Bend the Round

…where the madness is recorded.

Dumbing Down of America January 31, 2008

Filed under: rant — bendtheround @ 5:12 pm
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To an extent, I was very fortunate in my education. I was able to go to school in the same place from first grade all the way through high school graduation. The school was small and the classes were *usually* at least somewhat reasonably sized. I was also privileged to go through school with a group of remarkably intelligent classmates. The top quarter of my class was extremely bright. When we graduated, the first row and a half of the class had a GPA exceeding 4.0 (due to the availability of Advanced Placement courses, which were weighted in the GPA calculation).

And yet, when this remarkable group hit middle school (sixth grade) something awful started to happen. A lot of these very bright kids started acting stupid. They knew the answers. They were fully capable of doing the work. They chose not to. Somehow, they became convinced that being smart and trying at all wasn’t cool. Getting good grades, exercising their curiosity… no longer important. Even the kids who still did well in class would more often than not still behave like their IQ had been halved.

It drove me crazy even then. I remember asking my mother what was WRONG with them…he’s so SMART! Why is he acting so STUPID on purpose??

Hey, I know some of the brain drain goes along with puberty. I’ve acted like a moron when my head’s turned. I know how that goes. But I was never convinced that the interest in the opposite sex fully explained the voluntary dumbing down.

Knowing something of history, science, grammar…these aren’t bad things. Quite the opposite – they are valuable beyond my ability to express.
How did it happen? Where did people get the idea that it’s more important to look good, have the right clothes/electronics/whatever, be good at sports, know about the latest gossip on celebrities than it is to exercise one’s mind? I simply do not know.

I fully allow that people have interests that aren’t purely academic. In fact, interests that aren’t purely academic are important – and that’s the point. There is no reason that you can’t be up to date on the latest on the music scene, an excellent athlete, physically attractive, and still exercise your God-given intelligence.

I recently saw the movie Idiotcracy (starring Luke Wilson). The premise of the movie is that because less intelligent, less educated people tend to have more children than more intelligent, more educated people, the human population basically has intelligence bred out. Only the remarkably stupid remain. It was a comedy, but occasionally, it’s a little scary because I swear sometimes that it could happen. (I’m sure it won’t…)

I’m at a complete loss to come up with any sort of way to deal with this. Is it a matter of a failure in the education system? Is it a matter of needed a radical change in cultural values? Maybe it’s a matter of money… people can’t afford both an education and the time, effort, and expense of children. I suspect it’s some combination of these and plenty of others.

If you doubt that this is a real issue, I’d like to point you to a video on Google Video. I’d also like to point out the embedded hope in the video – it was done by some very promising students. I hope they continue exercising their minds. We can’t afford having too many people’s brain cells engaged in a never-ending game of hide-and-seek.

 

Frigid 8 Mile Beach Run January 28, 2008

Filed under: running — bendtheround @ 4:11 pm
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I’m lucky enough to have family living on the beaches of Delaware. My aunt hosted a party of three lunatic runners (me, my buddy Beth, and my sister) for a weekend so that we could catch up and get an eight mile training run in. I planned out a run along the ocean – four miles out and four miles back. It’s a beautiful run, but it was about 37 degrees out, and the wind gusts off of the ocean were pretty cold…that’s why I say “lunatic.”

We are three very different runners. Beth has been at it on and off for years. She routinely runs MUCH faster than I do, but had never gone farther than five miles on a run. She’s taller than I am and built like a runner – leggy and slim. Beth looks like she can run and she sure can.

My sister’s a beginning runner who is quickly developing a competitive runner’s mindset. She’d never run anything close to eight miles and had no intention of doing so this time. Her plan was to start with us and let us pull ahead. She’d go as far as she could until she saw us coming back, then she’d turn back and head back.

I’m sorta between. I’m not built to run (quite the opposite, I think), but I’ve done it for a while. I’m not all that fast at all, but I get the job done. My mindset is not competitive. I’m out there to go and get the run in. I enjoy the sense of accomplishment of knowing I’d just done something. I’m out there to do the best *I* can do – not better than everybody else can do. (I’ll cop to being happy when I do better than someone else, but I consider that kinda a bad way for me to think about running.)

The run worked out REALLY well. It was COLD, but we had the gear we needed to protect us from the cold. The first mile went great. The first quarter mile of the second mile was the only place you could lose the track, so Beth and I stopped and let my sister catch up. We wanted to make sure she didn’t get lost. The second mile was OK. About halfway through the third, my lower back started acting up. I wound up having to walk before we even finished 3 miles, which sucked. I actually stopped for a minute or two and stretched out my back some in hopes that the extra stretch would make it stop complaining. It helped, I think, but I still had to walk far enough that Lisa caught up again. After that, we walked and ran, Lisa catching up when we walked. Then Lisa pulled ahead and beat us to the halfway mark…which meant that she was stuck now – she’s gonna run the whole thing after all. 🙂

We did stop at the halfway mark and stretch again. She did great! It sucks that my back hurt, but if it had anything to do with my sister doing the whole run, then it’s worth it. She’s going to be a better runner than I am any second now. One of the things holding her back is the assumption that she can’t make it that far. I really hope that this helps her figure out that, oh yeah… she can!

The way back was tough. We all ran separately for the way back. Beth ran the whole thing, I think. I walked and ran until I got to the last mile – then I ran the rest of it, back be damned. My sister was behind me somewhere, so I didn’t see how well she was doing. I finished in one hour, forty-eight minutes. Not too bad considering how often we stopped and how far we walked. Definitely not as well as I wanted to do, but all things considered, not terrible.

There were other benefits besides just being able to say that I finished a frigid eight mile run with a somewhat decent time. I also had a chance to catch up with my good buddy Beth, which is a rare thing. We got to enjoy watching the surf for a little bit. The beach is what I call my “happy place.” It’s a silly phrase, but it’s the place where I have had the most happy memories growing up. Lots of happy memories as a grown-up, too, of course. The sight, sound, and feel of the sun, sand, and surf…even when it’s 37 degrees…just make me happy. Also, part of the run was beside a water fowl refuge. We saw a lot of beautiful birds – several herons including one blue heron that put on a short ice-skating show for us.

All in all, I’d call it a successful run, even if it didn’t go *quite* as planned. 🙂

 

Charlaine Harris January 24, 2008

Filed under: books — bendtheround @ 8:56 pm
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One of my favorite series of books is the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris. The main character, Sookie, is a telepathic barmaid in a universe where the advent of synthetic blood allowed vampires to “come out of the closet” (ie, reveal to the world that they’re real). It’s also a universe in which Elvis was turned into a vampire, but because of all the drugs in his system and because he was already pretty much dead, the process didn’t go well. Elvis is a vampire, but he’s basically mentally challenged. That’s right… the mentally challenged vampire Elvis plays a supporting role in this series. You gotta admire creativity like that. (HBO does – this series has been picked up to be made into a TV show called True Blood on HBO. Three episodes were filmed before the writer’s strike put a damper on things. Anna Paquin is in the starring role. No word on who’ll play the King.)

In addition to the Sookie Stackhouse series, Charlaine Harris has written several other series, none of which I have read (yet – I intend to start on another one of her series soon). If the Sookie Stackhouse series is any indication, the others are definitely worth a shot.

If you’re ever in the mood for a nice, easy read in the realm of the supernatural, I highly recommend Dead Until Dark, the first in the Sookie series. If you like it, there’s plenty more were that came from! In addition to the rest of the series and the other series Harris has written, she maintains a blog on her website in which she shares the books she’s reading and her impressions of them. I’ve gotten some great book suggestions from her blog. Here’s the address in case you’d like to check it out – http://www.charlaineharris.com. I’ll include the site in the side bar, too.

Enjoy!

 

Free Hugs Campaign January 23, 2008

Filed under: wtf — bendtheround @ 8:13 pm
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I saw this on Digg earlier this week and can’t decide if it’s unfettered hippy crap or just plain weird.

http://www.freehugscampaign.org

The idea is to foster human contact by going out in public and making yourself available to strangers for hugs (for free…no pimping out your hugs).

My reaction to the campaign seems to be a consistent and equal mix of enthusiasm and suspicion. On one hand, I know that I’ve been desperate for human contact before – just needed someone to say hello to, look in the eye, and care, even for just a minute. (Pardon the emo moment, please.) It would have been lovely to be able to get a hug in any one of those moments.  On the other hand, I seriously doubt that I would have taken advantage of the opportunity if I had seen some stranger holding up a sign for Free Hugs. I’m pretty sure I would have assumed the individual was at least a little nuts, and I’m not one for close personal contact with the insane.

It seems like maybe I have seen a Free Hugs sign somewhere, though, for the life of me I can’t think where. If I did, I know I didn’t partake of said offered hug. I’d remember hugging a total stranger.

I watched the whole video on the website and was touched. It is a remarkable reminder that the masses around us are individual people and that most of them are good. It makes me feel good to see strangers reaching out to make each other smile. That’s awesome. It’s the opposite of the road rage I see on a daily basis and totally refreshing.

And yet… I know damn well that I’m still a bit hinky about the whole thing. What if that guy holding up the sign is just hoping to grope people? Or trying to get people close enough to pickpocket them?

See? Totally confused in my own mind about my reaction to the whole thing. In its sincerest form, I think I like it. Let’s humanize each other. Make each other smile if we can. Distance this thing even a little from the ideal, though, and yeah, it’s just weird.

Thoughts anybody?

 

Book 4: Cat Cross Their Graves by Shirley Rousseau Murphy

Filed under: books — bendtheround @ 6:43 pm
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This is the 10th book in the Joe Grey series by Shirley Rousseau Murphy. I picked it up from the library yesterday after work and pretty much inhaled it. (I haven’t been feeling well, so I decided to rest and read instead of hitting the gym and/or doing the usual domestic chores around the house.)

Maybe it’s the blossoming headcold talking, but I enjoyed this one more than any of the other recent books in the series. Kit really comes into her own in this story and the human characters feel a bit more fleshed out and realistic in Cat Cross Their Graves. One of the problems with the series is the behavior of the law enforcement characters – they run with information from their snitches (they don’t know the cats are passing them tips) and get convictions despite being unable to identify the source of the information. I wonder at the legality of some of their activity, too – such as digging under a suspect’s house without a warrant or permission from the suspect or landlord. Maybe that’s kosher – I don’t know, I’m not a lawyer. But anyhow, this time, the behavior of the Molena Point PD was a bit more in line with my idea of how cops behave – much more “by the book.” Still not perfect, but better.

Overall, I’d say this one is as good as the very earliest in the series. I’m looking forward to seeing if the improvements continue in the next title in the series.

 

Kingdom of Loathing January 22, 2008

Filed under: gaming — bendtheround @ 8:13 pm
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I love KOL. That’s Kingdom of Loathing to the uninitiated.

Kingdom of Loathing is a brilliant online game you can play for free. It’s turn-based, and your turns-per-day are limited, so it’s pretty hard to lose your *entire* day to KOL (though, I suppose it can be done if you’re a pretty hardcore player). What makes it brilliant? Two things: the writing and the graphics. It’s loaded with pop culture references and the entire KOL world is rendered in static stick-figure form. Everything looks like something I might have drawn on the back of a test paper in the 6th grade – only way, way more awesome. 🙂

You start the game by creating character for yourself. You can be a male or female character in one of six classes: Seal Clubber, Turtle Tamer, Pastamancer, Sauceror, Disco Bandit, or Accordian Thief. Once you’ve got a character all set up, you can get started “Adventuring” in the Kingdom. You very quickly garner the attention of the Council of Loathing (the ruling body of the Kingdom, and they start giving you jobs to do – they start small, but build up in scale and importance.

Unlike a lot of online games, you don’t have any kind of direct interaction with other players. You can choose to join (or start)  a “clan” which can have a number of benefits. You can also interact with other players by engaging in PvP (Player vs. Player) action – including toilet papering each others’ camp sites – but only after smashing the “Hippy Stone” to indicate that you’re NOT peaceful and you DO want to fight.

The real appeal of KOL for me is the obsessive-compulsive, collect-the-whole-set mentality that it inspires. If you’re the type of person that finds a sense of satisfaction in putting the last Indiana Jones movie (now you’ve got them ALL!) on the DVD shelf, then this game might well be for you. There are hordes of things to collect – outfits, tattoos, trophies… I’m currently working on collecting all of the second series of tiny plastic figurines.

There’s even a whole economy built up within the game. Only, you don’t use money. There’s no money in KOL. The currency of the land is… meat. Yup, you buy all your stuff in meat. (Meat is valueless outside the game, so you can’t fork out $20 and get a couple million meat or exchange your multi-million meat stash for a couple of real-world bucks. I *have* seen eBay auctions for KOL items, but that’s definitely the exception, I think.)

Anyhow, it’s a load of fun. If you’re interested, check it out at http://www.kingdomofloathing.com, or the link on my sidebar. Happy Adventuring!

 

Seven Miles on a Treadmill January 21, 2008

Filed under: running — bendtheround @ 9:26 pm
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I had a seven mile training run to do this Sunday, and baby, it was COLD outside. I can handle cold to a point, but it was in the mid-20s, I have never gone running in temperatures quite THAT low, and there was a very real threat of ice on the trails I’d be running. The ice was really my biggest concern. See, I’m a bit of a klutz. Klutzy tendencies aren’t helped any by the exhaustion that sets in on a long run, either. So, I opted for the treadmill.

I recently joined a local rec center facility and am loving it. The treadmills there the nicest ones I’ve ever used. Still, it is a gym environment, and gym etiquette insists that you not use equipment for longer than 30 minutes if there are people waiting. (No complaints about that, by the way – that seems fair to me.) There’s no way in bloody blue hell I can run seven miles in 30 minutes… that’d be about a 4 min 20 sec mile. I don’t know if treadmills even go that fast. Doesn’t really matter because if they ever DID go that fast, I’d just be flung off the thing.

Anyhow, the point is that I had to be careful not to hog the treadmill. There’s about a dozen of them at the fitness center, and it wasn’t as busy as it could have been, so I got lucky and didn’t have to give up my treadmill partway through my run.

This was, without a doubt, the longest run I’ve ever done on a treadmill. It was kinda weird, actually, in a nice way. I’m still not a terribly experienced runner. I have trouble pacing myself sometimes. Pacing is not an issue on a treadmill… you set it and forget it. So, I set the thing for 5.0 mph and got down to it.

I am very pleased to report that 5.0 mph isn’t a problem for a seven mile distance. That’s good – my average mile for the half marathon I did was 12 min 12 sec, so if I had trouble keeping a 12 min mile pace up for seven miles, I was going to have it tough. It’s still going to be tough, but it’s definitely encouraging to finish seven miles without too much trouble.

There are definite advantages to doing my distance running on a treadmill. If my knee really starts acting up, I don’t have miles to limp home. If I need more water, I’m not up shit creek because the water fountain is right over there. The people watching can be pretty interesting. The TVs are on, but I don’t even have a portable radio to use to listen to them, so I have to either ignore the shiny colorful shapes or hope it’s something I’ve seen often enough that I know what’s going on (I usually opt to try to ignore the TV).

Still, I’d prefer doing my long runs outside. The half marathon isn’t going to be on a treadmill after all…