Monday, November 23, 2015

No Time

Well, my Spartans did it again, winning our game over the weekend against the (previously) undefeated defending national champions; in Columbus, no less.  The Las Vegas types had installed us as 14-point underdogs, which, considering that we were ranked in the Top Ten going into the game, was a pretty stunning spread.  Suffice it to say, we weren't widely expected to win.

But win we did.  The final score was 17-14 in our favor, and we didn't actually hold the lead until the field goal that won the game on the final play.  But honestly, we fairly dominated the game, pretty much from start to finish.  If we hadn't turned the ball over twice, they might not have scored at all.

[As an aside, I didn't get to actually watch much of the game; 7M's high school team was playing in the state semi-finals an hour's drive from OurTown (or, it would normally be an hour's drive; in five inches of snow, it became more like two, at least on the homeward leg), and Jenn and I went to watch that.  Alas, they lost; their game was closer and more competitive than the final score would indicate, but our kids just made too many mistakes against a really good team (memo to the opposing coach - when you're ahead by 22 with 3 minutes to play, and you run a trick play to score again, that's. . . how shall I say it? . . . a real no-class move; I'd like to use more, um, colorful language, but you know, just sayin').]

So we only got to see the 4th quarter of the Spartan game on TV.  And I was just stunned to see our offensive line getting a 2-yard push on virtually every snap.  You're not supposed to be able to do that to the mighty Buckeyes, but there it was.

Since Urban Meyer has been the Ohio State coach, his Buckeyes have lost exactly two conference games - two years ago in the league championship game, to my Spartans, and now this past weekend, their first regular-season loss in the Big Ten under coach Meyer (over nearly four full seasons!), again to my Spartans.  Memo to the other twelve teams in the Big Ten - come on, you guys, somebody besides us has to figure out how to beat these guys. . .

So now, possibilities open up for us, just a bit.  If we win our game next Saturday, we'll be Big Ten East Division champs, and then we'll play Iowa for the overall league championship.  If we win that, we stand a decent chance of getting an invite to the 4-team national championship playoff (and if we hadn't sleep-walked our way to a loss at Nebraska, it would be more than merely a 'decent' chance; *sigh*).  So, woo-hoo!, and all that. . .

And then there's this fascinating little tidbit from our two big rivalry-game wins this season - we beat both Michigan and Ohio State, and in those two games combined, the total amount of time that my Spartans were actually in the lead was - exactly zero.  We never led either game, until the winning points were scored on the final play of the game. . .

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Fun With Fractions

Bijoux will like this one. . .

Recently, I got a letter from one of the oil companies with whom I hold a credit card.  They were returning my check to me because their bank had returned it to them, saying that the amount of the check was not clear, and would I please send them a replacement check?  WTH??  They helpfully included the offensive check with their correspondence, so I could see for myself the nature of the confusion.  The amount I owed was $5.75 (we use pre-paid cards for 99% of our gas purchases; but every so often, we run out on the pre-paid card before we can reload it, so we end up putting small amounts on the credit card).  And, in the box on the check, I had duly entered '5.75'.  But - horror of horrors! - on the amount line, I had written 'Five and three-quarters', rather than the 'canonical' form of 'Five and 75/100'.  Because, you know, sometimes you just want to have a little fun (and honestly, as fun goes, this ain't so much as all that) and do things a little bit differently, 'cuz that's just how I roll, sometimes.  Anyhow, this was 'unclear' to the bank, so they returned my check to the oil company, and what was the oil company supposed to do?  They just want their $5.75, and I want to give it to them.  But the bankers were being obtuse morons (I'd like to say they were being anal-retentive obtuse morons, because of how it connotes infantile toilet-training issues, and it sounds like I'm indirectly calling them a**holes; but I won't. . .)

So I sent them their replacement check (with 'Five and seventy-five hundredths' on the amount line) (I know, I know. . .), along with a photocopy of their letter to me, on which I had copied a quarter (you know, a 25-cent coin), and circled the words 'quarter dollar' on the face of the coin.  In a hand-written note, I said that they should consider changing banks to one which wasn't so easily confused as to whether 'three-quarters' was the same thing as '.75' or not, and the nature of the currency in which they trade, since the bank's stupidity had cost both of us time and aggravation.  Over five bucks - and three quarters. . .

If I knew which bank it was, I'd happily tell the world, but I don't.

Morons. . .


Which reminds of a similar anecdote from several years ago.  I was at the post office.  I don't remember exactly what my business there was; probably I was mailing a package that needed to be weighed, or picking up a package with postage due, or somesuch.  Anyway, the amount I owed was X dollars and 60 cents.  So, in a similarly whimsical mood, I wrote a check for 'X and three-fifths' and handed it to the clerk, along with my ID.  The clerk stared at the check with a withering scowl.  "Three-fifths?" he asked, glaring back at me.  "Why did you write 'three-fifths'?"  Without waiting for my answer, he turned to a woman who I took to be his supervisor, and asked her, "Can he DO that?  Three-fifths?"  The supervisor looked at the check for several seconds, then at me, then back at the check, without saying a word.

At this point, the other folks in line are glaring at me, like, 'What kind of troublemaker are you?  We're all here, just trying to get our packages mailed, and you're causing trouble and holding up the line.  Jerk.'  And I'm wondering if I'm going to need to dive under the marble countertop, 'cuz, you know, here was a postal worker, and he was getting agitated.  I'm sure I was messing up his throughput metrics, and causing trouble for him with his boss.  And all because some flight of fancy had induced me to write 'three-fifths' on my check.

Finally, the boss sighed, gave me another sneering glance, and said, "I guess that 'three-fifths' is the same as 60 cents," and shot me a final 'it's-people-like-you-that-make-guys-like-him-start-shooting' glance.  And everyone else in line breathed easier, and I went on my way, duly chastened.  And I resolved that I wouldn't deal in fifths of dollars anymore (I won't even mention the twenty-cent piece that circulated in the four years 1875-78, 'cuz that would only confuse things).

But I will still occasionally, when the right sort of mercurial mischief (or maybe it's the wrong sort) overtakes me, write 'tenths' or 'quarters', or 'one-half' since, you know, those fractions correspond to actual values on the coinage of the realm. . .


Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Miracle in Ann Arbor

This morning, during the announcements before Mass, our priest, Father Steve, made the following announcement:

"In honor of yesterday's Miracle in Ann Arbor, all Catholic priests around the world will be wearing Green and White vestments today."

(It was a joke, right?  See, according to the Liturgical Calendar, this is 'Ordinary Time' - which covers something like 33 weeks of the year, and during Ordinary Time, vestments and altar coverings are green; I'm pretty sure it had nothing to do with yesterday's events in Ann Arbor, no matter how miraculous.) (Pretty sure. . .)

But. . . Hoe. . . Lee. . . Crapp. . . It WAS kinda miraculous.  At least, if you're a Spartan like me.  Folks from our Sister Institution down the road might see it in more nightmarish terms. . .

I won't spend much time rehashing the final play of the game; you can go here to see it.  Suffice it to say that we were 10 seconds away from losing to our hated rivals, but. . . a miracle happened, and we beat them for the 7th time in the last 8 times we've played.  As to the play itself, everything had to happen just as it did, or we don't win the game.  If any single thing went differently, we lose (as the final play was being lined up, The ESPN Win Probability Tracker had our odds of winning at 0.02% - 1 in 5000).  And this wasn't a last-second trick play, or anything that the Spartans planned or designed; it was a pure, gratuitous gift from (I'm tempted to say Heaven; I don't really like references to 'the football gods'). . . well, it was a gift.  

I feel for the Michigan punter, I really do.  He'll take way more crap than he deserves over it (in fact, the Facebook/Twitter trolls have already been pretty vicious toward the kid, which is reprehensible in the extreme).  The fact is, it was a classic game between two pretty darn good teams; a great game (say it with me) if you didn't care who won.  But I did care, and so did a whole lot of people in my state, which only added to the intensity.

I will take the win, and the year's worth of alumni/institutional bragging rights.  But I know (and I want you all to know that I know) that there is NO ultimate significance inhering to this football game.  Good and Evil aren't at stake (well, maybe just a little bit) (I'm kidding!!), and nobody (I hope) is going to Heaven or Hell over the outcome (there were reports of a fan being taken from the stadium after the game, having suffered an apparent heart attack; no reports on whether his soul was in a state of grace or not).

But yeah, I'll take it. . . Oh, yeah, I'll definitely take it. . .

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Marking Time

My previous post got me to thinking. . .

There aren't any separate, uniquely 'metric' units of time - folks who use metric units to measure distance, mass, volume, speed, force, pressure, etc, etc, use the same seconds, minutes, hours, days, etc, as the rest of us.  And just as well, I'm sure; 24-hour days, and hours divided into 60 minutes of 60 seconds each are pretty well ingrained in us at a pretty fundamental, intuitive level.  But even so, it got me to thinking about how we measure time. . .

Just like the meter is marked off from the dimensions of the earth, the fundamental unit of time on all sorts of levels is the day - sunrise, sunset, 'the evening and the morning - one day'.  Our bodies are dialed into this daily rhythm of light and darkness on fundamental levels.  All things being equal, we're synched-up with the rotation of the earth on its axis, waking with the sunrise and sleeping during the hours of darkness (I once read a fascinating article discussing the 'daily rhythms' of people who get 'decoupled' from the 24-hour cycle - astronauts, crews of nuclear submarines, a few deep miners who spend long periods underground - and, left to themselves, they tended to settle into a 'day' of roughly 26 hours, give-or-take; so even when you take us out of the direct rhythm of light and darkness, our bodies don't want to vary all that much from what sunrise and sunset would 'impose' on us anyway).

I suppose there's nothing sacred about dividing a day into 24 hours, hours into 60 minutes, and minutes into 60 seconds (a direct 'analog' of how we divide angles, which seems somehow appropriate).  I mean, if we say that there are 86,400 seconds in a day, we could as easily divide a day into 100,000 small parts that wouldn't be very different from seconds, then collect 100 of these 'metric seconds' into 'metric minutes', 100 'metric minutes' into a 'metric hour', and then a day would be 10 'metric hours', and we'd have all the nice multiples of 10 that metric freaks are so fond of.  A work day could be 3.5 'metric hours', and so on.  But. . . why???

When we go bigger than days, we get into some fascinating stuff.  At the level above days, there are two more-or-less 'fundamental' measures of time - the year, marking off a complete revolution of the earth on its orbit around the sun, and the month, marking off the cycle of the phases of the moon. Neither is as 'fundamental' to our lives as the day, but both have rhythms of their own.  Especially in 'temperate' climates like ours, the year manifests itself in the passage of the seasons, cold winters and warm summers, longer and shorter periods of daylight and darkness (solstices and equinoxes), the cycles of growth and dormancy of plant life (most especially crops), etc, etc.  So the year has an intuitive rhythm to it, to the point that we count our own life spans in terms of it.  (I suppose, if I were 'King of the World', that I'd align the months with the solstices and equinoxes, so that the solstices and equinoxes were always the first of the month, and the winter solstice would be New Year's Day; but I'm not, and aren't you glad?)

The month seems a little less 'fundamental' than the year, but there is no denying the simple visual progression of the phases of the moon,  And those of us who live near the ocean are at least somewhat aware of the cycle of the tides.  Even something as 'bodily' as women's fertility cycles seems at least coincidentally (if not causally, and I can't imagine how it could be; but what do I know?) 'synched-up' with the phases of the moon.

The thing is, neither years nor months match up very cleanly with days.  A year is about 365-1/4 days, so as far back as the ancient Romans, folks would add an extra day to the calendar every four years, to get things 'lined back up' (the Gregorian calendar we use today removes three leap years every 400 from the Julian calendar, since the actual number of days in a year is closer to 365.2425).

Things get even more interesting when we take a look at months.  The lunar phases complete a cycle in about 29.5 days.  Which means that there are more than 12 lunar cycles in a year.  On a 'solar' calendar like the one we're familiar with, the year is regarded as 'fundamental', and months are more-or-less 'arbitrary' - we divide the year into 12 months of 30-31 days ("excepting February, which alone has 28"), without regard to where the phases of the moon fall, so the full moon might fall (as it does this year) on the 29th of August, then the 28th of September (30 days later), and then the 27th of October (29 days later).  The phases of the moon have no necessary relationship to the day of the month, so they will 'drift' from month to month.

Some cultures have used 'lunar' calendars, in which the month is taken as 'fundamental' - the new moon, say, is always the 1st of the month - and years are adjusted around the progression of months.  For example, in the Hebrew calendar, there is a 19-year cycle of twelve 12-month years, and seven 13-month years (months alternate between 29 and 30 days), since 19 years contain very close to exactly 235 lunar cycles.  So, rather than adding a 'leap day' once every four years, the ancient Jews would add a 'leap month' seven out of every 19 years.  Different, but it still works out reasonably cleanly.

"But," I hear some of you saying, "what about weeks?"  To which I reply - I have no freakin' idea.  The Bible roots the seven-day cycle in Creation itself.  But virtually all ancient civilizations have some manner of the seven-day cycle built into themselves, whether they ever met a Jew or Christian, or not.  Which I find fascinating. . .

So there you have it.  Not quite as grandiose as Stephen Hawking's Brief History of Time, but I hope you've gotten at least some meager (or meagre, if you're the Brighton Pensioner) bit of enjoyment from it. . .

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Meters and Liters and Grams, Oh My!

I recently stumbled across an article about the Metric System.  In particular, Americans' resistance to it.  I've always found our collective national reluctance to adopt things metric to be a little bit. . . I dunno. . . odd.  I mean, what does it matter, really, whether it's 3 miles to the next town, or 5 kilometers?  Although I suppose it could get a little strange in places like suburban Detroit, where the main roads are named 15-Mile, 16-Mile, etc.  Would they have to change them to 24-Kilometer, 25.6-Kilometer, etc?  Would Eminem have to change the name of his movie to 12.8 Kilometer?  And I suppose nobody wants to hear Mary Poppins sing about 5 milliliters of sugar. . .

I suppose it's mainly a matter of what you're comfortable with.  We've all honed our sense of inches and feet since we were small, and we know what a pound is, or a gallon, and this metric stuff just seems weird, and not worth the effort.  Plus, I think some of the 'metrification' initiatives from back in the 70s/80s were kind-of heavy-handed, and inspired resistance just by pushing too hard.  But I also suspect that some of our national resistance to metric-ness is akin to why lots of us don't like soccer - it's something 'Foreigners' do, and dammit, we're Americans, and nobody is gonna make us do stuff like they do in the rest of the world, because, dammit, we're Americans, and we can do as we damn well please, and screw the rest of the world.  Dammit.

Most people don't know it, but the metric system isn't just arbitrary; it's based on the dimensions of the earth itself - by definition, there are 10,000 kilometers along a standard meridian from the equator to the poles. Which, I dunno, seems more reasonable than counting barleycorns, or keeping track of the king's nose, or whatever. And liters are derived from meters (a liter is 1000 cubic centimers, if you were wondering).  And a gram is the weight of a cubic centimeter of water.  And so forth.  I mean, heck, in Celsius (which are like 'metric degrees'), water freezes at 0 degrees, and boils at 100 degrees; does anybody even know what 32 and 212 are all about? I sure don't. . .

I've always smiled wryly at the notion that 'Americans don't do metric', anyway.  You see, I work as an engineer in the automotive industry.  From the day I walked off my college campus and into my first cubicle 30-odd years ago, I have never done my job with an inch, a pound, or a foot.  All your cars, whether domestic or imported, are designed and developed by engineers thinking and measuring in millimeters, kilograms, liters and Celsius.  Really.  Unless, you know, you're driving some American iron from the 60s or earlier.  In which case, the people from the Woodward Dream Cruise would like to hear from you.  And us engineers know (and nobody else wants to hear) that metric units are a lot easier to use, calculationally speaking.  It's true.

Truth to tell, you've already adopted more metric than you probably think you have.  How natural does it feel to buy a 2-liter of pop (that's soda for you non-midwesterners)?  Even so, a few years back, a local dairy in OurTown tried to sell milk in 4-liter jugs, 5% more milk, for the same price as a gallon.  And people simply wouldn't buy the 4-liters; I'll be darned if I can figure out why.  Alcoholic beverages are typically sold in 750 ml bottles (although you probably think of it as a fifth).  Track and field (and swimming, for what it's worth) events haven't been run in yard or mile distances in decades; we're used to hearing about 5k and 10k runs, and we know that a 100-meter time below 10 seconds is faster than hell.  Even the jumping (high jump, long jump, pole vault) and throwing (shot put, discus, javelin) records are 'officially' kept in metric distances, while being duly translated into feet and inches for American audiences (years ago, Sergei Bubka asked that the pole vault bar be set at 6.10 meters, because he knew the Americans would flip out over 20 feet).   And I won't say anything at all about, say, grams of cocaine. . .

Heck, some metric stuff is just plain more fun.  If you've ever driven in Canada, wasn't it fun to go 120 on the freeway (of course, if you're a typical Yank, and the sign says '120', you went 130, didn't you)?  All you 210-pound folks would become 95-kilos, and doesn't that just sound better?  I'm 5 feet, 11 inches tall, which is frustratingly just short of 6 feet; but in metric, I'm 180 centimeters, which is just more satisfying.  And eight inches (actually 7-7/8) becomes 20 centimeters.  For those of you to whom that matters. . .

Now, before anybody sets out to firebomb my house with a 2-liter Molotov cocktail, let me stress that I'm not proposing that anybody force anybody else to adopt metric; if and when it happens, it will happen because people adopt it naturally, and 'organically'.  All I'm saying is that, in lots of ways, metric units are easier to use than the 'English' units we've grown up with, and there's really nothing to be afraid of.  Just like 2-liters of pop, you get used to 'em, and it really doesn't take all that much effort to 're-calibrate'.  But I'm not holding my breath. . .


And, on a completely different line of thought. . .

A week ago today was Jenn's-and-my 35th anniversary (and hey, at least there aren't separate 'metric' units of time, right?).  I can scarcely express the depth of my gratitude to my Best Beloved; my life is incredibly richer for having her in it.

Thank you, Sweetheart, from the bottom of my heart.  Further up and further in!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Stuff My Dad Said. . .

As you may have noticed, my bloggerly motivation has been pretty seriously on the wane in recent weeks.  I could say that I've been busy, and that would be (mostly) true.  But I could also say that my bloggity muse has been in seriously deep hibernation, and that would also be true.  So, rather than subject you all to mediocre forced ramblings (even more mediocre and forced than usual), I've gone into dormancy.

But, as you may also have noticed, I have, occasionally in the past, grabbed a comment I left on someone else's blog, and turned it into a post of my own, if I thought it was reasonably worthwhile.  And such is the case with this post.  My friend Bijoux recently put up a post, in honor of Father's Day, about weird stuff her dad used to say, and I left a comment there, which was more-or-less the kind of thing that I might post here on my own blog.  Since it's been almost four years since my dad died, and I'm all about honoring his memory (you can go here, for something more like actual, bona fide honoring), I'll reprise my comments to her post for you all here (or, you could just go drop in on Bijoux; she gives better party than I do. . .)


Everybody's dad, it seems, has a few 'signature phrases' - little oddball things that he says that end up sticking in our minds as uniquely his, and which we carry with us, most probably to reprise them on our own kids.

My friend Bijoux posted recently, in honor of Father's Day, about a few of her dad's favorites, including "That's for me to know, and you to find out," which was one of my dad's signature bits, as well.

Forthwith, a brief sampler of some of his other favorites -

'half-assed' - shoddy or careless work; usually how I was judged to have mowed the lawn

If he was getting annoyed by a barrage of questions asking 'Why?', he'd just answer with, "To make little boys ask questions."

Or, if I was whining/crying for no good reason - "If you don't stop it, I'll give you something to cry about."

A generic expression of surprise - "Holy mackerel, Andy!" (which, when he said it, came out sounding like two words - 'Holy mackrelandy').  I found out later that the phrase was a signature bit from the old Amos 'n' Andy radio show ('cuz when Dad was a boy, they didn't have TV).

And the ever-popular "running around like a chicken with your head cut off," when we were being aimlessly energetic, as kids will be, sometimes (This one always confused me, until I saw a video clip of chickens being butchered, and I saw how the headless chickens would run aimlessly, expending the last remnants of their life-force; Dad grew up on a farm, and was quite familiar with the phenomenon).

And the man couldn't remotely carry a tune in a basket (seriously, he had absolutely zero musical sense; maybe even negative), but he had a favorite ditty, probably from his Army days, that he'd regularly cut loose with, most likely after a few beers -

I'm a rambler, I'm a gambler, I'm a long way from home,
And if people don't like me, they can leave me alone.
I'll eat when I'm hungry and drink when I'm dry,
And if somebody don't shoot me, I'll live 'til I die.


So, those are some of my endearing memories of my dad.  Feel free to add your own below. . .

And, Happy Father's Day, to those of you fathers among my readers.  I will leave you with a saying that Jenn and I used to have on matching His-n-Hers, Mom-n-Dad sweatshirts:

If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy;
If Daddy ain't happy, ain't nobody cares. . .

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Middle School English Class. . .

8M, a 7th-grader about to turn 13, is having a lot of fun in his English class, just lately.  They're doing a unit on Poetry; his English teacher is a young woman who looks like she might not be much older than Middle School herself.  She's wonderfully creative, and puts across real joy and love for her subject, of which 8M, at least, seems to have caught a most virulent case.

She had them memorize two poems of their own choice.  8M asked Jenn and me what our favorite poems were; I told him Lewis Carroll's 'Jabberwocky' and Poe's 'The Bells' (inveterate lover of wordplay that I am; I thought about giving him 'I Am the Walrus', but wasn't sure if that would count as an actual poem).  Jenn gave him Rudyard Kipling's 'If'.  So the three of us spent a couple weeks memorizing all three poems, and had great fun doing so.

The class held a 'tournament' of everyone's favorite poems.  The teacher paired off the poems, and the class voted on which one of each pair they liked, one round every day.  Alas, 8M's poems were eliminated fairly early (evidently, our predilection for whimsical wordplay is not widely shared; pity).  The ultimate winner was a limerick by Ogden Nash (which seems about right for a middle school class):

A flea and a fly in a flue
Were imprisoned, so what could they do?
     Said the fly, "Let us flee!"
     "Let us fly!" said the flea.
So they flew through a flaw in the flue.

I love limericks. . .

Another recent assignment asked 8M to write a statement describing himself in three words.  He wrote, "I am a rebel," and showed if to 6F, who was standing nearby.  She looked at it and said, "But that's four words."  8M just looked at her, grinning. . .