Sunday, August 31, 2014

My 2014 Saints prediction

13-3, NFC South champions.

Deep playoff run ... at least.

Knock on wood.

The benefits of being tech-bereft in class

I had a dream earlier this week that I enrolled at the University of Nevada, Reno. It was weird going back to school at 34 and on my own terms, but exhilarating as well. I'm not sure what major or degree I went for, but I recall putting on a Nevada Wolf Pack T-shirt, driving to campus and reliving the joy and potential of the first day of school.

When I originally attended college from 1998 to 2005, the quantum leap of technology we enjoy today had yet to happen. Sure, there were non-smart cellphones, laptops and iPods, but they were only beginning to be ubiquitous, and I was an even later adopter. I got my first laptop in 2006 and my first (and current) iPod in 2008, and didn't have a cellphone until Christmas Eve 2004. Given that I took no classes in the spring 2005 semester (it was my exam term), this means that I never brought anything more technologically complicated than a calculator to class.

That seems crazy to me now, but even though it wasn't that long ago, it was still a different time.

During my first semester, my English 115 instructor urged us to learn how to "compose on the computer." It was a foreign concept to most of us. Prior to that, I had always handwritten my assignments first — even if I was sitting in the computer lab to type it up, which I did only if it was required, which it usually wasn't.

That's right, the lab. I didn't own a computer. In the earliest days, if I wanted to type something up, I had to go to a specific lab that had a small section of Macintosh Performas with word processors (and we still said "word processors"), check in if space permitted and pay for any printouts I made. If I wanted Internet access, I had to go to another lab. It was in that lab that I (eventually) learned the art of typing as I went. 

Still, I figured out over time that the best way I retained information was to write it out by hand. Even if I'd taken notes in class, on exam week I would laboriously rewrite new, cleaner notes based on the source material, just to hammer in my mind what I needed to know. That, combined with my famously neat handwriting, led to classmates asking to borrow my notes during many study sessions. (This also saved me from explaining the numerous doodles in the margins, among which were piles of poop to mark an argument I didn't like.) 

I also had to write down notes during journalistic gigs. On the rare occasion I had access to a computer during an assignment, I found it more cumbersome to type than to write really fast. (I had recorders too, but transcribing audio is a massive time-suck on deadline, so notes were still the best.) Even as recently as 2012, during my most recent stint as a professional reporter, I'd still take longhand notes when interviewing over the phone and type in the article as I went.

These days, I take my laptop anywhere that I think I'll be writing, and compose on the keyboard. But I feel like if I ever went back to school, I'd revert to my stodgy, paper-based ways in class. A laptop or tablet, especially in the age of Wi-Fi, could be a huge distraction (also, I'm notorious for typing very fast and loud, which would annoy everyone else). And when I got down to study business, I'd once again dim the lights, put on public-radio jazz and start scrawling. A laptop is a glowing Internet temptress. 

I kind of want to go back to school now.

[Rifles through old college papers for something to illustrate this blog]

Oh, that's right. Never mind.

You'll play again, Sam

So the St. Louis Rams have cut Michael Sam.

I thought he showed pretty good game. He led all Rams with six tackles during the preseason, and otherwise showed tremendous drive and potential. The Rams have a deep defensive line, though, so cutting a talented 7th-round draft pick to shore up elsewhere is hardly unheard-of.

In other words, it was a practical football situation. And that's what great about it.

Sam's performance and release prove three things:

1) He didn't encounter serious opposition for being gay.
2) He didn't receive any preferential treatment for being gay.
3) Even if the Rams didn't need him, he is NFL-ready.

It's the ordinariness of Sam's pro journey that makes it so remarkable.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Elbows and their feud with the table

One of my Facebook friends mentioned this morning that she was trying to enforce an "elbows off the table" rule with her daughter.

This got me to thinking: I hate this "rule."

I was maybe 12 or 13 when I first heard of it, from reading a magazine. We didn't eat at the dining-room table much in my family, but when we did, I don't remember ever having to worry about that. I know I stuck my elbows where they didn't belong every single time, and still do.

The rule baffled me, because most forms of stuffy etiquette have at least some root in civility. When someone insists you not scrape your teeth on your fork or not bury your face in your plate, you can understand why such things are uncouth. But elbows on the table never struck me as particularly offensive.

OK, so it serves a practical purpose when you're at a trough, but at a reasonably spaced dinner table? Ah, the power of unquestioned tradition. 

Later, Mom actually did request that I take my elbows off the table. I said something like, "That custom comes from the days when people were so jammed together at medieval dining tables that they had to do that. It serves no purpose today." 

And she replied, "Really?"

Then I tried taking my elbows off the table and expended a lot of mental energy to not put them back there. It was tiring.

So if you ever eat with me, I'll likely be putting my elbows where they don't belong. But you'll probably be too busy balking at all of my other annoying mannerisms to notice.

Answering the A.V. Club: Hanson edition

A few days ago, I began writing a blog about lines I hated in my favorite songs, so this is well-timed. Honorable mention goes to any lyric that refers to love as a transaction or as an obligation. There are so many lame lyrics in great songs that this blog will always be incomplete, but these are the two examples that inspired my would-be piece:

• "Oh, I'll be workin' from nine to five / To buy you things to keep you by my side" — Michael Jackson, "The Way You Make Me Feel"

• "Look around for a wife to start a family, my boy" — Men at Work, "Settle Down My Boy"

But to answer the A.V. Club's question, "Man From Milwaukee" by Hanson immediately leaps to mind.

When Hanson first burst onto the scene in the summer of 1997, I dug them strictly on what I heard. By then I had stopped watching MTV and was too busy in the weight room training for football season (no, seriously) to interact with the 14-year-old girls (or even my 7-year-old sister, apparently) who could have told me this wasn't music 17-year-old guys were supposed to like. All I knew when I first heard "MMMBop" on the radio was that it was fun and catchy as hell. I went to the mall and bought the CD Middle of Nowhere with no shame, the clerk presumably waiting until afterward to laugh himself into six-pack abs.

Even after I figured out I liked every freshman girl's favorite band, I still listened, if I did keep it on the down-low. My dad heard them on a radio show and was impressed, so I figured they were just a good band who happened to be kids. Nothing wrong with that.

Anyway, "Man From Milwaukee" instantly became my favorite track on the album because of its riff. That riff would have rocked in any song. 

I'd still say it's one of my favorite tunes.

But there's one part of the song that made me cringe. 

The cringeworthy moment was the bridge, when this walkie-talkie exchange occurs between Taylor and 11-year-old Zac (or maybe it's just Zac, not sure):

This is Mother Bird calling Baby Bird 
Baby Bird come in, come in Baby Bird 
For the love of Pete come in! 
This is Baby Bird ... sorry I was watching Court TV 
Do you copy? Do you copy? 
Of course we copy ... 24 hours a day ... in color!

I was never in a position to judge this, because when I was 11 and younger (and older), I spewed similar silliness on tape all the time. It was fun. And I was already lip-synching to songs at school events and parties will full appreciation of detachment and irony. But at the time, I found this verse hard to justify, especially the Court TV line, because it was a reminder that if Hanson's musical abilities defied their years, ultimately they were kids still finding their lyrical voice. And maybe there was a bit of, "I don't want to be a 17-year-old laughing at childish randomness." I'd save that for when Family Guy began two years later. 

I don't cringe over it so much now, because I'm more mature, appreciative of art and have a to-hell-what-anybody-thinks-of-my-tastes attitude now. I feel a little guilty for citing it, really. But in doing so, I'm blogging about how I like a Hanson song. So there.