Monday, March 31, 2008

Cheating on the Honor Code

When I was an undergrad at the University of Maryland, just before every exam we were told to print and sign our names on the front of our exam booklets. This was to certify that we were aware of the school's honor code policy and that we intended to comply with it. Now in a nutshell, the honor code states that students will not cheat or copy or do anything else that would be considered cheating. Now while all students were required to sign off on it, not everyone complied with it. What I mean is that most students (the vast majority anyways) have admitted to cheating on exams or assignments at one time or another and with the amount of information available out there via the internet, it's a wonder that so many more have not admitted to it yet.

In the face of all that, I found a recent headline to be rather amusing and quite ironic. It seems that the student group assigned the duty of drafting the honor code for the University of Texas actually plagerized the text of their honor code from the honor code drafted by Brigham Young University. Now quoting or attributing words to someone isn't a violation of the honor code in any school so long as a proper citation is made making a reader aware of the fact that the work is not original and is based on another person's work. In this case, the students at the University of Texas used Brigham Young's honor code word-for-word and didn't cite the source even once. Now being a grad student I can attest to the fact that it is harped on quite regularly about how we must be sure to cite our sources. The reason for this is that most schools and colleges wish to promote independent thought rather than the ability to copy and quote verbatim.

Now I've head arguements by some that say that even if a passage is copied or quoted, if it is in the proper context or refers to something in an appropriate manner to get a point across then isn't that showing independent thought and understanding of the subject? To that I would argue that it doesn't. If you ask my why I like "Star Wars" and I post a blog that someone else has written on the subject then are you getting my opinion or their's? Even if I'm in complete agreement with what the person is stating, that doesn't matter, it's not my independent thought and that's what is more important. I just find it so ironic that a student body charged with preventing this sort of action goes forth and does the very same thing. The arguement that they give is that they weren't aware that this code was copied and that it had been contributed to their forum at and earlier date and no one had bothered to check.

I don't buy that for a minute. There are so many web resources out there to check on the legality and originality of works that there really isn't an excuse anymore to claim that one 'didn't know' that the work was plagerized. I mean if students intending to cheat are getting caught due to the resources out there then why is it that students who are selected to the honor committee for supposedly having better scruples are doing the very same thing they are supposed to avoid doing. I think the fact that this incident has come out now means that the University should take the action of revamping the committee and changing the code. It's important enough to be original on something like this simply because it's a reflection of the school's integrity. Sure they may agree 100% with Brigham Young's honor code but then why be called University of Texas? Why not Brigham Young at Texas?


Friday, March 28, 2008

The Love Guru is Coming

I can already hear the controversy starting to brew on this one. Comedian Mike Myers, best well known for his portrayal of Austin Powers (International Man of Mystery) and Wayne Campbell (of "Wayne's World" fame) is set to star in his new movie "The Love Guru". The premise of the film is about an American raised by a family of Gurus in India. Upon reaching adulthood he returns to America in order to proliferate his teachings to his native land. Along the way he is likely to have lots of hijinks and humor because after all, this is a comedy is it not? Well already Hindu activists in America are simmering at the possibility that this film will insult Hindu culture rather than lauding it.

Now I personally haven't seen the trailer and so I'm withholding my final judgement on the film until I either see it or at least find out more about it. What many Hindus are worried about (at least in part) is that the film will only serve to create more misconceptions about our religion than anything else. Already groups are calling upon the studio (Paramount Pictures) to screen the film for Hindu groups prior to the film's release in order for them to have some say as to whether or not they feel the film is 'insulting' to Hindus or not. Now note I'm saying Hindus and not Indians because there is a distinction. Outside of the middle east, India has one of the largest Muslim populations in the world and so it isn't fair to lump all Muslims in with Hindus by calling Hindus Indians is it? But I digress. The studio has already agreed to screen the film for whatever groups wish to see the film in order to give their okay.

According to studio heads, the film is not so much about poking fun at Hindu culture as it is about the materialism and fanatacism that comes from misunderstanding something or interpreting it in a completely different way. What do I mean? Well think about it. Outside of religion, one of the most fadish parts of our society is dieting. About three years ago you couldn't go anywhere without hearing about the South Beach Diet and how it was the miracle cure for everyone. Suddenly every item in the grocery store was labeled with notices about how it fit into the grand scheme of the South Beach Diet. And tons of people (pun intended) joined the craze without fully understanding how the diet is really supposed to work. It didn't matter but it was enough to tell people that you were on the South Beach Diet for them to give you some degree of reverence and awe.

What does diet choice have to do with movies on religion? Nothing in particular but it serves to prove my point about what this movie appears to be showing. Myers' character, Guru Pitka, is not intended to be a native Hindu but rather an American raised by Hindus so there is no fear of his having a stereotypically Indian style accent that is often heard in convenience stores. While Indians and South Asians in general may bristle at that fact, it is just that, a fact. Go into most any convenience store and if it's being run by a South Asian, that accent is sure to be there in force. I think the movie will do just that, show how people cling to something that is new and unique and seems to provide guidance and answers which is what any religion is supposed to show isn't it? By poking fun at something it doesn't make it weaker or less important to those who follow it. Sure the movie may not help alleviate misconceptions about religion but when have movies ever been known to be truthful?

Even the most well-intentioned movies have to take some liberties with what they show. For good or for bad, most people learn about the world from movies so whatever they see is usually taken to be 'gospel'. Whether the movie is about religion or a society, whatever you show in the movies is usually what people remember longer. Does it matter that the actual truth may be available for everyone to see and find on their own? Not in the least. I've had the vice president of a company ask me whether there are paved roads in India. Why did he ask that? Because most every scene of India shows the Taj Mahal, snake charmers and poor people. With all that isn't it possible that there are no paved roads? Is that the truth? No, but that's what movies most often show. I don't think the film will be as bad as people are making it out to be but one never knows.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

What Does it Mean to "Win"?

This week marked a rather grim statistic in Iraq with the 4,000th death since the conflict (or war... or occupation... whatever you want to call it) began in Iraq. Now whether you support the war or you don't; whether you support our troops or you don't, it's hard not to think of this and come to halt in your thinking. 4,000 people are dead. That's the equivalent of the entering freshman classes at Universities around the country. That's the population of small towns and villages that dot our nation. I'm not here to argue whether their sacrifices were in vain or for the greater good or for the safety and sanctity of our way of life. I'm merely asking what it will take in order for leaders to declare 'victory'.

Maybe part of the problem is that it depends on what we choose to see as 'winning'. As we grow up we are heavily influenced by the people and things around us. I've blogged on this point before and I'm sure I'll blog on it again. I see it quite often. Kids pushed to see victory in pure black and white terms. We're all fast becoming products of a mindset where there's nothing less than total victory expected. If you don't finish first then don't bother finishing. I think it's telling that during the Olympics, there is so much focus given to which country has won how many medals and in what fields. Gold medal winners especially are heralded as 'true' victors while everyone else is seen as a marginal competitor at best. Why? Why shouldn't the person who finished last be heralded as well? Take for example the marathon at the Olympics. To run for the full course and complete the race, I consider every one of those runners a winner. I know I don't have the strength and conditioning to complete that race but there are those who do.

At one Olympics I remember that the winner of the marathon finished so far ahead of the last place competitor that he was literally able to go get freshened up before greeting the last place finisher, but he did greet him. He jogged the final lengths with him; not to show off or proclaim publicly his superb conditioning thus making him a 'winner' but to show the comradeship with someone who has also suffered through this grueling event to reach this point and finish the race. Even if he came in last place it was still worthy of praise. He raced for his country and completed something that not everyone out there could even consider finishing half of. If we were all that great then perhaps we'd all be in the Olympics rather than sitting quietly on our couches cheering as we reach for another sip from our sodas. Is the guy finishing first the winner or the one who gave up everything for a chance to represent his country in front of the world the winner. I leave it to you to decide and when you have your answer, you'll probably know what type of person you are.

There are rarely cases these days where there is a clear-cut winner and a clear-cut loser. Sports is the one place that you can always look to find such 'simple equations'. There is only one outcome expected or wanted. How satisfied would people have been if the Super Bowl ended in a tie this year rather than the underdog Giants coming from behind to defeat the theretofore undefeated Patriots? Unfortunately not every instance in life is as clear as what happens on the playing fields of sports. And even more unfortunate is the fact that there are such differences in what people consider 'victory' to be that it is often to the detriment to people and places around them. Some parents will laud their children for at least making an honest effort and finishing something they started. Others will scorn their child for not finishing first. Competition is good and necessary but unless we know what the price of victory is, we'll never fully appreciate it. And until everyone can agree on what 'victory' means, whatever is happening in Iraq and Afghanistan will continue.

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Monday, March 24, 2008

Switching Jobs

I was reading an article the other day that suggested that unlike in the past, many people switch jobs very frequently these days and it is having some adverse effects not only on themselves but on the job market as well. At one time it wasn't unusual for someone to get a job and then make a career out of it for the rest of their lives. I know of some people who started off literally at the bottom of the ladder (one could even say underneath it completely) and they have managed to work their way up to the top through a combination of hardwork or connections. Is it for everyone? Who knows, but it's definitely something that should be considered rather than ridiculed.

I remember thinking when I got my first job out of college that I hoped to be with the company for some time at least. I wasn't considering it the place to spend the rest of my career but I figured it was a place to get some good experience and gain some insight into the field I was pursuing. It wasn't the greatest of positions (neither was it paying me anywhere close to what I should have been earning) but it was worth it for the experience it gave me and the work it exposed me to. Though I could have switched jobs after a few months for better pay (as many people did who joined that company after me), I was pleased to stay in place simply because I ended up in positions where I was given more work than would usually have been passed to someone of my relatively limited experience. In short order, I was getting raises and pay increases more in line with what I should have earned from the beginning. Still and all, I was sure that I was doing the right thing.

I'm sure there are others who may consider me a sucker for doing that or for staying with that company for as long as I did but I saw that some of my friends who were in IT (which was booming at that time due to Y2K tensions) were switching jobs faster than one could change socks. It seemed like they were moving from one company to the next as soon as it appeared that pay rates were going up at another place. What this told me was that there was more loyalty to the paycheck than the company; more loyalty to oneself rather than anyone else. I think it's important to have somewhat of a 'selfish' focus when looking for work because the pay you earn is what will sustain you. If you're not getting what you need to maintain a proper cost of living, then what's the point?

What happened afterwards though is what used to worry me when I would consider moving from one company to another on a regular basis and that was that companies would soon think of you as a person who is 'disloyal' or quick to change. What I mean is that they wouldn't necessarily consider you as an individual who would reveal company secrets but who wouldn't stick around if the pay was higher someplace else. The inevitable happened then and that was that once the Y2K paranoia passed and once systems were upgraded to meet standards, there wasn't a real need to maintain high-priced coders so they were given the proverbial 'heave-ho' and tossed at the wayside. The mad scramble that followed led to many realizing that they couldn't continue to ask for hundreds of thousands of dollars annually if they didn't have any other skills outside of upgrading systems from Y2K.

A common problem was that someone who switched at so regular a basis basically set themselves up for difficulties later on because companies would look for experience and though they may have worked for high power companies in their particular industry, the relatively limited time that they actually worked on things meant in the experience category was not enough to justify pay, their limited time with companies meant to companies that they would have to pay out a lot for a 'short-term' investment so that added up to people who expected a lot but wouldn't necessarily give back in return. Now that the job market is again slowing a bit in some industries, the people looking for jobs who have jumped hither and tither are finding it harder and harder to move.


Friday, March 21, 2008

What to Blog On?

The internet is a fascinating place. It's more or less a given fact that no matter what you may be interested in finding, more than likely there's already at least one page (if not dozens more) dedicated to it on the web. There are many topics that seem to draw the interest of readers and blogs are only the latest iteration of the effort to get that 'knowledge' out to the people. Blogs (short for 'web logs') have been around for a while now and they started off as minor pages that people maintained for personal amusement or to spread general bits of knowledge. Some of the famous ones out there quickly became popular for their content or characteristics. The website "Ain't it Cool News" is one that comes to mind.

That site was started by a movie fan named Harry Knowles who became world famous for his spy reports on movies in production or out for test screening. He's gotten so much clout and press that these days many studios and producers and directors use his input and opinions to determine early on whether a movie will appeal to an audience or not. Though he sometimes seems to have sold out, giving stellar reviews to movies which are sub-par at best, his site still manages to draw on a lot of browsers. I am definitely one of them. But though you can call the site a news site, it is in essence an early version of a blog. He's got a steady stream of stories to deal with since movie-making rarely goes away. But what about something off the beaten path?

I have been maintaining my site for close to two years now and in that time I have covered a wide gamut of topics. I've often been asked why I don't focus on a particular subject and I simply feel that by pigeon-holing myself to a particular topic or theme, I'll end up limiting my audience and I'm hoping to avoid that. There are days when I get tons (relatively speaking) of hits. When I wrote about the discovery of a new planet for example, for whatever reason, when you did a Google search for the planet, my blog came up first (even before NASA). Surprisingly enough I ended up there for a very long time and it brought tons of people to the site. The second most popular topic was of course Tysons Corner. For people in Washington it's important for a lot of things; at present, those things include the Metro and shopping. I still get hits on that topic despite having written it a long time ago. People are always on the look out for something unusual and Christian Lander, a Canadian copywriter living in Los Angeles hit on something that seems to have been the proverbial gold pot at the end of the rainbow (hey... we're still close enough to St. Patrick's Day to make a leperachaun reference).

During the course of a web chat, one of Lander's friends asked the simple question, "what do white people like". They came up with a short list and Lander created a blog dealing with the subject on a whim. Suddenly he was getting hundreds and then thousands and now millions of hits. I'm sure some of you will also go and search out his site as well. The thing that surprises me more is that while the topic is pretty much innocent and pokes blatant fun at caucasian cultural quirks, there doesn't seem to have been a major fallout as yet on the fact that had this been any other race except for white, there would be a major brouhaha calling for the immediate shutting down of this site. Having read some of his posts on the page, I can attest to the fact that the site does have some great humor and it's definitely a funnier slant on some eccentricities that people have.

Now whether all these things are true are not remains to be seen. It also remains to be seen whether or not this site will last much longer now that it is getting more press coverage. What amazes me more though is that someone has taken a seemingly insulting concept for a blog and turned it into something popular. I'm sure word of mouth must have helped and occasional articles like the one in the Washington Post about this site (or even my little blog) are probably helping him spread the word. But even before that happened, there were enough hits on the site to get him close to a million hits. That means that people are looking for it and if they're looking for it in that many numbers, perhaps it's because people have a keen interest in the topic or are simply curious. I'm seriously waiting for the racial fallout from this to come to pass but I'm assuming because this will be seen as 'white people making fun of white people' there won't be a big thing made of it. I find that to be a double standard, but hey, the web is free for all. Do as you please I suppose.


Thursday, March 20, 2008

Starbucks: Going Back in Time

It's been a while since I wrote a blog on Starbucks. I'm sure my brother was quite disappointed by that fact; so when I was scanning the headlines I noticed that Starbucks was listed. In having read what the article and all the other news stories regarding Starbucks were about, I decided to write about it. If you'll recall (at least those of you with a love of coffee... in particular of Starbucks Coffee) last month, all the stores nationwide were shut down in order to 'train' their employees on how to make coffee. It seems like a ridiculous idea but it makes sense once you delve a bit deeper into what the company is hoping to do.

As it is, Starbucks is now getting stiffer competition from stores like McDonalds and Dunkin Donuts. These long established chains have also started offering up premium coffees at sub-premium prices. Now about ten years ago I probably would have argued with you about the fact that Starbucks had a different essence to it since coffee was ground, prepared and served right before your eyes. That was part of the allure for many novice coffee drinkers. Pair that with the popularity of "Friends" where the main characters hung out in a coffee shop almost all the time and there you had the perfect reason for many other aspiring Friends-esque people to want to do the same thing. As time went on, the chain grew by leaps and bounds (and we're talking Brobdignagian steps here) and soon the focus went from providing individualized service to providing coffee quickly and efficiently. In order to meet those requirements, Starbucks went the way of McDonalds and started having things pre-prepared.

Previously the big factor for Starbucks was that the coffee beans they ground were freshly ground, usually just moments before you ordered your cup. When demand increased, they couldn't keep pace any longer. Not that they didn't have enough stores but they believed that they had to be able to get coffee into the hands of the consumer faster than any of the competition. Hence you have a Starbucks outlet practically every thirty or forty feet. In New York City I believe there's one literally every block. Costs to maintain and support these sites increased and quality began to decrease. Pretty soon people started to see that they were getting what in essesnce was pre-prepared coffee (with little or no 'personal touches') that were starting to cost an arm and a leg.

These factors helped McDonalds get their foot in the door and now they are wiggling quite hard to open it farther. This is why Starbucks has been trying various methods meant to get the focus back on the coffeehouse experience and away from being perceived as a McDonalds-like experience of get your coffee and get out. But how does one signal these changes to consumers? Regulars probably already knew about it but what about the average Joe who stops in for a cup of Joe every once in a while? Simple. Do something that draws a lot of attention. Shut down all stores nationwide for a day. That certainly garnered attention and certainly gave customers something to ask about when stores re-opened the next day. Think about it. You probably did discuss this event with your friends or colleagues because there was undoubtedly someone who was affected by this turn of events. That one event helped make Starbucks significant again (if for only that one day).

Now that people were talking they could know that the reason was to help stimulate improvements in the stores and the products they sell. Will all this effort pay off for them? I'm not sure. I don't think the problem with Starbucks ever was their product, rather I think it was the patience and preferences of us customers. There are those who have to have their coffee prepared with about as much detail as James Bond's original vodka martini recipe. Rather than providing more places to find your coffee, I think if the chain had maintained focus on providing quality products, they would have done well. Their current course of action appears to be aimed at justifying their higher costs and making their 'elite' image stick with consumers. It will probably work but those of us who have been loyal customers from the beginning. Whether it brings back old customers or lures new customers remains to be seen.


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Goodbye Sir Arthur C. Clarke

Sad news from Colombo, Sri Lanka today as the world mourns the loss of one of science fiction's great authors, Sir Arthur C. Clarke. Writer of over 100 books, he is probably most well known as being the author of "2001: A Space Odyessy" which was famously turned into the trippy sci-fi film by Stanley Kubrick. Discussions on the psychadelic ending of the film aside, "2001" was one of the first films to present life 'in the future' in such a hopeful manner. As the Cold War progressed, it was easy to contemplate the world of the future being a post-nuclear holocaust nightmare which was often the case in many movies and books, but Clarke's works always had a hopeful note.

Many of the books he wrote remind me of what Robert Kennedy once said, that "there are those who look at things the way they are and ask 'why', I dream of things that never were and ask 'why not'". These words were never more fitting for a person than they were for Arthur C. Clarke. Though he wrote primarily on science fiction topics and visions of the future, he always had a hopeful outlook on the direction our society was headed. The jist of his works most usually dealt with mankind and how future technology and advancement affected our lives. Indeed he was even a pioneer in this field. Many of the technologies and ideas that he wrote on came to pass. Starting as a radar officer during the Second World War with the Royal Air Force in England, Clarke was among the first to suggest the concept of orbitting communications satellites meant to help relay messages around the world without the limitations of earth-based systems. It took a few decades and cost a lot more, but as Clarke famously wrote in a paper published later in life, it was the reason he 'lost' over a billion dollars as he never patented the idea.

Not many people realized that he was the first to promote the idea of e-mail. When work was being done on the adaptation of his novel "2010: Odyessy Two" he famously corresponded with film director Peter Hyams over a medium that was new and cutting edge at the time but which is now considered rather common; e-mail. Many of his other works have also been optioned as future films and though not everything in his books has come to pass or the settings are no longer as valid as they once were, there is still the underlying theme of man and technology and how it will affect us. Clarke long held a fascination with life beyond our own planet. Many of his stories dealt with man's first contact with extraterrestial life and unlike the popular pulp stories of the time with the violent aliens coming to take over our planet, Clarke always held a fairly optimistic outlook on what our relations with them would be like.

He usually contended that these species were far more advanced than we were and that our frailties and faults were often the cause for misunderstandings and difficulties in dealing with the discovery of other-worldly life. By showing how we would deal with a completely alien species, Clarke often turned the mirror on ourselves to show us how we as a race had much to learn before we could deal with something outside our current realm of understanding. Tying in religion, technology, and man's insatiable curiousity for the universe, Clarke wrote stories that were prophetic but self-contemplating as well and though many were written decades before about the times we are living in now, they are still fascinating glimpses into what life could be like in the future. Clarke always wondered what secrets life in the great beyond held. He wondered about life beyond our planet and what it all means. Perhaps he is on his way to discovering them now. I wish him a wonderful journey in discovering the great unknown.


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Banning Guns in DC

I hope our forefathers are having a chuckle at our expense. In setting up the framework of our nation, some of the 'rules' they set down in the Bill of Rights and Constitution are so vague or subject to interpretation that it's no wonder that over two-hundred years later we're still having arguements about what does and doesn't apply under the Constitution. Chief among these arguements at times is the second amendment which deals with the 'Right to Bear Arms'. What's at particular issue on this case right now is the fact that the District of Columbia (DC) has a handgun ban in place in an apparent effort to curb crime and violence within the city. What some law-abiding citizens argue is that this violates their Constitutional right to own and keep handguns as a means of protection.

What those against the efforts to repeal the ban state is that in the Constitutional wording there is mention of the fact that arms should be in the hands of a well-regulated militia. Now as current enlistment (and re-enlistment) numbers show, there aren't too many people rushing to sign up for the National Guard or military these days and gun-owning associations (besides perhaps the National Rifle Association) are viewed as possible extremist group activities or possible terrorism groups. Now I'm sure that most people in the city who want to be able to own handguns legally are not looking to become one-man Charles Bronson "Death Wish" dealing individuals looking to clean up the streets. I'm sure for the most part, all of them are law-abiding citizens who are looking to defend themselves against potential threats. It comes back to the Cold War principles I guess. If my enemy has X number of weapons, I should have X+1 so that I will ensure that I wipe him out. I guess in this way, proponents of repealing the gun ban argue that if my enemies have guns, I should be allowed to have them too.

Again, I see the logic in this arguement and I agree that based on the interpretation of the Constitution, we should protect this right. However, I tend to get a bit weary when some proponents of gun rights push for the ownership and allowance of heavy assault weapons. When the assault weapons ban was allowed to expire sometime back, I was disappointed simply because I don't understand the need for those outside the military to own such weapons. In places like Iraq and such it was a requirement. People would openly carry rifles like AK-47s and such simply because it was necessary. The last time I looked, we don't live in a war zone and don't have people running around with heavy weapons like that. The only people who do (and should be having these weapons) are the police and military. What's the need for the average Joe to be packing enough firepower to hold of an army?

I think the push to repeal the ban on guns stems from the fact that this is something that is written into our Constitution and that this law has now become so ingrained in the country's collective mindset that the very thought of repealing or changing this law is unfathomable. People will point and argue that guns are a necessary tool to defend one's self. After incidents like those at Columbine and Virginia Tech, gun supporters argue that had even one student been allowed to carry a gun, those tragedies could have been avoided. Had that been the case, who's to say that the average fight in schools wouldn't end up like the Gunfight at the OK Corral as opposed to the last Rocky movie? Owning a gun doesn't necessarily make one safer, it just increases the likelihood of something bad happening. Should DC ban guns? Well they are an independent entity within the nation and still privy to the Constitution but if they can put forth a solid arguement as to why they should reinterpret the Second Amendment then by all means let them do so. If gun owners don't like it or don't agree with it, they can appeal it the way they have been trying but they also should look at the other side of the arguement (as should the DC government) and decide which arguement is strongest.

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Monday, March 17, 2008

Rules of the Road

Every so often you'll be travelling down the highway and you'll suddenly hit a patch of slow traffic that is so completely unexpected that you spend much of the time trying to figure out what is going on. You're craning your neck this way and that while cars around you are attempting to do the same thing. You are struggling to figure out whether you need to take an alternate route or whether this is only a temporary problem. You try to figure out whether the accident or incident is close by or far off. You attempt to avoid getting in an accident yourself as you manuever your car in an attempt to get a little farther along by entering a lane that seems to be moving faster than the next. So imagine the disappointment when you find nothing there to cause the delay.

Perhaps it's cruel of me to say that there's nothing for me to see on the road but I don't mean it at all in a callous or cruel way. I'm not looking to see a horrible wreck or accident with tons of rescue equipment but it would be nice to know what was the reason for my having been delayed, often by a significant delay. There are certain roads in Virginia that are notorious for slowdowns with no root cause at any time of day or night; chief among these routes in Northern Virginia is Route 66. This east-west artery leads from the hinterlands of the western parts of Virginia into DC and it is clogged with traffic at random times. Sunday driving can take on a whole new meaning if you drive on this road and expect it to be clear of traffic on a given Sunday. Chances are you could end up in a log jam that reminds one of rush hour on weekdays. And sometimes these delays are caused by the most inane of incidents.

Take for example the incident pictured above which comes from Romania. This intrepid commuter was on a side road heading for the highway when he decided to take what he believed to be the on ramp. Much to his chagrin he found the road to be quite bumpy and probably wondered how his tax dollars were being used to have a road so bumpy. It was shortly thereafter that he probably realized that he was on train tracks and not on the highway. So what did he do? No he didn't get off of the tracks; he stopped the car right there and decided to wait for the cavalry to rescue him. Meanwhile train traffic was stopped and had to pass around the incident on foot in order wait for the car to be removed from the tracks. Once rescue equipment arrived they created such a ruckus that people on the adjoining highway began to look around in order to figure out what was going on thus delaying traffic on the highway as well.

Now I hesitate to call these people names though it is so very tempting but I can't help but wonder whether or not people every consider the possible consequences of ill-conceived actions on their part. Driving on the train tracks, for several miles, in the direction of eventual on-coming trains is not a normal course of action yet this individual did it for several miles before apparently having the shaking car jar him to his senses. Thankfully he didn't end up causing a major incident on the scale of a truck accident. He very well could have. I remember a time driving down the New Jersey Turnpike. Across the median as well as on our side of the road the traffic suddenly came to a grinding halt and then we continued our journey previously going at 75 miles per hour down to a stately 25 miles per hour. As we approached the apparent scene of the action we looked across the median to figure out what was going on. We could see individuals running up the side of the road. Was it a manhunt for a runaway prisoner a la "The Fugitive"? Unfortunately (or fortunately) it wasn't; it was a bunch of people who had to answer the call of nature in full view of all the drivers on the New Jersey Turnpike.

I'm sure most people who cause such incidents don't intentionally cause them in the hope of slowing everyone else down; at least I hope they don't. But what I wish is that people who are also driving along will slow down but not come to a screeching halt. Unfortunately I think many drivers simply look at the road directly in front of their car. They aren't looking out ahead to be aware of what's going on around them. We complain about 'deer in the headlights' reactions but the sudden slow downs that many drivers react with is just as much a hinderance to traffic as actually being involved in the accident. It would be nice to occasionally avoid such situations; at least then some of us could get to where we needed to go without unnecessary and aggravating delays.


Friday, March 14, 2008

Do I Have a Napoleon Complex?

It's been a long standing 'scientific' belief that shorter people, most especially men, were likely to compensate for their shorter stature by appearing more aggresive and more driven than their average or taller heighted counterparts. Now while I myself am on the shorter side of the equation, I don't know if I necessarily agree with the findings of these studies. The complex, informally given the name the Napoleon Complex (after the famous French General) operates on the belief that due to reasons no more complex than simple jealousy, men who are lacking in height are often driven to 'outshine' the competition and do more to make up for it. This can lead to heightened agression and anger fits.

Now with the exception of my brother and a few of my cousins, no one in may family is exceptionally tall. On average, I'm about the same height as most other Indians from the part of India that my family comes from. And while I won't say I suffer from jealousy due to my height, I will say that some of the aggression that I had in my youth was more due to my peers than necessarily due to my overall height. We've all likely been through one side of this or the other when we were growing up. Unfortunately for me I was always on the shorter side so a natural result was that when other kids started experiencing growth spurts I kept waiting for mine. I'm still waiting actually.

When I was in school, and I'm sure others have had this happen too, I was sometimes picked on for my shorter stature. More often than not, I would attempt to bring some humor to the situation and that helped alleviate any hard feelings but sometimes it wasn't quite so easy and it ended up with fisticuffs. I guess in some sense I didn't suffer so much from jealousy as a need to stand up for myself and ensure that anyone who bothered me realized that they weren't dealing with a simple short guy but one that would at least make picking on me more of an effort. I ran into numerous situations where most of the time, an unexpected joke or comment has ended up leaving people in stitches rather than having them require them. But there were other occasions where I did have to defend myself and whether I won the fight or not, I did end up holding my own.

Is it fair to say then that I did suffer from a milder version of a Napoleon Complex? I suppose that's fair. Still, that didn't mean I went out of my way to pick on someone or do something violent for the sake of violence. Most of the time, and I believe this holds for most people, they would prefer to find the non-violent way out of a given situation rather than seeking to delve deeper into it. Though I may often be the smaller of my peers at work or elsewhere, I don't let it bother me or get in my way and nor do I attempt to use it as an excuse for holding myself back. I try to be objective and realistic as I think most people of shorter stature are wont to do but who knows, perhaps some scientist will come out and say that that is a classic symptom of a Napoleon Complex too.


Thursday, March 13, 2008

Remakes: The Paintings

Well it was bound to happen sooner or later I suppose. Given that Hollywood seems to be stuck in a rut of remaking or 're-imagining' older films for the past few years, it should come as no surprise that this trend is starting to 'branch out' a bit and no I'm not talking about television. Television has been on that trend for a very long time; movies are starting to catch up and now so are famous paintings. Apparently artists in California have used computer software and celebrity images to recreate famous paintings by classic painters like Van Gogh or Rafaello but have used celebrities as the models for some of the main characters within the paintings.

Now some will call this move sacrilege while others will applaud the effort to make classical paintings more appealing to a new generation of people. Funny how that has a tendency to be the catch all rationale to re-visit and often re-vamp (all too often horribly) the original concept. Now I'm not against the idea of revisiting or revamping some idea but there should be a need for it. The painting included in today's blog is Raffaello's famous painting of Madonna (the Biblical icon not the singer) but in the newer version it is a painting of Natalie Portman as Madonna. So what? Well the reasoning some give to support this is that at least now people will be more inclined to see the painting. I disagree. Now people will see the painting and remember it for being the portrait of Natalie Portman. There is another painting of Van Gogh (his famous self-portrait) which has been 'updated' with Bruce Willis' image.

Inherently there's nothing wrong with this but I just think that people who see these paintings first will be hurting themselves from an appreciative standpoint and I say this from experience from what happened with the movies. When the newer "Star Wars" movies were released in 1999, there was a general consensus among kids that the newer films were far superior in terms of effects than the original ones. What kids fail to realize is that when the original films were released in 1977, 1980 and 1983 they were considered cutting edge and ahead of their times. Now it's true that George Lucas has the money to go back and make these films in the same style and slickness as the newer films but is there a need to? I think it's important to see the contrast and appreciate the originals for what they were. In 1977 the technology didn't exist to do the things that were done in the newer films but so what? It was still stunning and amazing and in some ways, a lot more realistic than what was so very obviously computer generated in the newer films.

So what does that little side bar have to do with these paintings? Simple. If you don't know or appreciate what the originals were like, you're doing yourself a disservice by 'appreciating' these images. They are not homages to the originals, they are attempts to divert attention from what was original to what has been remade into something more familiar. Natalie Portman may portray Anne Boelyn with some gusto but is she an appropriate Madonna? I don't know, but I would rather appreciate the original version of the Madonna than this remade version. Images such as this are often appealing because you can't relate to them on such a deep level. When you see the painting of the Madonna on its own I find it more appealing because she is a person so far back in time that any accurate images of her are long since lost. The painting may not be accurate but the anonymity it affords the viewer is what makes it more appealing. Now when you look at it you're likely to remember Madonna as Queen Padme Amidala of Naboo. Perhaps the child in her arms isn't baby Jesus but rather young Luke Skywalker. Not the same painting anymore is it?


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Buy American and Buy the World

Seems like this is the year of the underdog. I thought it very well might be when the underrated New York Giants not only made it to the Super Bowl but defeated the previously undefeated New England Patriots. Heck, even their coach stated in a press conference that this past year was not going to be a good one and the fans shouldn't get their hopes up. Perhaps it was a psychological means to get his players motivated and to alleviate some of the obvious pressure on the team but whatever it was, it worked. But the Giants weren't the only team to come from behind and score. The recent announcement by the US Air Force to purchase the latest tanker aircraft, henceforth desginated the KC-45A, was a major victory for the underdog team of Northrop Grumman and EADS.

For those unfamiliar with the case, the Air Force had been looking to replace their aging KC-135 tanker aircraft with a newer airframe and had previously awarded a lease contract to Boeing, the manufacturer of the KC-135. The newer airframe being put forth by Boeing was based on their previously successful but not as much so anymore 767 design. In recent years the airframe had been supplanted by newer models that Boeing has been producing as well as increasingly popular Airbus models. Up until now, Airbus hadn't been able to enter the US military market due to restrictions on 'buying American'. Then legislation came to pass which announced that partner nations in Europe and Asia (namely those who could produce products that the military could be interested) would be allowed to compete in the military market. Hence our current situation and hence the cause for some of the banter going back and forth over the fact that the lease was broken with Boeing and the contract recompeted with Northrop Grumman and EADS being declared the new winners.

Now I'm not going to argue the details as to whether or not the ruling was fair or whether Boeing made an arrogant assumption on their part to assume that they would get the contract by default as they are the current manufacturer of the KC-135 airframe. Rather, I want to comment upon the accusations flying back and forth regarding the fact that a European is now catering to an American requirement. According to a lot of the mis-interpreted information flying out there, the award of the contract to a European company means that jobs from America will be going to Europe. Now this is enough to scare anyone considering the economy over here in America isn't on strong feet at the moment but it couldn't be farther from the truth. This tactic of 'buy American or lose your job' no longer holds the same amount of water as it may have a few decades ago.

Look at virtually any of the big companies out there and at least part of the process is in the hands of foreign companies. Don't believe me? Well look into it and you'll find that even if Boeing had won the contract they would have ended up with a plane with vital components coming from both Europe and Asia. However, since Boeing is based in Washington State, the fact that the plane is a compilation of foreign parts as well can be conveniently overlooked. Never mind also that Northrop Grumman is building the plane here in the States and that all sensitive military equipment will be assembled and installed over here in the States; so this talk of 'selling our secrets to Europe' is all for naught. What about Chrysler? You couldn't get more American than Chrysler right? Well they've been partnered with European automaker Daimler for several years now and though there were similar complaints then, it's still no different is it?

Heck even the coffee we drink at Starbucks is from a foreign company. Do you think Starbucks employs American workers in South America and Africa and Asia to pick the coffee beans in their various blends? No of course not and why? Because foreign labor is cheaper and in the end it allows us to pay less for a product than we would if we completely relied on domestic commerce to produce the same products. Companies from Europe and Asia such as Mercedes, BMW and Toyota to name a few, have factories over here in the States because even they've found that it's cheaper for them to make their cars over here rather than shipping them from their parent companies. A result is that these companies have made efforts to promote the fact that while their designs might be foreign in origin, the actual product is put together by American hands yet those with a die hard devotion to cradle to the grave American products are ending up helping promote false ideas of what a foreign product is and isn't.

I am happy that companies such as Airbus are being allowed to compete in the market because as a taxpayer, I see the potential benefit in it. Up until now, tanker aircraft were the sole domain of Boeing and being a veritable monopoly they could charge as they saw fit since there was no other competition. Now that competitors have and will continue to enter such markets, there is the likelihood that not only will prices come down but again there will be a drive to be a bit more fiscally responsible rather than paying the only person in town. Plus we are ensuring that the products we do procure now and in the future are the best value for the dollar. If we weren't interested in that why wouldn't we have produced both versions of the F-35 fighter or so many other pieces of military hardware. Buy American is a good mantra but it doesn't mean quite the same thing as it did when Henry Ford put together his first automobile.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Goodbye to the Nighthawk

I had an old pair of shoes that I recently got rid of and replaced with a newer pair. I think most everyone has gone through that phase where they are torn between keeping the old pair since they are so well broken-in and comfy but bothered by the fact that the shoe itself is starting to fall apart. It isn't always an easy decision but sometimes, when you want the new shoe the easiest thing to do is just to get rid of the old shoes so that you have all the motivation you need to get the new ones. Afterall, "no shirt, no shoes, no service" right?

So what do shoes have to do with a blog that appears to be about the impending retirement of the Air Forces premier stealth fighter, the F-117 Nighthawk? Well simply that the retirement of the program is coming faster than anticipated in order to speed the introduction of the stealthier (and more modern) F-22 Raptor into the arsenal. Now for a lot of people, they didn't know the Stealth existed until it became the 'wonder weapon' of the Gulf War back in 1991. What most people didn't know until then was that the fighter had actually been flying since 1981 and had already completed a number of operations since then. I call them operations more because like a surgeon, the Nighthawk was built to allow the Air Force the capability of entering enemy airspace undetected and unleash precision bombs on the target and escape before anyone even knew it was there.

Contrary to what many people assumed when they heard 'invisible jet' it wasn't literally invisible but invisible to radar. The material that covered the jet was built from radar absorbing material and the plane was designed with oddly shaped angles in order to reduce the radar signature of the plane. In this way, the jet was invisible to most of the anti-aircraft weapons that were being used around the world. Though there were some incidents involving the jet, including seven which crashed, the Nighthawk lived up to expectations and has served the country well. It is one of the few jets that has not been sold to ally nations and will likely not be sold. And though the plane is being retired, like the SR-71 Blackbird, it is being kept 'on tap' in case it is needed again.

Now as a proponent of air power and air development, I think it's a wise thing that the Air Force is making efforts to reduce the fleet and speed the transition to a newer plane however many raise the question comes in whether such a weapon is truly needed anymore. Most planes that are in the air arsenal of the country were developed to fight a nation such as the former Soviet Union. These days, as is evident in Afghanistan and Iraq, the enemy is not to be found in planes but hiding in holes and fortified areas that are very difficult to completely eliminate no matter how precise the dropped munitions may be. Many wonder whether more money should be spent on these newer stealth planes versus spending the money on the development for better protection for our ground forces. I think the Russians are providing a reason for the renewed push for a modernized air force.

In recent days the Russian Air Force has begun increasing long range flights of bombers and running similar exercises to those held during the height of the cold war. Recently American aircraft carriers in the Pacific have been overflown by Russian planes which have violated Japanese airspace to do it. This isn't necessarily an indication that the Soviets are getting back into the Cold War but it is certainly a sign that there is at least some need to continue maintaining a modernized Air Force. While I'm hopeful that a renewed Cold War doesn't come to pass, I'm glad that the Air Force is seeking to keep pace with development and is seeking to continue operating the best equipment meant to keep our nation safe.


Monday, March 10, 2008

Playing with Reality

I remember as a kid playing games with toys that at least had some semblence of reality. I think this can be true of most kids out there. As kids we generally based our imaginary games in the reality that we had come to know or that we learned by watching TV and movies. I grew up on a steady diet of action adventure shows and movies and as such that's what a lot of my games revolved around. It helped to have imaginary outlets like Lego blocks that allowed me to 'build' what my imagination wanted to see. Sometimes I'd get specialized sets to live out those fantasy games in my head. These days there are more and more sets out there that don't require as much imagination to build since they are all ready for you. But what worries me is that perhaps we're getting a bit too caught up in reality.

I was browsing Amazon the other day and I happened across a new Playmobil play set that has been released and was surprised to discover what it was. It was a specialized playset for an airport security checkpoint with metal detector, x-ray belt, and officer with metal-detecting wand. Now while I applaud the Playmobil company for reaching for the heights of reality by coming up with a playset that brings this level of reality to a child's world but is it really necessary? I only ask because while growing up, I can never recall my games basing themselves in this level of realism. I mean in any of my games with army men, I didn't have the political fallout or discussions going on in the background while my toy soldiers fought for their cause. They simply fought for right and wrong (or control of the sofa) because it was the right thing to do. If they had to 'fly' their imaginary helicopters from point A to point B they didn't have to worry about the rising prices of oil and fuel or that Congress was thinking of cutting funding for certain programs.

I never thought that such levels of realism were needed or even necessary. I guess subconsciously I knew that reality would soon rear its ugly head and that once I reached that point in life I would have enough of it to make up for lost time. Though I wasn't intelligent enough to know it at the time, more likely it was just a case of childhood bliss leading to ignorance of what reality had in store. I guess kids nowadays will have more insight into it since they'll be able to imagine for themselves the day-to-day drama of life replete with airport security checkpoints. But if we're going to make playsets on this then why not the other aspects of life? We're getting close to tax time, why not include something on tax accounting offices. You know, have a little desk with a chair. The accountant can have a computer and filing cabinets along with a 'customer' who will come with a file of tax forms and receipts. And don't forget the little toy W-2 forms.

What about having playsets on other bureaucratic nonsense that kids should know about from childhood? I mean if they are interested enough to play travel games with security checkpoints then certainly they'll be more interested in other parts of life that are just as important. How about the office for IT professionals. They can get a little cubicle and have a computer terminal with little or no light. The game will be completely devoid of anything else other than the cubicle and the computer. I'm sure kids will love to imagine what life in an office will be like for eight hours a day (at least). Perhaps a concession or accessory to the set would be the inclusion of the ubiquitous office coffee pot (empty of course... or with less than a cup remaining). There's a real dose of reality. Perhaps by showing kids these things they will do what I have realized and that is not be in such a hurry to grow up.


Friday, March 07, 2008

Breaking Up is Hard to Do

Relationships are tough things to get right because often you have two people with very different lives and priorities working to be together while maintaining that sense of individuality while wanting companionship. It's a hard mix to get right and often when that mix turns out to be a bit of a mess, the break up or the reasons for it can be even messier. At least that's what I think after catching some news items regarding some interesting fights and break ups in the news recently (not that I go looking for these kinds of things).

Now we've all been in situations where you've gone to a movie with your significant other where you (and I'm referring to guys though I'm sure girls experience this as well) have absolutely no interest in the subject. For us guys this is generally applicable to movies known coloquially as 'chick-flicks'. These are movies that have some romantic sub-plot or story line and can often be more schmaltzy than interesting. Still, there are plenty of such movies that are well worth watching and I don't think they're all bad. But apparently a couple in New Zealand was embarassed enough by their escapades to make the news there. Apparently the girlfriend dragged the boyfriend off to a chick flick and he was so bored that he fell asleep. He fell into such a deep sleep that he began snoring. Loudly. Now that is embarassing enough but the girlfriend decided to do him one better.

After the movie concluded, she decided to leave him there and she walked out of the theatre and went home deciding to teach him a lesson. Around 3:00 AM the boyfriend woke up in the theatre, which had since been closed and locked up by the theatre employees and he was now in danger of being arrested after setting off the movie house's motion alarms. The girlfriend panicked when she woke up around the same time and realized that he had still not returned home from the theatre. The couple was reunited and though they may not have gotten a stiff fine from the authorities, it probably either served to awaken them to the affection they had for one another in the first place or drove a stake between them and their relationship that after this incident, the probably never spoke to each other again.

Still, though this incident was interesting and a bit on the unusual side, there was no one in danger, other than the boyfriend who could have been charged with trespassing though he was not at fault. If the theatre workers didn't notice a snoring sleeping man sitting in a theatre then there's probably a lot more they miss. But that's another topic for another time. In this case, the boyfriend and girlfriend were the only ones affected. There was one girlfriend who tried to make it very clear to her boyfriend that she was interested in breaking up, but the way she decided to go about telling him this was a bit... out there. While her logic was sound, she was a bit dumb for assuming that there would be no other fallout other than breaking up with her boyfriend.

What she decided to do was phone in a bomb threat to the airline her then-boyfriend was due to fly that day. Her thinking was that after the boyfriend discovered who had made the threat, he would be turned off and would not want to be with her anymore. Well, guess what... she got her wish. She was convicted for making bomb threats by calling the airline several times to get the call recorded and responded to in a timely manner. The flight was immediately diverted and evacuated and though no bomb was found (mission partially accomplished) she didn't think ahead to the fact that in this day and age, she would be arrested faster than she could say "I hate you". The 120 passengers (including her now ex-boyfriend) probably won't forget this relationship break-up either though it was probably one of the more creative, albeit dangerous, ways to end a relationship. I guess building a relationship isn't as easy as it appears. Neither is breaking up apparently.


Thursday, March 06, 2008

Paying Students

Though the title could lead one to believe I am talking about how much students (and parents) pay for an education, I'm actually talking about a new trend that is popping up that educators hope will help boost the overall education level of students and that's by paying them for jobs well done. There are very few kids out there who can honestly say that they enjoy taking tests. Sure there are those with a competitive edge in them about everything who would say that they welcome the opportunity to excel against their peers. Thankfully I was never one of them. But what some schools across the nation are starting to do is to compensate students for doing well on the exam. Though the payout may not seem like much to the average working person (in some cases they pay about $50) but for a student who only gets an allowance it could mean a fortune.

Now I see nothing wrong with incentivizing the education system. It would have certainly encouraged me to always do my best in terms of test taking. I'm also sure that the schools that earn the best scores overall would probably get some monetary compensation as well from the school boards for being the best among the best and therein lies the problem as I see it. I attended a decent high school which was down the road from the county's science and tech high school and though the general student population of both high schools was comparable in terms of overall capabilities and test scores, the science and tech school was the one that always got the glory and the funding. Now while I like to tell myself that the county treated us equally in terms of funding and priority, I don't really believe that to be the case. Our school was the test bed for a new aerospace program that was being proposed for the nation and though students from our high school were among the first students to establish the program, it wasn't until the science and tech high school down the road also established the program that it got the recognition it deserved.

It wasn't until a science project our school developed to be launched on the space shuttle (it went up with John Glenn's shuttle flight) that our school was finally recognized. It was well after I graduated from the high school but it was gratifying to see that our school was finally gaining some noteriety for work they were doing. How does this relate to paying students? Easy, our school didn't gain anything from being the test pilot for new programs until it was spread to the hallmark school for the county. Once it was there then funding flowed; to the other school and not ours. The same way this 'paying students to learn' program will likely work too. As it stands now, in Maryland this program is being attempted in schools in poorer parts of the state where education incentives would undoubtedly help raise scores and though the success rate will likely pale in comparison to some of the better endowed schools in the area, some success will not yield it the additional funding required to help make all schools as successful.

It stands to reason doesn't it? What is better for the county and state overall? One school with great scores or an entire county? Though county leaders will argue that all schools are being treated equally, I beg to differ and retort with the claim that 'all schools may be equal but some are more equal than others'. It may or may not be the complete truth but I feel that there is enough evidence behind this trend to say that schools where funding is often slow to arrive will continue to experience slow growth. Money will continue to go to those schools where the county will see the greatest press coverage and where they can point to better statistics while the mediocre schools will continue to struggle and we'll end up with what I call the treadmill syndrome where we seem to be running fast but not really going anywhere. Instead of just shelling out money to students to incentivize them... try sending some of it to schools that really need it so that they can improve overall, so that they can retain good teachers (we need a lot of them), and so that they truly become equal all around.

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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Getting There on Time

I am fairly particular when it comes to punctuality. I don't like making anyone wait for me because I feel that if they've made the effort to show up on time for an appointment then I should show that person the same courtesy. In case of school classes and other such 'educational' appointments, the same standard applies. If you're paying to learn something, like tennis, then you owe it to yourself to be there on time because if you aren't, then couldn't you just flush your money down the toilet instead? That being the case, many people think of ways to avoid being late though very few are as novel as 65-year-old Robert Kadera.

Kadera, a 40-year veteran of naval aviation and father to a teenage son, realized that traffic was a bear from his family home in an Illinois suburb and would take over 45 minutes to get his son to the tennis club where his son was due to take lessons in less than 45 minutes. So he did what most of us would do. He hopped in his plane and proceeded to fly over traffic. Now there is no airport located close to the tennis club so he circled around and landed. At the golf course next door to the tennis club. As he and his son walked to the tennis club, the police and other authorities arrived, on news that there had been a potential small airplane crash and were stunned to find Kadera and his son calmly walking along and explaining the reasoning behind their little daliance on the golf course. Now I don't know how I would have reacted in that case but needless to say, the authorities weren't thrilled at what Kadera had done.

In this day and age I can sympathize with most parents. It seems these days that parents have a wealth of activities in which to enroll their kids. From activities meant to stimulate the mind to activities meant to stimulate their athleticism, there is a dearth of things which parents sign their kids up for. In that initial furor however, very few tend to remember that there are hundreds of other families thinking the same thing. Add to the mix the rest of us who are simply trying to get from point A to point B and you get automatic gridlock. Take myself for example. For a number of years I would attend a martial arts class at a school located approximately ten minutes (at slow driving) from my house. On Friday nights that trip would take me anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes. On Saturday mornings if I had to go to the same class it would take five minutes. Now there's a disparity and though I knew the trip shouldn't take more than ten minutes I didn't wait until ten minutes before my class began to head out.

Sure there are times when circumstances lead us to do desperate things to make an appointed time but it should remain within the realm of reason. Leaving aside that I don't have a plane in my name and that I don't live within a close proximity to a private airfield but I would think that thinking flying a plane and landing on a golf course, even if the plane was under control the whole time, should seem a bit... extreme. And to think that no one would mind? Perhaps if this were the barnstorming days of the 1920's then there would have been a clamour and rush of excitement but now people are quick to think terrorism or air disaster and rush to the scene in horror rather than excitement. How can we avoid situations like this? Well it's possible to leave earlier isn't it? Adjust your schedule and do what is necessary to get where you need to go on time. While flying to your destination may be a novel approach, it's just going to cause more trouble than it's worth. Until we reach the era of flying cars like in the Jetsons, I'm afraid we'll have to make do with remaining earthbound. Even when we're late for our tennis lessons.


Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Don't Perpetuate the Problem

Anyone who knows me knows that I have long been a commuter who drives. From almost the time I got my license to today I have been driving fairly moderate distances to and from work. At the height, I was driving nearly forty miles (one way) and was sitting in traffic more often than not. Anyone who knows that knows that I have a very low opinion of Virginia roadways and what puzzles me is why those of us who live and drive in Virginia seem Hellbent on making the problem worse rather than better. What do I mean? Well this morning I was coming into work when suddenly everyone ahead of me came to nearly a screeching halt. I don't tailgate and most people around me don't either but in this case the braking was so sudden that everyone had to keep an eye on their rearview mirrors to brace for potential impacts.

For the next five minutes we crawled along and I figured something must have happened ahead to warrant a slowdown as sudden as this one. I could only imagine it to be a fairly significant accident or mishap that was leading to this unexpected delay. Imagine my surprise (peppered with some additional puzzlement) when I saw that the reason was that a cop car had pulled someone over. In the opposite lane of traffic. Partially hidden by the dividing barrier. Now I can understand the interest in wanting to stare and gawk at the misfortune of some other driver who decided to speed or otherwise drive madly and was now paying the price, but is it necessary for us to come to a near full stop to do so? There is something peversely voyeuristic in the way most of us have this penchant to stop and stare at everything going on around us like this. It's almost as if we derive pleasure from the misfortune of others.

When I see such things I will lift off from the accelerator and move a lane over so that I give the incident (accident or otherwise) a wide berth so that I don't get caught up in anything. What many people tend to think (and this is in no means limited to Virginia) is that if they don't slow down to twenty miles below the speed limit in the vicinity of the incident, the cop will suddenly decide that his current pull over victim mis not worth the same value as you would be given that you are speeding. If you are driving that recklessly then for sure you're going to be caught one way or another but rare is the time that a cop will abandon one ticketing to chase after another. Plus I wish we'd give cops some more credit for intelligence. Most of them drive above the speed limit themselves when off duty. You don't think they know that we all slow down excessively when we see a cop car on the side in the hope that we think they are dumb enough to believe we've been driving below the speed limit the entire time?

As it is, the roads in Virginia (more so up in Northern Virginia) are ill-equipped to handle the volume of traffic that is on the roads these days. Part of the problem is that the growth in the state has been reflected with similar growth in the infrastructure. There's been so much delay in the current planned extension of the Metro to Dulles that it seems politicians and lawmakers won't be convinced of the need for the Metro until there is unending gridlock in the state. But we don't have to perpetuate the problems even more do we? When we are slowing down to see an accident or whatever, slow down but don't slow to a crawl to see in excruciating detail what all has happened. That's macabre and you're likely to be involved in one too if you don't pay attention. Let people merge ahead of you. They aren't challenging your roadworthiness or being an ass. They are simply trying to get where they need to go. And don't promote road rage. Most people are a bundle of nerves as it is, there's no need to light the fuse.


Monday, March 03, 2008

Getting the Word Out

My brother and I are both movie fiends and as such, we are pretty much up to date on a lot of the happenings in Hollywood. While my brother probably has more of an encyclopediac volume of knowledge on the subject, I like to think I'm not so bad when it comes to the movies. I can remember going to the movies as a kid and always hoping that we would arrive in time to find good seats and then see a bunch of good trailers. Not living in Hollywood, in fact living on the opposite coast, meant that back before the internet, you rarely got news about movies until they were 'in the can' and ready for distribution. For those in the know, 'in the can' is the term used to describe when a film is completed and put in the film can for distribution. I can remember not being aware of the latest Indiana Jones movie (back in 1984) until we first saw a TV commercial for it a few days before the movie came out. Later on we started hunting for information but back then it was hard to find.

But times have changed as they are wont to do and things are certainly different now than they were then and this can lead to some interesting situations in the movie world. Now most people I have spoken to enjoyed the latest James Bond movie, "Casino Royale" starring Daniel Craig. What a lot of people didn't realize is that there was tremendous backlash against Daniel Craig portraying Bond simply because he had blonde hair. Now I'm a big fan of James Bond and I was sure that the producers and director had chosen an appropriate actor to play the superspy having seen his previous work in movies like "Munich" and "The Road to Predition". Still, the backlash was significant enough to yield tension at the studio as to whether fans would go to see the film or not. Thankfully the average moviegoer wasn't as concerned about his hair colour as the unnecessarily dedicated movie fan but it just goes to show that thanks to the internet and the amount of information out there, a movie can be made or broken even before the trailer is released.

During the build up to "Casino Royale" there were so many rumors swirling around about how Daniel Craig couldn't drive manual transmission cars, or how he had been injured doing relatively simple stunt work. None of these rumors were true but it lent to an air of hesitation in most movie fans. Forget the fact that most people spreading these rumors can't drive manual transmission or even do half the stuff some actors do. Still, I think it may have ended up benefiting the movie since many people turned out to see if the movie was as bad as people were making it out to be or whether Daniel Craig was as terrible as people were predicting him to be. Thankfully both cases ended up being completely incorrect. Still, in order to help allay fears of this sort, movie producers and studios ensure that there is just enough info released on the movie to the internet to help keep people interested.

Take for example the latest Indiana Jones film, "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull". This movie has been in the works for a number of years and has gone through so many scripts that they could have had ten versions of the same sequel if they had wanted to. How do I know this? Because of the internet. So much information is available out there that producers and studios are taking great pains to safeguard their movies from rumors being leaked onto the internet. There is as much security around some movie sets and scripts these days that the Department of Homeland Security or the CIA would be hard pressed to come up with something more secure. And why? Because there is that desire to at least maintain some level of mystery with the coming of the latest movies. They want to make sure that the audience is interested but not completely give the story away before the time comes. It also helps studios refine the product so that the main people to contribute towards a movie's success, namely these same rabid fans, will be satisfied.