Friday, February 28, 2014

Will You and I Weather the Weather?

Again, it is cold here in my little corner of New York State. By cold, I mean the temperatures are barely above zero Fahrenheit, or -17 C, with wind chills well below zero, on either scale. And by my little corner of New York State, I mean the western portion of the state, which is part of that vast area that is not New York City.

This very cold weather has caused the Great Lakes to almost completely freeze over. By almost, I mean that all of the lakes are frozen, except for Ontario, which is closest to my house. This means that any cold air that flows over the relatively warm waters of Lake Ontario picks up moisture. The cold air can’t hold onto the moisture, so it dumps the accumulated moisture; all of it, on my drive way, in the form of snow.

The meteorologists on television and the Internet are blaming this cold weather on the Polar Vortex. It seems that at the North pole, cold air simply swirls around and around in a circle, trapped in a spinning vortex. Occasionally,  a bunch of this cold air makes its escape from the polar region. This year the Canadians, on at least two occasions, have let the guard around their borders down and allowed this air mass to stream, unchecked, into their country. Unfortunately, the Canadians didn’t like this air mass, so they escorted it right on out and into the United States, which, as you may know, is trying to be more accommodating, welcoming, and supporting of illegal immigrants, who cross the border without proper documentation. It seems that this includes not only the “huddled masses”, but the Polar Mass as well.

As soon as the Mass entered the US, the government went into action, offering food stamps, an Obama phone*, and college tuition to this unwelcome guest. To the delight of most tax-payers, the Polar Mass’ response was frosty, giving the government a cold shoulder (amongst other cold body parts).

Of course, this cold weather has renewed the debate about Global Warming. The Anti-Global Warming camp thinks that Global Warming is just a bunch of hot air. These people point to this polar cold snap and say things like, “Where is Global Warming when you need it?” and “Global Warming or Ice Age? Make up your mind.”

To these criticisms, the Global Warming camp responds, “This Polar Vortex condition is a once in a lifetime anomaly, the last time it happened was twenty years ago.”

It appears that the life expectancy with Global Warming is quite low.

Coming Next Week: What Happens when Technology and Weather Collide?

*An Obama phone is a cell phone given to people on low income assistance, who cannot afford a cell phone on their own.

Friday, February 21, 2014

What is the Deal with Curling?

Like most of the world, my attention was directed towards the Olympic Games this week. The winter games may not be as popular as the summer games, but there are some events that capture my attention; Bobsledding is one of those events. This competition appeals to a sense of adventure and need for speed. I can almost picture myself roaring down that frozen roller coaster  in a sled built by BMW, at speeds over 80 miles per hour (or 128 kilometers per hour, for those of you who aren’t stuck in the Dark Ages like we are in the United States).

If you are unconvinced that Bobsledding is a sport to watch, let me leave you with three words, “Jamiacan Bobsled Team.”

Another sport that I make sure to watch is Ice Hokey (that is how my Canadian friends say it.) To be honest, I only know the basics of the game: take a tree branch and slap a burned biscuit into the opponent’s net. The team that gets the most biscuits into the opposing team’s net wins the game.

The real attraction to hokey is listening to the play-by-play guys up in the media booth. These guys have to remember each player’s name and jersey number and call the plays with such rapidity they begin to sound like auctioneers. In addition to those skills, they have to be a lingual gymnast, correctly pronouncing each player’s name. I have tried to say one or two of those Russian names in a restaurant and have had concerned strangers rush up and give me the Heimlich Maneuver.

One other sport that captures my attention during the Olympics is Curling. This sport is shrouded in more mystery than an Agatha Christie novel, due to it’s protection by the International Committee to Protect Curling (ICPC).I searched for an explanation of how one actually plays and wins a game of curls and found a clip of curling, narrated by Sir David Attenborough, and produced by the BBC I figured a knight of the British Empire should be able to clear up this mystery.

Unfortunately, the BBC, in accordance with a mysterious international treaty, enforced by the ICPC against the export of Curling, its rules, and anything to do with the sport, has limited viewing of this video to the United Kingdom only. When I realized that I could not view this important piece, I ran to the kitchen and dumped all my tea into the sink and yelled, “This is Balderdashery.” in my best English accent.

Being a pragmatic American, I turned on the telly and watched some more curling, along with searching
Google, where I found that Curling and Shuffleboard are quite similar. Sadly, in the United States, one can only play Shuffleboard if you are a registered member of the American Association of Retired Persons. I think this secrecy is a result of pressure from the International Committee to Protect Curling.

In frustration, I turned my full attention to the images on the TV screen and the commentators’ comments about Curling. After a while, I realized that Curling was oddly similar to Bocce, or Bocce Ball, or Lawn Bowling. This is a game I was quite familiar with, being of Italian descent. Many a warm Sunday afternoon I spent with my cousins, uncles, and grandfather playing Bocce, The games with my uncles were always intense; they would measure distances down to the width of a finger, all in order to find out who scored the points for that round.

So, Dear Reader, I cannot tell you much about Curling, except that it is like Bocce, only played on ice. With brooms.

NOTE: After I posted this on Facebook, one of my wife's cousins reported that he had been on his high school's curling team. His own daughter expressed surprise, saying, "Seipusly, Dad? I didn't know you curled..."

This highlights the mystery and secrecy that shrouds the noble sport of Curling. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Middlest was Inducted in National Honor Society

Middlest was inducted into National Honor Society this week. This is a very wonderful honor, or at least I think so. I don’t really know what National Honor Society is, and I am not even sure if the High School I attended had a National Honor Society. I know there was a Future Farmer's of America club, a Four-H club, and a football team. These clubs and activities are quite normal for a school that sits in the middle of corn and potato fields, in the center of a county that is home to more cows than people.

Be assured that the area I grew up in has produced some people of honor. David Starr Jordan, the first president of Stanford University, was born in 1851, in the same town my mother lives in. I don't believe he and my mother ever met. Interestingly, Mr. Jordan's parents didn't send him to the local high school; instead they sent him to an All Girls’ school. Being a lone teenage male amongst all those female students helped him focus on his studies, I am sure.

He did well in high school and went on to college, where his area of study was ichthyology, which comes from the Greek words, “icky”, meaning yucky, and “ology” meaning science. He studied yucky things. In his case, the yucky things he studied were fish, he even has a few species named after him.

I hope Middlest doesn't study fish for two reasons. First, I am allergic to fish, and second, I don’t think she likes them. She really wants to be a dentist, or a biochemist. I do believe that she would make a fine college president. She is hard working, socially adept, intelligent, and has a thirst for knowledge.

She also is a team player, who always wants things to run smoothly. When she was five years old, she and her sisters were misbehaving. I huffed and puffed and prepared to roar as fathers are known to do. However, I was able to keep my voice low and speak calmly. All the while I spoke, Middlest sat with her fingers in her ears. When I finished, she took her fingers out and spoke plainly and clearly, using a chopping motion with one hand into the open palm of the other hand for emphasis. "Dad, when I think you are going to yell, you don't; when I don't think you are going to yell, you do. We have got to get together on this."

Even at that young age, she was a team player who wanted things to run smoothly.

And so, this week, Middlest was inducted into the National Honor Society. I went to the induction and still do not know what National Honor Society is about. I do know there were candles and pledges and organ music, but no one got married.

I am relieved no one got married, Middlest is way too young to be wed. 

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Are We Really Average?

The Olympics start this week. I enjoy watching the pomp and pagentry, the competition and the camaraderie. At every Olympic competition records fall. That is to be expected. The Olympic motto is, "Citius, Altius, Fortius" which Middlest, my Latin scholar, tells me means, "Faster, Higher, Stronger". Watching any athletic competition where being average is celebrated, would be dull. Just imagine a hockey game where each team strived to not outscore each other, or a figure skater only doing a double axel instead of a triple, because she "does not want to perform above average".

I know an Olympic Gold Medalist. I went back to finish my degree later in lifeand in the first class l took was a female basketball player who has since won an Olympic Gold medal in pole vaulting. My recollection of this young woman was that she was quite normal, albeit kind of tall. Although normal, she is far from average. There is nothing average about hurtling head-long down a runway, shoving a large fiberglass stick into the ground, and flinging yourself 16 feet into the air. Which, by the way, is 3 feet higher than most tractor trailers.

All of us have those dreams and aspirations of doing something extraordinary; something above average. This trait is plainly evident in children. Ask a child what she wants to be when she grows up and she will tell you, president of the United States, a doctor, a fireman, or, as littlest would say when she was in Kindergarten, a bus driver.

Into this youthful optimism and unbridled energy steps the government. Here, in New York State when I was in high school, the state administered Regents exams. These exams were designed for students who were planning on attending college. At my high school, around 20% of the students took those tests. Then someone in New York State government had the brilliant idea that all students should take the Regent's exams and go to college, whether or not the student wanted to, or was capable of going on for further education at the collegiate level.

In order for this to work, some brilliant minds created a curve. This is where it gets fun. With this curve, points are taken from those who do well on the test and given to those who do poorly. Problem solved and everyone is closer to average. Except they aren't and the government does not know why.

It is like the the Olympic committee allowing anyone to go and compete in the games, and then expressing confusion over why so many competitors do so poorly. Simply saying it is so, doesn't make it so

Enjoy the above average spectacle of the Olympics and be glad the don't curve the scores.