Monthly Archives: June 2013

Tell Me, What Do You See?

Tomorrow marks the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of Gettysburg, one of the pivotal turning points in the American Civil War.  When I was younger, my family took a trip to Gettysburg; according to my mother, vacation was a time for learning and visiting places of historical significance, not relaxation.  It was fine with me, for the most part; I ended up being a history minor because I actually liked this stuff.

The Civil War seems to collect more “buffs” than other historical events.  While I never would have considered myself a devotee of the topic, I read more about it than most kids my age, so it was certainly something to be there and learn about the battle that helped turn the tide in favor of the Union.

But how, and why, did it do that?  The details are too foggy for me to try and remember, let alone explain, without doing more research on my own.  I did, however, read this story from the Associated Press about the battle, and it raised an interesting thought:

What if the Union won the battle, and eventually the war, simply because Confederate General Robert E. Lee simply couldn’t see the Union Army?

Nowadays, thanks to aerial and satellite technology, we can not only see where enemy forces are assembled, we can probably count exactly how many soldiers are there and what their average height is.  No general in 2013 should ever lead his troops into a battle in which they are severely outnumbered.

But in 1863?  You had maps, and you had eyes.  And if you didn’t know that between you and that strategic hill stood undulating valleys full of enemy soldiers, you might help initiate possibly your worst defeat as a commanding officer, one that marked the high-water mark of your advance into enemy territory (I believe there’s even a monument there today), and the one that turned the tide of the conflict against you.

Imagine if Lee could actually see what was really there.  How different would the battle have been?  The rest of the war?  The rest of United States, and world, history?

Depending on your point of view (or, more likely, the state of your birth), you can be thankful for the illusions of landscape, or curse those bloody scouts and their faulty intelligence.  I’ll leave that part up to you.


Make Your Own Kind of Music

I was looking for a link to the story I talked about yesterday when I found this column by Graeme McMillan, also on

Read it, and feel how you feel, but if anything along the lines of “man, but pop music is so _______” appears in your thoughts, understand that I want to hit you with a frying pan.  A foam one, so as not to hurt you, but a frying pan nonetheless.

I have already written about the idea of music snobs, so I won’t rehash my thoughts on that.  If you’ll forgive a music pun, the article struck a chord with me because Oasis has for a long time been my favorite band, and I’ve known right from the get-go that Noel Gallagher liked to nick a chord progression, lyric, or entire melody from those who came before him.  And while it’s probably much “cooler” to cite an older or more obscure artist as your favorite, there was a time when Oasis was the biggest band in the world (probably not, as Noel once put it, “bigger than God,” but still), and that makes no difference to me.  While I would most likely never have heard them if they had never “made it,” I like to think that if I had heard them anyway, I would have still loved them.

The key quote in that piece that sums it up perfectly (emphasis by the author, but I can’t un-italicize a block quote so I bolded it):

I’ve got nothing against the idea of self-expression, but when it comes to music, what’s most important to me is how it sounds. Does it make me feel something? Does it make me want to shake my booty in a way that reinforces how ridiculously old and white I am (thereby making the fact that I used the word “booty” that little bit more embarrassing)? If the answer to either question is “yes,” then what does it really matter whether or not it was cynically constructed for maximum effect — or a happy accident like Paul McCartney waking up with “Yesterday” almost fully formed in his head?

Exactly!  It’s great that your favorite artists pours his or her heart and soul into every song they write.  Sometimes I wish I could put my thoughts and feelings into words that rhymed and fit a melody; instead, I just put them into a text box on the internet.  But on the flip side, sometimes I just wish I could write a killer chorus that a stadium full of people would sing along to because they liked how it sounded.  And if I feel that way, I know that people more talented than I must feel that way, and if they just do it to profit from it, why is that so bad?  They get paid, and you get a song to sing and dance along to at the bar.  A win-win.

Listen.  I don’t buy Taylor Swift’s records, but I respect how she puts herself out there in everything she writes (even it’s become rather popular and enjoyable to make fun of her for it).  I don’t go hunting down singer-songwriters so I can wallow in the doldrums and feel like there’s someone out there who feels exactly what I’m feeling, but I know that some people do, and if that’s what they like, well all right.  Keep strumming away, Ed Sheeran.

But if you listen to just about any live version of “Don’t Look Back in Anger,” you’ll notice that Noel Gallagher doesn’t usually sing the first two choruses.  He doesn’t have to; the crowd does it for him.  I’ve seen Oasis in concert twice, and Gallagher and his High Flying Birds once, and as corny and trite as this may sound, it almost feels like the crowd has been waiting two hours just to scream “SO SALLY CAN WAIT!” at the stage.

Whoever she is, Sally “knows it’s too late as she’s walking on by.”  What does it mean?  And who is Sally?  Who knows?  The point is that it doesn’t matter what it means, if it even means anything at all.  But it sure as heck sounds like it means something, and so we belt it out with all we’ve got, as if the rest of our lives depend on filling that literal chorus of voices with our own.

That is music.  Whatever it means to you.  Even if it means nothing at all.

Out of Touch, Out of Time

I saw a link the other day to Time Magazine’s “Top 25 Songs of 2013 (So Far).”  I clicked it, because the other alternative was doing work.


Granted, this is likely the opinion of one person, or maybe a small, select group of people.  But still, you would think I might have at least heard of more than 16% of the list.  And the ones I knew are chart-toppers by Justin Timberlake, Drake, Robin Thicke, and Daft Punk.  And two of those feature well-known producer/artist Pharrell as well.  I listen to the radio enough that I should at least have some sort of frame of reference.  And my car radio even shows me the names of the songs and artists.

So not only am I getting old, apparently I already am old.  This was pretty jarring to me.  The consolation was that one of my other coworkers knew just three of them, but at the same time, he’s only four years older than I am.

Someday, when I’m sitting on my porch yelling at kids to get off my lawn, I’m going to point to this day as the one where I thought, “oh, man, it’s over.”

Second Place Has Never Carried Me Home

We went to Thursday quizzo tonight; you know, the one I won last week.

And we lost.  By a point.  Odd how that works out.

The difference was in the sports round.  Last week, I got 17 out of 20; this week, we got 11.  Good enough for first in the round, but there was an opportunity there and we let it slip: in the end, we scored 72 points this week compared to 77 last week.  That’s probably what bugs me the most; that’s my wheelhouse, and I couldn’t make solid contact (to extend a strained metaphor).

Last night I gave you all a pop quiz.  It was pretty tough; here are your answers:

1) These are the first two letters of the 13 colonies, in the order that they joined the union.  The answer, then, is Rh, for Rhode Island.

2) These are the names of guys who’ve played Batman.  For example, AdWe = Adam West, MiKe = Michael Keaton, etc.  The most recent is ChBa, for Christian Bale.

3) Presidents of the United States, starting at the beginning.  The seventh is AnJa, Andrew Jackson.

4) The first 10 elements of the Periodic Table.  The blank is in the seventh position, which means we’re looking for Ni, the first two letters of Nitrogen.

5) Presidents in reverse order, beginning with the current President, BaOb (Barack Obama), back to JiCa (Jimmy Carter).  Before him was Gerald Ford, or GeFo.

6) Bonds.  James Bonds.  They’re listed in reverse: Daniel Craig, Pierce Brosnan, Timothy Dalton, Roger Moore, George Lazenby.  Of course, the answer is SeCo, for Sean Connery.

7) This was the toughest one, and the only one of these that I didn’t decode myself.  One of my teammates figured out that these are the cities and nicknames of the most recent Super Bowl champions.  BaRa = Baltimore Ravens, NeGi = New York Giants, so on and so forth.  InCo goes in the blank, representing the Indianapolis Colts.

Questions are the Answers You Might Need

A while back I told you all I would do some pop quizzes from time to time, and then proceeded to not do any.  It happens.

At my normal Wednesday night quizzo, we have four rounds of 12 questions in addition to a bonus round.  The bonus sheet, added to the score of one of the other rounds, is handed out at the beginning of the night and will have questions of various different types, be they photo questions, riddles, or questions of the type you’ll see below.

I love the bonus round.  It allows for easier collaboration, and when you run the sheet and get them all right, like we did tonight, it feels pretty good.

Well then.  Reproduced below are seven cryptic sequences.  Your job is to fill in the blank.  In order to do that, however, you have to 1) figure out what the sequences are referring to, and then 2) know what comes next in the sequence.

Good luck.  Some of them are really easy – if you know what you’re looking at – and a couple of them are tricky.

1) De, Pe, Ne, Ge, Co, Ma, Ma, So, Ne, Vi, Ne, No, _____.

2) AdWe, MiKe, VaKi, GeCl, _____.

3) GeWa, JoAd, ThJe, JaMa, JaMo, JoAd, _____.

4) Hy, He, Li, Be, Bo, Ca, _____, Ox, Fl, Ne.

5) BaOb, GeBu, BiCl, GeBu, RoRe, JiCa, _____.

6) DaCr, PiBr, TiDa, RoMo, GeLa, _____.

7) BaRa, NeGi, GrPa, NeSa, PiSt, NeGi, _____.

Answers tomorrow.

Everybody Hurts

Yesterday I posted about my dad having surgery for a hernia that he pretty much knew he had for a month.  Later in the evening, I was laying on the bed doing something on my phone when I dropped it onto my face.  The top edge (I have an iPhone 4S, and the case I have on it, while kind of heavy, leaves the top front edge exposed) hit me in the chin, actually breaking the skin a little.  An inch higher and I would have had to make an embarrassing return to the dentist’s office.

It got me to thinking about the dumbest injuries I’ve suffered.  That one is certainly up there, but I thought of two others, and both happened when I was in seventh grade.

Sometime in mid-March, I went to a local playground with my dad, my sister, and a friend to shoot some hoops.  It was going…well, I mean, about as well as you’d expect four horrible basketball players to do.  I was, however, getting nearly every rebound, because I was taller than both my friend and my sister, and my dad wasn’t trying.

After one hilariously pathetic attempt at an acrobatic layup, I found myself under the basket as the missed shot came down.  Not content to let one go by the wayside, I reached for the ball, arching my back as I leapt in the air over whoever was next to me.

I did not get the rebound.  Instead, I ended up on the ground in a crumpled mess.  With the weird angle, and the physics of trying to reach backwards over someone, I had hurt my back.  Walking was no longer fun, and basketball was out of the question.  My middle school marching band was performing in a St. Patrick’s Day parade the next day; suffice to say, I did not take part.  I went to the doctor and found out that despite the agonizing pain, all I’d done was strain a muscle.  He gave me some muscle relaxers that zonked me out in the living room chair; to this day, that may be the last time I went to sleep before midnight.

Unfortunately, this was also the final week of tryouts for the baseball team, so I ended up as a manager, since the coach was also my soccer coach.  I went to games and kept the scorebook, and also went to practice.

Coach had told me that at some point during the season, I would probably get a chance to play.  That went by the boards a month later.

From time to time, my sister and I were allowed to get something from the Jack & Jill ice cream truck.  One Sunday evening, I was playing ball with some of the guys that lived on the street when my sister bounded of the house with money.  I guess my mom wanted a popsicle, so we could get something as well.  I hemmed and hawed on what to get, so my sister said she was going to get me a “Firecracker.”  You’ve seen them before, those red, white, and blue popsicles that, if you suspend your disbelief, can kind of resemble a rocketship.

I quickly decided I wasn’t having that, so I yelled after her to get me one of the chocolate milkshake-y type things that I don’t remember the name of.  She kept going, not hearing me.  Instead of just accepting the inferior product and moving on with my life, I went up the street after her.  She had a head start, so I started jogging.

About 15 feet into my journey, I came across a block of sidewalk that was uneven.  I had walked, and run, up this sidewalk a hundred times; I knew it was there, and avoided injury every time.

Every time, that is, except this one.

This time, my toe hit that block and I went down.  I put my hands out to break my fall, but I was in front of a house that had an elevated yard of sorts, and the grass was surrounded by some kind of fancy rock.  As my left hand shot out to break the fall, it smashed into the rock structure and the ground at nearly the same time.

I got up and looked at my hands.  My right hand was scraped up, but my left hand had a flap of skin that was hanging off near my pinky.  It wasn’t bleeding, so the scrape wasn’t very deep, but the hand hurt quite a bit nonetheless.  I started walking back to my house to get cleaned up when one of the guys I was playing with yelled across the street and asked me where I was going.

“I fell,” I said, holding up my hand.  “I might be back, I don’t know.”

I went inside and explained to my mother what had happened.  She used a nail clipper to cut off the hanging skin and helped me clean up the scrapes.  When she made contact with my pinky, however, it really hurt.  Not the stinging associated with scrapes, but actual pain.

My evening was done.  I showered (carefully), and we wrapped up my finger to protect it.  While we were doing triage on my injury, we got a phone call from the mother of the boy I had spoken to after falling; apparently, when he saw the white flap of skin on my hand, he thought it was my bone sticking out and had told his mother that I broke my hand.

It turns out, he wasn’t far off.  After a day and a half of no improvement, I went to the doctor and had x-rays.  The doctor, who I remember to this day first and foremost because of his aggressive nose hair, showed me a little chip in my pinky, right above the first knuckle.

I had broken my finger chasing an ice cream truck.

He gave me a plaster-ish splint that went from the middle of my forearm up to the base of my fingers.  A cast wouldn’t be necessary…until I went back for a follow-up visit and it turned out I had broken the splint, probably within 24 hours of getting it.  That’s when the cast went on.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, my sister had no idea what had happened until she got home with the loot.  She never heard me yelling after her, and she bought me that stupid Firecracker.

I never ate it.

Doctor, Doctor, Give Me the News

This morning I dropped my parents off at the hospital before I went to work.  My dad was having surgery for a hernia, which I thought was sort of a major ordeal, but apparently it’s not because I was supposed to pick them up at 1:15.

Well, things got backed up and I ended up getting them at 3:30.  This was a problem for me because I am something of a scheduler, so I had planned to skip lunch, leave work, pick them up, and then eat something once we got the patient situated.  So as I sat at my desk and 1:15 became 2:00 became 3:00 became screw this, I’m stopping on the way because I already ate all the crackers in my drawer, I was crankier than normal when I picked them up.

A couple weeks ago, my father informed me of his malady and his need for transportation to and from the hospital…via text message.  He got a pretty nasty phone call two seconds later as I reminded him for what felt like the hundredth time what was and was not appropriate news to break via text.

(Summary: sport news, sure.  Medical diagnoses, no.)

I was surprised that he had a problem that needed surgery.  He borders on being a hypochondriac, and he goes to a number of different doctors for a number of different things without even the slightest bit of hesitation.  If something is remotely wrong with him, everyone usually knows.  So I asked him how long he had the hernia before he went to the doctor.

“About a month, I guess.”

Okayyyy…but what was the symptom?  Like what was actually wrong?

“Well there was a bump…”

Wait, whaaaaaaaaat?!?!

I quickly went from “jeez, what did it feel like that you didn’t go to the doctor” to “OH MY GOD WHY DID YOU HOW WOULD WHAT WAS WHAT?”

Unbelievable.  Apparently Pop went from being the guy who cried “ouch” to Magnus Ver Magnusson and nobody knew it.