulch over the winter to this garden. In the spring I tossed a bit of Miracle Grow in this garden, but I actually avoided the area in which the lilies are growing, and I doubt that any fertilizer beyond a small amount of runoff ever reached their underground bulbs.

Sometimes dumb luck is just better than skill.

Jun 23, 2010

Seeking Opinions on a Mystery Flower

While shopping early this spring I picked up a bunch of bulbs at Kroger that looked eye-catching, at least on the packaging. Unfortunately, I am at the age where random bits of information occasionally evaporate in my forty-something brain, and I do not recall what, exactly, I planted.

Pictured on your left is the mystery flower, which is a fuchsia-hued blossom with six petals perched atop a grass-like stem that is about three feet in height. I do not recall if I planted a rhizome or a bulb, but I am sure this flower did not develop from seeds.

My initial guess is that this plant is a member of the genus Sisyrinchium, commonly known as "Blue-eyed Grasses," though these are not true grasses. Anyways, feel free to leave your educated guesses in the Comments section.

Jun 22, 2010

On Subway and the Salmonella Outbreak

I read with some interest the news that Subway restaurants in Illinois are linked with a Salmonella outbreak that has already sickened 97 people, 26 of whom had to be hospitalized. When I traveled overseas two years ago I returned with a wicked case of Salmonellosis that defied three different antibiotics, and I was sick for several weeks.

So I feel the pain and misery of the Illinois Salmonellosis victims.

The restaurant chain ceased using onions, tomatoes, green peppers, and lettuce as a precautionary measure, but at this point the source of the microbes has yet to be discovered. Given the fact the outbreak has been traced to Subway restaurants in 28 Illinois counties, it is doubtful that this is related to Subway employees, though this did not stop Illinois health department officials from ordering thetesting of food handlers in 46 restaurants linked to the outbreak.

The microbe responsible for the outbreak is known as Salmonella serotype Hvittingfoss, and this strain is relatively rare as serotypes of Salmonella go. This also implies that a single source - probably an inventory item supplied by a vendor that the affected restaurants shared - is responsible for the outbreak.

Just an opinion from a semi-informed source: I worked in the restaurant industry for 25 years, and one of my research interests as a historian is in epidemiological history.

Jun 21, 2010

The Quote Shelf

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

Wisdom is knowing what to do next, skill is knowing how to do it, and virtue is doing it.
-- David Starr Jordan

Jun 20, 2010

Red Poppies and Family History

Some time ago I wrote about how I have been collecting seeds and bulbs from my grandfather's gardens, and how I am using my gardens to keep alive family memories. Pictured on your left are another group of family horticultural history; these are red poppies that I grew from seeds harvested from dried poppy pods at my grandfather's house.

I was unsure if the collection method I used would work, but the poppies sprouted quickly and seem to be thriving in the corner of my lot in which I planted them. This is an area with heavy dog traffic, so I sowed the seeds about a foot away from the fence and allowed the plodding dogs to perform my plant-thinning for me.

These will be another annual reminder of my grandfather, a man who has been an important part of my entire life, and they are a lot more rewarding as a gift than, say, designer ties.

First Zucchini of Summer

While watering and weeding my gardens this morning I noticed that the first zucchini fruits have appeared (yes, we like to call them "vegetables," but technically the parts we eat are the fruit of the ovary of the female zucchini flower). I rolled the dice this spring - a mild and warm April - and began planting seeds a few weeks earlier than normal. Thus, I will not have to wait until July to eat homegrown zucchini.

I am also experimenting this summer with a planting rotation whereby every two weeks or so I put another dozen zucchini seeds in the ground. My goal is to have a moderate amount of zucchini ripening all summer long instead of a glut of zucchini in mid-July for which I have to find willing recipients among my neighbors, family, and coworkers.

I used to be among the "grow-the-biggest-zucchini" gardening crowd, but my wife educated me that the best-tasting and juiciest zucchini are the ones that are just a few days old and that measure 9 to 12 inches in length. Few gardening pleasures can top the taste of a fresh-picked zucchini on scorching summer afternoon.

Jun 18, 2010

Mer-Man: The Ultimate Gift for ... Someone, Though I'm Not Sure Who

While traveling in Montreal a few weeks ago, I came across an oddity in a tourist-oriented gift shop. Pictured on your left is a Mer-Man, complete with bow-tie and martini glass.

To describe this unusual item as "kitschy" is an understatement, and I have difficulty imagining the sort of home or office where a half-naked Mer-Man would add to the building's ambiance and aesthetics. Yet there must be some sort of market for 2-foot-tall plastic Mer-Men, as the shop owner had quite a few in their Mer-boxes in addition to the display Mer-Men.

However, I suspect that potential Mer-owners do not share my sense of artistic excellence, or my definition of "beauty," and they probably do not much care what I think about plastic Mer-Men.

Jun 17, 2010

Random Wikiness

When I am looking for intellectual inspiration - or during those times when I am utterly and completely bored beyond hope - I occasionally visit Wikipedia and use 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 click took me to a Wikipedia page on the Child Ballads, which are a collection of traditional folk ballads assembled by Francis James Child. The ballads range in age from the thirteenth century through the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and many were obtained from printed broadsides. Child's collection remains an important source for modern folk artists, and artists as diverse as Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span, Joan Baez, and Ween have mined the Child Ballads for inspiration.

My next randomized journey was to a page devoted to information on the flowering plants that fall under the genus Anubias. Native to tropical central and western Africa, Anubias plants typically grow in the running water of rivers and streams, but sometimes are located in stagnant marshes. Anubias are often used in aquariums, and they prefer lower levels of lighting. Some species of Anubias also produce underwater flowers, and the genus was named after the Egyptian god Anubis, the god of the afterlife.

Though I have taught Ohio history in the past, I knew very little about Rufus P. Spalding prior to a random click onto the Wikipedia page dedicated to the nineteenth century Ohio politician, lawyer and judge. Spalding left the Democratic Party for the Free Soil Party in 1850 due to the Democratic Party's support of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which he considered to be both illegal and immoral. Interestingly, Spalding unsuccessfully defended the last ex-slave to be returned to the South from Ohio under the Fugitive Slave laws.

My last randomized Wikipedia page examined the life of Nikola Tavelić, a fourteenth-century Franciscan missionary in Palestine who was the first Croatian saint and a man who undoubtedly never had a need for a product like phentermine. Tavelić and three other missionaries were martyred near the Jaffa Gate on November 14, 1391, and he was canonized by Pope Paul VI in in Rome on June 21, 1970.

Jun 16, 2010

Refilled HP Ink Cartridges

Left: fresh out-of-the-box refilled HP ink cartridge

As much as I try to print all my university-related documents when I am at a university printer, inevitably I end up using my own printer ink to print out papers that students email me. Thus, I am cost conscious and desirous of reducing the amount of money I spend on printing, and my wife suggested today that I check out OfficeMax for refilled printer cartridges.

Now, we have filled our own cartridges at home in the past with mixed success, but this is a rather messy process and not all printer cartridges lend themselves well to home-based refilling. I was pleasantly surprised to find that OfficeMaz offers the refilled HP 74 black ink cartridge I needed at less than half the cost of a new HP cartridge.

HP provides a ton of statistics as to why a new HP cartridge is cheaper than a refilled cartridge, but of course they are in the business of selling replacement cartridges. I am interested in hearing your thoughts on refilled ink cartridges, so feel free to leave them in the Comments section.

And link-spammers: save your spam, as I will delete the inevitable wave of overseas spam this post is likely to generate.

Jun 15, 2010

Rapid Rhetoric: REPOUSSÉ

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.

repoussé (reh-poo-SAY) n. a metalworking technique whereby a malleable metal is embossed, shaped, or ornamented by punching or hammering from the reverse side.

Derived most recently from the French language, the word repoussé means "pushed up," and earlier the word has origins from Latin verb pulsare, which means "to push." These days Gold and silver are most commonly used for repoussé efforts, while copper, tin, and bronze have been used in the more distant past.

I came across the term repoussé while thumbing through a copy of Gardner's Art Through the Ages: The Western Perspective. In the book I noticed a famous example of classical repoussé techinques that might be familiar to readers:

Left: Mask of Agamemnon

Depicted in the image is a Mycenaean funerary mask that dates back to approxiamtely 1600 CE. The so-called Mask of Agamemnon is an artifact discovered at Mycenae by archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann in 1876.

While Schliemann's skills as an archaeologist left much to be desired, he certainly knew quality when he laid his eyes upon it, and the Mask of Agamemnon is among the world's finest treasures, repoussé or otherwise.

Jun 14, 2010

Department of Ironic Screen CAPTCHAS

Left: humorous Facebook screen CAPTCHA

Generally I find screen CAPTCHA website tests to be annoying, especially when the software subroutine kicks in on a website in which I am already logged in. Such was the case with the CAPTCHA on your left, which I recorded for posterity after running into it on Facebook.

While on an intellectual level I understand that these CAPTCHA moments are randomly generated, I could not help but think the software was trying to communicate with me when it generated the words "to prolong" as my CAPTCHA. After all, both me and the software experienced a prolonging of our efforts because of this CAPTCHA.

Almost reminds me of HAL 9000: "I am putting myself to the fullest possible use, which is all I think that any conscious entity can ever hope to do."

Highly Recommended - Computer Renaissance of Toledo

Folks in the Toledo area who have computer problems should consider Computer Renaissance for technical expertise. I was quite impressed with the speed and service that the techies at Computer Renaissance provided, as they replaced my failing hard drive within two days. In fact, if I had provided them with my cellular number instead of my home phone number (I missed their call Friday afternoon) I could have had my machine back within 24 hours.

Prior to this encounter, I was unaware that Computer Renaissance is a chain of computer specialists, though I should qualify this statement by adding that these are independently owned franchises. However, unlike other chain computer repair operations, like Best Buy's useless Geek Squad, these are hardcore geeks who can tackle any repair the customer needs. Best Buy told us this would be a three-week endeavor with shipping back to a Toshiba repair center, which is completely unacceptable for someone like me who derives his living in large measure from the Internet.

Fair prices, fast service, and knowledgeable geeks: what more could a person want from a computer repair specialist?

And a word of advice to anyone reading this: we opted to reload our own software to save a few bucks, but in my opinion this aggravation is well worth a technician's time if you are not cash-starved. I have spent about ten hours of my time (with the requisite mistakes and snafus that required extra research) getting my machine back to pre-Armageddon status, time that could have been spent more productively on my end. I suspect that a techie would have spent less than a third of that, and that person would have probably been jumping back and forth between repair jobs while everything loaded.

Jun 12, 2010

Hard Drive Crash - Blog Hiatus

Left: the bane of my virtual existence

The hard drive on my relatively new Toshiba Satellite A505-S6980 failed, and consequently my Internet access will be spotty the next few days. Luckily both Windows 7 and the Toshiba utilities recognized that the hard drive was failing, and I was able to back up and save most of my files and applications.

Thus, it may be another day or two before my life returns to normal and I update this blog. I am already going through laptop withdrawal, though I suppose I could design furniture using paper and pencil if I became especially bored.

Jun 11, 2010

BBC Video on Youngstown Features Gun Pointed at Obama

Left: click for larger image of screen capture

While showing a short video to my Ohio History class produced during the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign by the BBC about the city of Youngstown, Ohio, one of my students noticed something odd: the producers of the spot deliberately paired up one image of an Ohio man pointing a rifle alongside another image with then-candidate Barack Obama standing with blue collar workers in Youngstown.

The lecture focused on the central status of post-industrial Ohio as sort of the epicenter of the American Rust Belt, and I intended the video to be a conversation starter about how Ohio cities might rebuild and once again thrive. The last time I showed this video I noted that it took a few political cheap shots, like the political cartoons it showed while broadcasting a speech by John McCain that referenced Youngstown. However, I completely missed the photographic implication of violence by an Ohioan toward a presidential candidate.

Now, I might be willing to write this off as an unfortunate choice in editing were it not for the fact that the image of the rifle-pointer is Henry P. Nemenz Sr., a Youngstown area grocer. Moreover, while the image appears, a BBC reporter is interviewing Nemenz, and the business owner says the following words:
"I guess there's one real strong reason why I d not support Obama, and he has made a promise to the unions in the United States that he will make it easier to unionize businesses."
It is clear to me (and to my students) that the BBC deliberately chose an image of Nemenz pointing a gun at Barack Obama to use during the portion of the interview in which Nemenz spells out his distaste for Obama's politics. Here is a link to the video, and the image and interview in question can be picked up around the 6:45 mark:

Now, I might disagree with some of the political views of Henry Nemenz, but I highly doubt that the business owner would advocate taking the life of an American president, even one with whom he holds divergent political opinions. Heck, I doubt that even Michael Moore would cross the line into the legally questionable area of suggesting violence be meted out to political opponents, even in a moment of video snarkiness.

I call a low blow, and I urge the BBC to apologize to my fellow Ohioan Henry Nemenz if they have not already done so. One article suggests that Nemenz may not be a saint, but he is far from a President-shooting lunatic, and the BBC owes him an apology.

Jun 9, 2010

On the 2010 Arrival of Tiger Lilies and Regional Climate Observations

I have been in the habit the last few years of using my garden photography and blog posts as virtual markers for the seasons, and the arrival of the first tiger lily of 2010 sent me back into my blog archives. The first of these orange beauties arrived on June 21 in 2009, on June 18 in 2008, and on June 17 in 2007. Tiger lilies, which have the scientific name of Hemerocallis fulva, first bloomed in my yard on June 17 in 2006.

Thus, in keeping with the early arrival of an especially mild spring in 2010 in Northwest Ohio, it should not be surprising to find that the tiger lilies (also known as "ditch lilies") are beginning to bloom in my yard a full eight days ahead of the earliest date I have recorded.

No, I am not attributing any change in blooming schedule to global warming, though one might make a case that the 2009 El Niño could be involved. Many meteorologists blamed El Niño for the subtropical conditions at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, and we went frost-free in Northwest Ohio after about April 10 or so this year. Normally I use Mother's Day as my guide to start planting seeds, a date after which there is less than a 10 percent chance of frost, but this year I rolled the dice and started planting seeds around April 12.

Reporting Malware to Google

While engaging in some Internet research yesterday, I clicked on a site that tried to upload malware and viruses to my laptop. Fortunately my antivirus licked in and protected my computer, but I was pissed that the site so cleverly disguised itself as a legitimate academic site, as I tend to pride myself on my ability to look at search summaries and URLs to avoid such virtual garbage.

While pondering my options after the attack I mentioned to a friend the incident, and this person said: "Hey - Google has a malware/evil website for reporting such nonsense." Sure enough, Google does indeed have a site to report malicious software delivered by websites, and the form is quite simple: just enter the URL, enter a CAPTCHA code, and briefly explain the nature of the malware problem.

I am not sure about the effectiveness of the tool to date, but keep this in mind the next time some malevolent site designer tries to jack your computer.

Jun 8, 2010

On the Death of Larry Kaczala and Predictable Toledo Blade Hatchet Jobs

It was with shock and sadness that I read today of the apparent suicide of Larry Kaczala, former Lucas County auditor and local fixture in Republican political circles. I met Larry a few times over the years in my work as a journalist (and once years ago when I was a card-carrying member of the Republican Party), and I found him to be a likable, friendly, and honest public servant who always returned calls and provided accurate and insightful commentary.

In short, he was a rarity in politics.

Yet in some ways I was even more disturbed to see that the Toledo Blade, the largest local paper and a newspaper long known around these parts for its transparent political agendas, chose on the day of this tragedy to once again smear the name of Larry Kaczala. You see, the Blade in mid-2005 ran a series uncovering the illegal activity of Tom Noe, a local political kingmaker whose fall from grace is encapsulated in the scandal known as Coingate. Kaczala's "sin" was to have accepted a total of $6,000 from Noe in elections in 2002 and 2004, long before the truth about Coingate began to leak.

Of course, it does not matter that practically anyone with an "R" after their name in local and regional politics unknowingly accepted what would later be discovered as tainted campaign cash. Heck, even the campaigns of California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and President George W. Bush received funds that were connected to Noe.

Of course, those well-funded campaigns could easily refund the cash and wash their metaphorical hands. Kaczala's campaign war chests had long been emptied by the time the Coingate story broke, as he lost handily in the 2004 election to incumbent Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur. Thus, for Kaczala to "clear" his name in the eyes of the Blade's editors and publisher, he would have had to use personal funds to try and buy his name back.

Here is the Blade's cheap-shot post-mortem attack on Kaczala (documented here in case they decide to edit their online tackiness):
Mr. Kaczala had unsuccessfully challenged U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) in 2004, a campaign that many felt cost him the auditor's race two years later because it allowed Ms. Lopez to raise the fact that convicted GOP fund-raiser Tom Noe and his wife, Bernadette, gave Mr. Kaczala $6,000 for his campaign to unseat Ms. Kaptur.

The poor man is not even in the ground yet and the Blade is tossing around Coingate for a pathetic attempt to once again rehash a story that should have long ago died its natural journalistic death. Unfortunately, the Blade continues to milk every possible mile out of the Coingate story, and any story with even the most remote of Noe connections gets the Coingate treatment. Even worse, a well-placed local source apparently spoke a few hours ago with Dave Murray, the Blade's managing editor, and he was quoted as indicating that the "Coingate reference was news-worthy and they would be writing more about Larry's Noe connections in tomorrow's article." Maybe Murray feels a little guilty right about now, as his latest Twitter post says that Kaczala was a "great guy."

Shame on you, Toledo Blade. Your attempts to squeeze cheap ratings at the expense of Larry Kaczala are as unabashedly sickening as anything the paper has ever done, and one wonders how Murray and the writers associated with this vile nonsense can sleep at night.

Let Larry Kaczala rest in peace.

Full disclosure: I occasionally work as a freelance writer for other local papers, including the Toledo Free Press. This post probably dooms any future I might have as a freelancer for the Blade, but I doubt I would be able to work with an organization with such few corporate scruples and still respect myself in the morning.

Jun 7, 2010

Helping the Lake Township and Dundee Tornado Victims

Left: tornado damage in Millbury, OH; photo courtesy of Toledo Blade/ Dave Zapotosky

Like many people, I am shocked at the extent of damage that killer tornadoes wrought upon Northwest Ohio and Southeast Michigan Saturday night and Sunday morning. I thought I might use this post to spread the word about the need for donations and how people might help the tornado victims.

If you would like to volunteer to help tornado victims in Dundee, please call the Dundee Municipal Offices at 734-529-3430. People who want to donate to the Monroe County chapter of the Red Cross should call 734-289-1481.

Due to the outpouring of donated food and clothing by residents of Northwest Ohio in the first two days after the tragedy, the Red Cross no longer requests donations of goods. The organization is now seeking monetary donations for the tornado victims in Millbury and other affected areas in Ohio. People can make donations at All Saints Church, 628 Lime City Rd. in Rossford or by visiting the Greater Toledo Red Cross website. Concerned area residents can make monetary donations at the Red Cross regional offices, which is located in the Westgate area at 3100 W. Central Ave.

Jun 6, 2010

RIP: Collingwood Manor and Georgian Manor

Left: The former Georgian Manor on Collingwood Boulevard in Toledo

(Toledo, OH) While walking with my wife through Toledo's historic Old West End today (this is the final day of the Old West End Festival) I stopped to gaze for a few minutes at a pair of old buildings that once operated as hotels: the Georgian Manor and Collingwood Manor. Unfortunately, the Old West End Historic District Commission recently voted to demolish these structures, and two more pieces of Toledo's vanishing history will likely fall victims to the wrecking ball.

Even more distressing is that these once-proud buildings are in such a state of decay that it would take millions of dollars to refurbish them even to the point where an investor might be willing to consider purchasing them. The only residents the buildings have hosted in the past few years have been squatters, though the thoughtful article by J.C. Reindl of the Toledo Blade claims that units were rented out until a few years ago.

The neighborhood is faced with essentially two choices: tear down history or watch it continue to decay. I had to scrape away a few years of accumulated leaves and debris to read the still beautiful glazed tile that once welcomed guests to the hotels:

Left: decorative ceramic tiles in front of the former Collingwood Manor

This is an era of tight municipal, county, and state budgets, so it probably would not even be worth the effort to seek government preservation funds for such dilapidated buildings. Yet it still bothers me that these buildings have been allowed to become demolition-worthy sources of urban blight.

Then there is the issue of the post-demolition empty space that will remain after these buildings are razed. The Old West End is a nationally registered historic district, and future development must meet the rigorous standards associated with erecting new structures in a historic district. My suspicion is that these tracts will simply end up turning into vacant weed-infested land that the city will cut twice a year.

That does not sound much like "progress" to me.

Jun 5, 2010

Book Review: The Buck Stops Here - The 28 Toughest Presidential Decisions and How They Changed History

Thomas J. Craughwell and Edward Kiester, Jr.

Fairwinds Press, 2010

288 pages

Though I am not a historian who spends much time on the oft-derided Great Man theory, I am sensible enough to recognize that powerful individuals can sometimes exert a significant effect on the course of history through their actions. The authors of The Buck Stops Here - The 28 Toughest Presidential Decisions and How They Changed History waded through American political, military, and diplomatic history in their pursuit of those moments when individual presidents made decisions with profound consequences.

A number of the profiled decisions are no-brainers for a list like this, such as Jefferson's Louisiana Purchase and Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. Yet other decisions selected by the authors were quite unexpected, such as Theodore Roosevelt's dinner invitation to Booker T. Washington in 1901 and Dwight D. Eisenhower's decision to create the Interstate Highway System.

The authors of The Buck Stops Here selected 28 presidential decisions that proved to be particularly influential in the unfolding of U.S. history, and each decision merits a separate chapter in the book. This highly readable text contains a wealth of relevant images and scanned primary source documents, placing this text somewhere between mere popular history and the more rigorous material found in academic texts. While I disagreed with some analyses and the choices of presidential decisions (for example, no mention of George W. Bush and the Iraq/Afghanistan wars or Andrew Jackson's Indian Removal Act), the book was both thoughtful and entertaining, and a wide spectrum of readers will find The Buck Stops Here to be an excellent read.

Jun 4, 2010

Fiddlehead Fern

While traveling last week in Montreal I paid a visit to the city's Jean-Talon Market district. Though I consider myself fairly well versed in all matters related to the culinary arts, I was surprised to see the intriguing fiddlehead ferns depicted on your left. These are unfurled young ferns that are harvested for use in salads or as accompaniments to dishes such as seafood or poultry.

The fiddlehead ferns are apparently an excellent source of antioxidants, though there are some concerns about the toxicity of some varieties. However, I cannot provide a first-hand report on the taste of the ferns, as the vendor only spoke French and I was not bold enough to stuff a slimy-looking and unknown plants down my gullet. More experienced connoisseurs of the fiddlehead fern may weigh in with a gastronomical opinion in the Comments section of the blog.

Jun 3, 2010

Architectural Symmetry

(Montréal, QC) Pictured on your left is an image taken from just north of the Place d'Armes in Vieux-Montréal. I was struck by the geometric near-perfection of the way the buildings seemed to seamlessly descend as they approached the Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal, which can be seen in the lower right hand corner of the image.

Given the fact that these buildings were constructed in different eras, it is doubtful that there was much in the way of planning involved in this view. More likely this is an eye-appealing coincidence that only geeks like me would notice, people fascinated with symmetry in nature and human attempts to reshape the natural world. There does not yet exist an architectural equivalent to the stretch marks creams that produce aesthetically appealing results, so we have to find visually stunning vistas where we can.

I have yet to capture in an image my favorite piece of architectural symmetry, which is an old church in Detroit that - when approached by southbound Interstate 75 near Interstate 94 - stands just below the Renaissance Center in the view toward downtown. The effect is intriguing, as the church appears to be a miniature shadow of the RenCen.


Jun 2, 2010

The Quote Shelf

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

That's the problem with drinking, I thought, as I poured myself a drink. If something bad happens you drink in an attempt to forget; if something good happens you drink in order to celebrate; and if nothing happens you drink to make something happen.
-- Charles Bukowski

Jun 1, 2010

Department of Unwritten Captions: Café Arsenik

(Montréal, QC) First a disclaimer: the Café Arsenik is a very real restaurant, and this is not PhotoShopped faux-tography. The Café Arsenik is attached to the Montréal Science Centre, and the food offerings are surprisingly tasty for a place with such a sinister-sounding name. Unfortunately the friendly-but-Francophile Québécois behind the counter only knew about 50 words of English, and my attempts to discern the name choice did not bear fruit.

Still, the Café Arsenik's name is also ripe for parody and satire, not to mention humorous captions. Feel free to offer suggestions in the Comments section of the demented uses for the name "Café Arsenik" that come to mind, though acne products reviews might be a rhetorical stretch.