Smart people who disagree with me

On the TV show "The West Wing" president Bartlett–a Democrat–at one point decided he wanted a Republican as one of his key advisors.  When quizzed about WHY he would want that, the deputy chief of staff (if I recall correctly) replied, "the president likes smart people who disagree with him."

I post here a series of tweets from John C Welch (@bynkii, if you care, and he’s Googlable if you want anything else) that deal loosely with the subject:

[bynkii] pondered unfollowing vs. banning today. conclusion: Unfollowing is how a grownup deals w/ people they disagree with/don’t like on twitter…

…Don’t want to deal with someone’s twitspew? unfollow. you can still interact, but at a slower pace.

Banning is ultimately a petulant juvenile act of hiding that doesn’t work anyway. But some folks can only handle ‘A’ rides.

I learn a lot from people who vehemently disagree with me. I learn a lot from people who agree with me as well.

In both cases, usually things I’d have never thought of myself, because they have different viewpoints and worldviews.

I learn nothing by hiding from people. Better to be pissed off than miss out on learning.

I’ve known many people in my Life who behave this way.  If they disagree with something, they write it off completely.  I suppose in the short term that’s fine, but to never revisit "it" again just because you didn’t care for it once is short-sighted.  As humans, we are constantly growing and maturing.  Our experiences, our attitudes, and our bodies are always changing.  To assume permanence of anything in this existence is folly at best.

I see this most in my peers, many/most of whom see no value whatsoever in gathering with counterparts from other institutions to see how things are done at their places of employment.  When asked, they’ll tell me they’re bored or that there’s nothing to learn.  While I respect their opinion, I scoff inwardly.  That attitude suggests that WE somehow "have it all figured out" and that our systems and methodologies are perfect and that we have nothing to learn.  That smacks of arrogance and arrogance usually leads to a Fall of some kind. 

I want no part of that.  I enthusiastically seek out these forums.  I see them as win/win.  I’ll either learn something I didn’t know and can take that information back to my own organization an attempt to improve it, or I’ll get validation that our ways are the Right Ways (for us) and can share that wisdom with others who may benefit from it. 

In my experience, a whole lot of BOTH actually goes on.  And either way, I’m better for it.

It’s travel time again!

I am accompanying Brady to Arkansas to see his girlfriend.  Well, he is going to see his girlfriend.  On behalf of Amanda, Jeannie, Darren, and myself; I am going to "meet the parents".  It seems that despite Brady introducing Victoria to Amanda and me and Victoria introducing Brady to HER parents (in D.C. this past Summer, where they met in person for the first time), neither of them had the good sense to introduce the parents to each other.  They then did a good job of being upset when none of us (parents) would let either of them go see the other.  Maybe some day they’ll get it. 

ANYHOW, we left Syracuse at 7:30 this morning, flew to Philly, short layover there before our flight to Charlotte, and are now waiting a couple of hours before our flight from Charlotte to Little Rock departs.  Victoria lives in Mena, Arkansas, which is about a 2.5 hour drive from Little Rock. 

Aside from looking forward to meeting new people and seeing new places and trying new food, I love watching people.  Not the same people I see day-in, day-out; but NEW people.  Some people stand out:

– The guy on the plane who thinks the safety regulations don’t apply to him and leaves his tray table down despite several instructions to raise it. 

– The parents with a very small child who get on the plane, get seated and all their luggage stowed, and then–as the last of the passengers are trickling onto the (smallish) plane–THEN ask if they have time to change the little one’s diaper.

– The older sister (about 3) of the dirty-diapered little one, the parents of whom don’t seem to think that she needs to wear a seat belt. 

– The woman in the airport terminal who sits, looking furtively around with her mobile phone stuck to her ear for over 10 minutes without saying anything.  (On hold?  Nervous?  What?)

– The women with stiletto heeled, elf-toed boots.

– The people–including myself–wandering forlornly in search of AC outlets, which airports seem to go out of their way to HIDE from people. 

Brady and I had lunch in Charlotte at a BBQ place.  I had pulled pork, a fried pickle of all things, and "hush puppies" (which I mistook for mini corn dogs but were nonetheless delicious in their own right).  We have a long layover and are lazing about the terminal awaiting our flight.

More ramblings as time permit.  And check out Facebook for more pics as the trip progresses!

10 Albums/Songs that shaped me

Since both my sister and my wife have tagged me on their lists, I had to come up with my own! I, too, went a little over 10.
1) The Roaring 20’s, Vol. 4 (Enoch Light) – One of my earliest recollections of snappy, up-beat jazz; this album is full of feel-good music and lyrics that don’t weigh you down. With song titles like "Ain’t We Got Fun?", "Barney Google", and "S’wonderful", you can’t HELP but smile when you hear this album! I’m glad my Dad had TWO copies of this album. I’m pretty sure I wore one of them out! It was the first LP I digitized with my MP3 turntable.

2) Xanadu movie soundtrack – God help me, I fell in LOVE with this movie when it came out! I don’t know WHY. I was all of 12. Maybe it was ONJ at, arguably, her hottest. Maybe it was Gene Kelly, whose dancing I had seen and admired. Maybe it was the ELO songs. Or maybe it was the notion that dreams can come true. I would play my LP over and over while studying the enclosed lyrics sheet. When I later got my own boom box, the soundtrack was one of the first tapes I bought and played frequently. I bought the movie when it came out on VHS, DVD, and now always have it on my iPhone. As well as the soundtrack. 🙂

3) Eddie Murphy: Delirious – Any serious critic will have to list this somewhere on their top 10 comedy albums of all time. I first heard portions of this on the school bus heading to/from soccer games. One of the older guys had a boom box and a copy of Delirious and we would all huddle in the back. Loud enough for all of us to hear was, however, not quiet enough for Coach Bassett, sitting up front, NOT to hear it. I remember noticing him sitting in the front seat right behind the driver, facing forward, and literally bouncing up and down in his seat as he was stifling giggles and pretending not to hear it because hearing it would mean telling us we had to turn it off. The "Ice Cream Man" sketch and the Barbecue sketch are some of the funniest things done by anyone anywhere. Goonie Goo-Goo.

4) Allan Sherman’s Mother Presents: My Son The Folk Singer – My introduction to Borscht Belt humor (though I didn’t know it was called that at the time), this album was full of stuff that sounded funny to me as a kid, though I didn’t know why and would not discover and understand the references to Jewish culture for decades. I remember listening to "Sarah Jackman" with Brian Fagan and him giggling at the line, "a regular Lolita" and not knowing why (and wondering if HE knew why!). I remember not getting the double entendre in the line "My Zelda, she found her big romance when I broke the zipper in my pants" from "My Zelda". I listen to this album today and still giggle, though I still wonder what’s so funny about "Stein with an ‘e-i’ and "Styne" with a ‘y’."

5) Super Trouper (ABBA) – I’m a huge ABBA fan in general, but if I could have just one album to which to listen on a desert island, this would be the one. It has a little bit of everything I enjoy.

6) Gordon (Barenaked Ladies) – This is EARLY BNL when they were all about FUN and making fun music. There are some messages if you care to listen for them, but the music is GREAT "gettin’ stuff done" music. I will frequently just set iTunes to loop through this album for hours at a time while I’m churning through stuff at work.

7) Overture, Die Fledermaus – I know every note of this thanks to the Tom & Jerry short, "The Hollywood Bowl". I would watch T & J religiously every day after school on WPIX and this was one of my favorite episodes. I know nothing about the opera, but I LOVE the music!

8) Stuttering (Ben’s Brother) – This song appeared on TV a couple of years ago (well, 30 seconds of it, anyway) as the soundtrack for a breath mint commercial. It struck a chord in me when I was at perhaps the loneliest point of my Life. It gave me a bit of hope, and I dreamed of the day I’d play it FOR someone instead of just wishing to HAVE that someone. (AND now I have her!!!)

9) The Best of the Manhattan Transfer – The soundtrack for my senior year of High School and Freshman year of college. One of the first CDs I ever owned and still play frequently. Lots of jazz, and their rendition of "Body & Soul" is practically an education in jazz all by itself.

10) The Little Mermaid Soundtrack – This movie heralded Disney’s return to animated movie feature. I fell in love with the movie and the soundtrack. You know how with a lot of movie soundtracks most people never play the instrumental stuff? After all, that stuff never gets any radio play! Well, I play this album all the way through and LIKE IT.

11) Holding Out For A Hero (Bonnie Tyler) – Everyone has that one song that can always "get them going" no matter what. This one’s mine. I find it grossly unfortunate that it rose to fame as the soundtrack for a farm tractor chicken fight. 🙁

12) Vienna (Billy Joel) – I someday will visit this city because of this song. If #11 pumps me up, this one always makes me relax.

Cash and Credit: Time to change places!

It’s time for people who still use cash to start paying up. If you patronize small businesses, you’ve likely seen signs informing you that they have a minimum purchase amount before they will let you use a credit/debit card in their establishment. This is because of the exorbitant fees they must pay on each transaction. If they allow a transaction below that minimum, they will actually LOSE MONEY on that sale. You can’t stay in business very long by doing that! (These minimums are a direct violation of their Merchant Agreement with Mastercard/Visa, but I’ll save that rant for another day.)

When credit cards first came on the scene, they were a huge inconvenience to merchants. They had to fill out the paper slip with the customer’s information, submit the slip to the credit card company, and then wait for their money. Cash was practically instant money in the bank (after it had been officially recorded on the next business day).

But NOW “instant” truly IS instant! Technology now allows for near-instantaneous transfer of funds from account to account. The vendor gets his money immediately. CASH is now inconvenient! It means having to reconcile your cash drawer on a regular basis and schlepping to the bank to make a deposit and waiting a full day for that money to show up in your account. Even though it’s “in hand” immediately, it’s not available for your use in paying bills by check or online until the bank officially receives and acknowledges it.

So I think it’s time for a shift. Credit card companies need to completely overhaul their fee structure and make use of their services by merchants more reasonable and affordable for low-price transactions (or waive their fees for all transactions under, say, $10). And merchants should now start charging an “inconvenience fee” to cash-paying customers to discourage their use of cash and encourage the use of debit/credit cards.

Oh…and people writing checks in a retail establishment should pay double the price of whatever they’re buying!

Conference Coolness

Tonight was conference registration.  Man, these folks have gone ALL OUT!  As was true last year, I’m something of a minor celebrity.  I’m so active on the LABMGR mailing list that a lot of people know my name.  They see me, they point, they say, "I know you!!"  We shake hands, and talk about how much I hate SPSS (my most recent post).

The SWAG!!!  Wow.  Get a load of THIS:
SWAG!That’s a REALLY NICE canvas shoulder bag, a T-shirt a notebook,  some "stress putty", and the card in the lanyard is a "real" plastic card!  And a CANVAS BAG!!  Wow!

After I registered I went into the Student Union ballroom where there was a Halo 2 LAN party.  I was relieved to discover that I was NOT the worst player there.

There were a couple of tours.  I took the one of their server farm and "high-tech" facilities (their Helpdesk and ITC equivalents).  Some very impressive stuff. 

Then it was off to a local sports bar for some food (provided) and drinks (on yourself).  I ended up kibbitzing with a guy from SUNY IT.  We had just gotten through commiserating about the low level of common sense in most PhDs when a guy from Cleveland–who hadn’t heard our conversation–sits down with us and starts going on about the same thing.  "The higher the degree," he philosophized, "the lower the level of common sense!"  I spit out my beer, I was laughing so hard.  Certainly, there are exceptions to that generalization; but I think it’s true more than it’s not!

Tomorrow the sessions begin!  And there are some GOOD ones!

On my way back I decided to "wing it", as I am wont to do when I’m someplace new.  The map stays folded and I just drive, relying on my keen sense of direction.  I discovered something else that seems to be not unique to the North Country.  In many communities, especially larger ones, there is evidence of what USED to be the "center of town" existing in stark contrast to "what’s happening" now.  Route 9 north of Plattsburgh is a perfect example of this.  The North Country Shopping Center was where it was at until the Interstate went in and drew everyone out route 3 instead.  Now route 9 is a ghost town.  Mankato seemed generally DEAD to me until tonight.  It turns out that the reverse is true here.  The main highway–US 169–winds down on the wrong side of the Minnesota River, with "old" downtown on the other side.  It turns out that all the "action" in this town is up the hill by the University!  And I discovered it quite by accident while trying to find my way back to my hotel (which I did without a map, thankyouverymuch). 

Minnesota Musings

Registration for my conference isn’t until this evening, so I had all day to kill.  I went to Minneopa State Park and looked at a waterfall and drove through some restored prairie lands.  What the guide books DON’T tell you is the mosquitoes are RAVENOUS and NUMEROUS!  I’m sure there exists somewhere a place where mosquitoes are more dense, but I haven’t been there yet.  It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that if you leave your car and stand still for 30 seconds, you’ll be covered.  I didn’t do much standing around!

After that I took a drive south to Blue Earth, site of a monstrous statue of the Jolly Green Giant.  I’m not sure WHY I did this.  I guess it seemed like a good way to see some of the state.  Oh, it’s FLAT.  Did I mention that?  I’m used to Dolly Parton, and here’s Kim Cattral.  30 mile drives and the amount of time they take are nothing new to me.  But this drive seemed to take HOURS.  Just mile after mile of farms.  And you can see what’s coming for at LEAST a mile or two.  What gets me most is that there ISN’T much traffic at ALL!  Oh, and the main road (US 169) is CONCRETE.  Why New York stopped making roads like this still is a wonder to me.  They last DECADES with minimal maintenance, and this road did NOT suffer the “thud-up” effect of regularly-spaced expansion joints.  Not sure how they did that…

Two funny observations:  1) It seems that all the “side roads” in Minnesota are unimaginatively named with numbers.  I haven’t bothered to figure out if there’s any organization to it.  But it’s funny to see “284th Avenue” coming up and then to look to the left and see nothing but a dirt road.  2) While on a detour of 169 between Winnebago and Blue Earth I came upon a yellow highway sign indicating a potential hazard.  You know the kind:  Straight, right turn, then immediate left turn, then straight again.  So I look ahead, but everything’s flat and depth perception can be deceiving.  I’m looking for more signs–anything to tell me when to slow down.  Because I’m going to have to slow down, right?  I’ve seen those signs before, and if you do 60 through anything marked with that sign you will NOT make it to the second curve.  You WILL make it to the hospital or the morgue!  Then I see it.  The hazardous road.  Apparently “hazardous” is relative, as the road in front of me lazily arced to the right through a full 90 degrees and then just as lazily swung back to the left another 90 degrees.  I barely had to turn the wheel and could comfortably have taken both curves at 80 MPH without even worrying.  I guess when you’re used to only having to turn your steering wheel once every 5 miles or so, something that radical can be a big deal; hence the signage.

There doesn’t seem to be a whole heck of a lot to do around here, unfortunately.  I am VERY MUCH looking forward to the meet-and-greet and LAN party tonight!

No matter where you go, there you are.

I’m in Mankato, MN for the annual LABMAN conference.  Puddle-jumper from Plattsburgh to Boston, then a 6-wide from Boston to Minneapolis, and a 75 mile drive to Mankato.  (Google-map it yourself if you’re that curious.)

Now, all airports look the same.  Hudson News.  Dunkin’ Donuts.  McDonalds.  *yawn*  I can forgive them because, well, airports aren’t really "anywhere", are they?  I like to think of them as being in another dimension.  You’re not really in the Real World until you leave the airport.

But the Real World can really suck.  Cities are always interesting.  And individual, despite there being a Starbucks on every corner.  The layout, the architecture…hell, even the TRAFFIC patterns are all interesting in their own right.  But as I left Minneapolis, greatly resisting the urge to veer into the Mall Of America parking lot lest I stay there the WHOLE WEEK, things began to feel eerily…"familiar."

As I turned onto 169 heading south for Mankato, I could just have well have been on route 11 west/south of Canton.  Barely rolling hills, full of green and farmland.  I’m not what you call "well-traveled" and was looking forward to seeing "new stuff".  Sure, there were local farm stands.  And I went through one or two towns.  And I’m sure that three blocks over off the main drag they have their own personalities.  But WHY is the default, generic America–what everyone on the main drag sees–so STERILE and UNORIGINAL?!  I kid you not, I’ve traveled what, 1000 miles?  And there they are as if I’d never left them:  Burger King.  McDonald’s.  Arby’s.  Perkins.  Dairy Queen.

EVERYWHERE.  I’ve seen at least 3 of each of those so far.

Fortunately I like to explore.  I posted on a web form for advice and one person suggested Pagliai’s Pizza on Front Street.  I quickly found it and THAT’S what I’m talking about!  Local fare in a local "joint" run by local people.  McDonald’s and it’s ilk ought to be relegated to the malls or lumped into some Food Court off the beaten path.  You should have to hunt for them. 

The folly of the Gilmore Girls

I saw the quote that is the subtitle for this entry on a Fark discussion thread.  It very succinctly sums up something I have felt for a very long time. 

If you’ve never seen the show, "Gilmore Girls" is principally about a mother and her daughter, said daughter having been born when mother was all of 16.  They behave more like siblings or best friends than they do mother and daughter.  While it’s made to work in the fantasy land of television, in the Real World it’s not at all practical. 

When I go grocery shopping or to a restaurant or any public place where there are likely to be children present, I see them: children who are "in charge".  I grimace, inwardly, wondering why in God’s name any parent lets their child get away with such atrocious behaviour.  I have NEVER had trouble like that with my two boys.  I started wondering less when I realized that there are two popular prevailing methods for dealing with misbehaving children in today’s society:  1) ask them nicely to stop, and 2) beat them.  Few parents these days seem to understand that somewhere in the middle lies success. 

I decided to write this because I am so fond of the quote.  But saying that children should be "treated as property" comes off as rather harsh, so I thought I’d explain.  Remove emotion from the equation.  Now remove personality.  You essentially have a robot where you previously had a child.  It’s a very EXPENSIVE robot, and it’s one-of-a-kind.  You love it dearly and don’t want anything to happen to it.  So you guard it with your very life.  You lock it up at night, you keep it polished and oiled and you apply all software updates to it.  Anyone who owns a "thing" of any sort understands the importance of taking care of that thing.  Now add back in the personality.  Now your robot can "think" and make decisions.  So now you have to make rules.  Rules are important to protect the robot from itself and from others, and they MUST be followed.  I daresay most parents are with me up to this point, rules being different in every family. 

But where it all seems, by my observation, to fall apart is with emotion.  FEELINGS.  No parent likes to see their child cry or upset.  But children, by the very nature of their existence, lack wisdom.  While it would be great if my children actually understood and agreed with every rule I make–and I go to lengths to see that they do–it is NOT mandatory.  They abide, or else.  Period.  Some day they’ll appreciate it, just as I look back on my youth and appreciate my parents for what they did for me.  I see the reasons now.  They weren’t popular with my sister and me all the time, but we always knew they loved us.  And we never considered them "friends", either!  We loved it when they showed up to hear our concerts or watch our sporting events, but we didn’t want them at the dances or "playing" with us when we were with our friends.  Now that we’re grown, our parents ARE "friends" of a special sort.  The kind of Friend that tends to know you even better than you know yourself in a lot of ways.  And that’s special.  But it’s possible because they’re no longer authority figures.  They are more "guides".  I ask their advice frequently.  I don’t always take it.  But I value their input. 

You can’t be both an effective authority figure AND a friend.  If you try to be both, you MAY succeed at each to a degree, but you’ll never be anything close to effective at either. 

Transmission Complete.

In my "Rumbling" post I referenced a transmission problem.  It is this: If I exceed 40 MPH and the car decides to shift into 4th, the car winds out like it’s in neutral.  I get no forward traction at all with the engine.  If I pull the shifter back to "3", the tranny catches and I can proceed, but doing 55 winds it out to 5000 RPMs.  Not good.

I’ve been dreading a diagnosis, fearing that the car having sat for 2.5 years did some kind of damage.  Transmissions in general are NOT cheap.  Saab transmissions are even MORE not cheap!  Last night I Googled for a couple of hours, prowled forums, and came up with nothing conclusive.  Just before going to bed, on a lark I e-mailed North Country Imports in Glens Falls and told them of my problem.  The sales guy called me this morning and said he’d spoken with the Service Manager who said I needed to check the "Electronic Downshift Motor" to "make sure the lever and cable are free."  Great.  Wherever THAT is!  (Hey, at least he didn’t leap straight to "new transmission, bring it in!"!  So after lunch today I pop the hood and start snooping around.  Behind the engine, on the firewall there’s this motor-looking thingy.  On the end of the thingy is a rotor-ma-bob with nothing attached to it.  Two inches from the rotor-ma-bob is the end of a cable, just sort of dangling out in space; lonely, looking for a hook-up.  (Sounds pathetically familiar…)  I snap a couple of pics with my phone and E-mail them back to Sales Guy.  He calls me back, says my pics were very clear and that I need an $8.00 clip.  Parts Guy ordered one up for me and will ship it as soon as it arrives.

Here’s one of the pics, in case you care:


Thursday evening on the way to Norwood for my regular Poker tournament my Saab’s front muffler went from "annoyingly rumbly" to full-out LOUD.  I figured the hole had just gotten bigger and decided it might finally be time to get it looked at.  Unfortunately, I still had to drive it ’cause Jeannie still had my van while hers was in the shop getting new head gaskets.  So I drove the Saab to work on Friday.  On my way home, I crossed Elm Street at Grant, doing so in front of an oncoming State Trooper who followed me onto Grant and pulled me over.  I thought maybe he had HEARD me and that I was about to get a noise violation.  Turns out my muffler was DRAGGING.  (I couldn’t hear it dragging, so I think it was just hanging really, really low.)  So now I HAVE to get it fixed in order to have the ticket I got expunged. 

It’s now in the shop and I have my van back, as Jeannie’s is fixed.  *sigh*  Saab parts are EXPENSIVE, and I wanted an estimate on the transmission problem before I sunk $$$ into the exhaust.  It might not be worth fixing!