Monday, January 31, 2011

Doing It Again

Time to squeeze in one last post this month, although as I look back a lot of this month has consisted of repetitions of various events. For example, as I write this we are getting more snow, the removal or at least organizing of which is starting to become a problem. At least we had a few days of relative warmth which melted some of the previous accumulation.

The news also seems a bit repetitive. Headline News is breathlessly hashing over Charlie Sheen's latest troubles, which are just his old troubles, and discussing whether CBS can/should fire him from Two and a Half Men. I tend to think CBS will keep him around, if only because the show is still a success. The fact that his character on the show is only about two steps behind his real life might also actually help him keep his job. It's not like he's ever been a role model on there.

I find the Egyptian turmoil a bit familiar as well, perhaps because it's the Middle East. Let's not forget that Mobarak came to power after Anwar El-Sadat was assassinated for talking peace. It also reminds me of some of our Cold War follies, when U.S. support of some pretty unsavory characters because they were anti-Communist blew up in our faces. I did find it interesting that an eyewitness from South Dakota who was still there said that that most of the protests were in a small area in Cairo, and that no one had threatened them.

One personal event was also a sequel. My wife got to take another ambulance to Sioux Falls after the local hospital spent two days not figuring out what was causing her chest pain. The local ambulance service decided the roads were too bad for a non-emergency transport and refused to take her, so an ambulance from the Sioux Falls area (Brandon, to be specific) came and got her, which delayed her arrival by about 5 hours. On a positive note, this time an actual diagnosis (stable angina) with a strategy for treatment was reached. In my wife's case, while the affected blood vessels are too small for the standard installation of stints, her condition is treatable with medication and cardiac therapy. They also found that a blockage which had been discovered last time is now gone, which vindicates her previous regimen and makes the idea of paying the upcoming bills a bit more palatable.

Even our income tax refund was partially a repeat, in that we always designate part of it for the same thing; payment of property taxes. (I think of this bit of irony every time I see debates over tax cuts/increases; you always end up paying someone.) This year we had enough left over to buy a much-needed new bed. It had been many moons since I shopped for one, and I was surprised to see how much thicker mattresses had gotten; our sheets barely fit the new bed despite it being the same size as the old one. Overall, though, it has been a vast upgrade, as well as an opportunity for me to dispose of another remnant of my previous marriage.

One item that was new; Grandbaby had her first early childhood screening. This was partially motivated by concern over an allegedly developing lisp, which I had never seen and was attributing to her often-displayed and apparently congenital (although I am frequently blamed for this despite the lack of a genetic connection) Stink Pot Syndrome; she was probably just goofing around to see how it sounded. The testers also found no evidence of any speech impediment. In fact they were quite impressed with her abilities in that area, especially her use of relatively complete sentences, which they said was well above her age. She scored well in almost all the tests, the exception being cognitive skills, which was mostly attributable to her unwillingness to participate in a drawing test, probably because she didn't like having to draw on the same paper as the tester (see above Stink Pot Syndrome).

On that good note it's on to February. Hopefully if this repetitiveness continues there will be more positive.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Waves,Vibrations and Minding My Own Business

A few random thoughts while basking in the afterglow of successfully completing my tax return...

Every time I hear Walking On Sunshine by Katrina and the Waves on one of the classic rock radio stations (we have 3 FM stations here, two of which are classic rock) I can't help but think about the the pure coincidences of life (unless you think that whoever named the hurricane did so with the band in mind) and the effects they can have. I'm guessing that song still isn't on play lists in Louisiana and Mississippi.

The ad for the oscillating workout weight reminds me of the old machines that used a vibrating belt to supposedly jiggle the weight off while the person stood there. I also have to believe that sex toy technology is related to it somehow.

Speaking of ads and sex toys, there's something slightly amusing about the the way the Trojan TV commercial for vibrators describes the product almost to the point of an actual demonstration, then promises discreet delivery.

I've been avoiding most of the post-Tuscon-shooting publicity because it makes me a bit uncomfortable. The lack of any direct personal connection makes following that too closely seem a bit too voyeuristic for my taste. The people involved have enough on their minds without strangers like me poking in, even if only electronically.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

eBay, Space Bags and Bad TV

This is coming to you via a newly upgraded computer, now with eight times the memory! The old routine of starting the computer, taking a shower, eating lunch, then coming back to see if it has finished booting up is no more. The upgrade came courtesy of an eBay dealer my brother (an eBay veteran) says is reputable. Naturally, I let my brother do the purchasing; I just installed the memory, which itself was something of a novelty for me. I hadn't opened up a PC with serious intent in a long time, so I printed off instructions, which showed me how much easier making such modifications has become. It took longer to clean out the dust than to install the memory.

Speaking of eBay, its mention always reminds me of an old friend, now deceased, who loved it. He also liked to drink, which occasionally resulted in some purchases later regretted. However his frugality always overcame the booze, so the amount spent was never large. But I bet his relatives were astounded when they cleaned out his house after his death.

Whenever I see the TV ad for Space Bags, with the opening line about having too much stuff and not enough space, I always think (and sadly sometimes say out loud), "get rid of some of the stuff!" This is not a knock on the product. My second wife bought some, and although - like most products - the process isn't as smooth or easy as advertised, they do basically work. I just think the thought process involved could be put to better use. If the item in question has sunk in usefulness to the point that you are considering putting it into vacuum storage, perhaps you should sell or give it to someone else.

As I clicked past a reality show (I couldn't tell you which one) the other day, I thought of something I saw on the TCM series Moguls and Movie Stars. In the early days of movies the scripts were rudimentary, only setting up a general story line, with sections often saying no more than, "Keaton (or whoever) improvises for five minutes". This is basically what reality show producers do now, provide a basic framework and tell the participants to just go to it. The big difference is instead of seasoned performers like Buster Keaton with proven ability to entertain, we get people off the street, resulting in... well, you've seen it.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Unexpected, Good and Bad

I've been doing something unusual, at least for me; pondering the recently past holiday season. Normally I like to move on quickly, with a sigh of relief that I can do so. Due to family complications, some past holiday seasons were strung out interminably, with gatherings from just after Thanksgiving to early February, which has made the past few relatively simple years that much more enjoyable. But this past season has hung on in the mind a bit.

It started off fairly straightforward. My family had been able to set up a gathering on December 26 at my brother's house, which wouldn't even require rearranging my work schedule. Even better, everyone would be there, so there wouldn't be that lingering get-someone-their-gifts-later hangover. My wife had set up two suppers for our kids and grandkids at our house; one on the 24th and one on the 25th, with only the former involving gift opening. I wasn't sure why we had a pair of suppers, but I had pretty much handed everything over to my wife (several times I looked at the stack of presents under our tree and realized I had no idea what they were or who was getting them) so I had no right to ask too many questions. I was just happy everything was under control.

Then on the evening of the 23rd My wife's Grandmother died. It wasn't out of the blue, since she was 95 and her health had recently been failing dramatically, but the speed of her downturn (until less than month before her death she had not only been living in her own apartment but taking care of her polio-crippled son) did catch people off-guard. As the obituary stated with the understatement common to such writings, this affected a lot of people in a lot of places. It also added another large amount of planning of a very different sort to the holiday mix. The end result: holiday gatherings on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, a funeral on Monday, and the need to take a day off on Tuesday to put life back together.

I must say that there were few problems; all the events went off with few hitches. But the overall atmosphere of the season took a decided turn. Not just the obvious damper a death puts on everything, but also a slight change in the other direction. The funeral was held at a Catholic church still decorated for Christmas which, along with the presence of a large number of small children who didn't really know the deceased and who still had Christmas on their minds, seemed to lighten the overall mood. The speed with which everything happened and the fact that the funeral was added into an already hectic time also prevented feelings from sinking too low for too long.

I sense that it led to a bit of a hangover, though (the fact that I'm typing this now is a good indicator). The putting in order of various death-related personal affairs was held up by the holidays, and there's a certain "what just happened?" feel. Just last night Grandbaby asked about going to see "Grandma Aggie and the birds", the latter being birds that the nursing home keeps and I suspect her main focus, but nevertheless a reminder of all that had gone on.

After finally being able to take the time to reflect, I have to say the season went just about completely unexpectedly. There were unexpected events, with effects that weren't exactly what would be expected from such events. About the only predictable outcome was my relief that it's over.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

To Playoff, or Not Playoff

As John Lennon said, another year over and a new one just begun. I could have gotten by without snow up to my rear, but as the saying goes, it's that time of year.

Sifting through the various college football bowl games naturally brings to mind the idea of a playoff for top-tier teams. Many have said much about this, and a few like Mark Cuban have backed the idea with cash, so I may as well chime in, although even as I type this I realize that the more I think about it the less I care. But what is blogging for if not spouting off about subjects like this?

The most obvious idea is something similar to what is done in the other divisions; a straightforward playoff bracket. I think 8 teams would be sufficient, and they could use the BCS rankings to determine who gets in. There would still be plenty of argument about that last spot, but I think most people would agree that one of those 8 who beat 3 others in 2 weeks would be deserving of the championship trophy. This could be done in the same time frame as the others, early December. This would allow the bowls to continue to do their thing and create the possibility of intriguing match ups, such as a championship rematch or a chance for a team that thought it got hosed out of the playoff to prove it by beating the champs or another playoff team.

A variation on this would use the existing bowls. Again, 8 teams, 7 games, two weeks. This would allow more bowl games to have real meaning, as opposed to now where only one game has the championship aura. It would also have a trickle-down effect on the other bowl games, since only 8 teams instead of 14 would occupy the top 7 bowl games, leaving better teams for the others. It could still be done in the current bowl season.

Again, the more I ponder this the harder it is to get really excited. The existence of a Division 1-A football playoff system really isn't that important. Indeed, it could be argued that the absence of a playoff lowers the stakes and keeps the game in something closer to a proper perspective, although anyone who follows the game knows that isn't actually the case. I haven't heard anything to indicate that any real change is in order, so I guess the best thing to do is just enjoy the games for they are and not worry about it.