How Many People Have Had This Secret Fantasy?

I remember several trips to Chuck E. Cheese’s when our kids were younger, and while part of me enjoyed the kitschy-ness of it all, after about 30 minutes I was ready to go. Hearing the same songs over and over, and watching the inevitable meltdown of one kid after another, was enough to test anyone’s patience.

But it was with a little bit of sadness that I read that Chuck’s has announced plans to replace its iconic animatronic singing band as part of a rebranding effort. Apparently today’s kids aren’t impressed with a singing, dancing gigantic mouse.

But perhaps the most interesting part of the story was the corporate policy allegedly enshrined in the bylaws of the Chuck E. Cheese corporation. Apparently it is standard operating procedure to destroy the animatronic figures, and one reporter caught it on video at a store in Illinois. Warning: the video may be disturbing for those of you who are overly sentimental and have a thing for big plastic mouse heads):

It’s a sad way to the end of such a part of Americana, but at the same time I wonder how many of us have secretly harbored fantasies of wanting to do the same thing to one of those animatronic figures.

I just hope this sort of character demise isn’t part of Disney’s modus operandi.

I’d hate to think that’s what the plans are for the Country Bears or the inhabitants of It’s a Small World.

And I shudder to think of what would happen to all of those presidents.

Are You Being Lazy, or Are You Managing Your Priorities?

I think I’ve found a loophole that can get me out of doing anything I don’t feel like doing.

  • Your car needs to be washed?
    • Just say it’s not high on your list of priorities right now.
  • The leaves in your yard are piling up?
    • Just say it’s not high on your list of priorities right now.
  • That light bulb that’s been flickering in the hallway?
    • Just say it’s not high on your list of priorities right now.

I think you see where I’m going with this. If someone starts bothering you about something that needs to get done, you now have the perfect excuse.

Now some of you may be thinking that using the “priorities” line from above is really just a sign that you’re lazy.

But don’t all the time management and productivity gurus tell us how important it is to set our priorities, and to eliminate those things in life that aren’t high priority? And that we should be the ones setting our own priorities, not someone else.

I may try to implement this whole “setting of priorities” thing for the month of December.

I’ve already started to put together a list of some “priorities” that can take the place of those chores that have been piling up:

  • Watching sports on TV all weekend.
  • Surfing the web mindlessly when there’s no sports on TV.
  • Laying in bed until noon, reading Harlan Coben novels.
  • Checking to see if Dunkin’ Donuts does home delivery.

And don’t even think about calling me lazy. You’re just jealous that you don’t have your priorities in the right order.

P.S. And don’t dare use the priority line as a way of getting out of reading my blog each day.

How and When Did This Happen?

I was driving into the parking lot for my doctor’s appointment this morning, and for some odd reason it seemed that everyone getting out of their car, and there were several people doing so, were all older men with gray hair.

And even though this was a parking lot for a large office complex filled with many different types of businesses, I guessed that we were all going to the same place.

And it was at that moment that I had an epiphany – I was one of them.

I was one of those older guys with gray hair, and we were all going to the same place – the urologist.

When I got to the elevator there were two guys waiting to take it, two guys with gray hair. When we got on the elevator, there was no need to ask which floor we were going to, we all seemed to know that we were going to the same place.

When we all walked into the urologist’s office at the same time, I looked around and there were close to a dozen other guys already there, all older guys with, you guessed it, gray hair.

As I checked in with the receptionist, I wondered if she even noticed it any more, the fact that virtually every patient who must come through that door has a certain “look”.

Fortunately, this was a just a follow-up from a previous visit, a visit I was much more nervous about. I’m sure the clientele at the time of my previous visit also had “the look”, but my nerves back then probably gave me tunnel vision, so I didn’t even notice it.

This particular doctor’s office seems quite well run, and I was finished with my appointment in less than 10 minutes.

As I rode the elevator back down (strangely enough with a young woman this time; no idea where she came from) I had another epiphany.

It had taken me 60 years, but I had finally found my tribe.

60-something year old men who’ve got the phone number of a urologist on their smartphone. I just hope it’s a club that has lots of 30-year members.

And by the way, if you’re looking to start a business, I think a diner right across the street from this office complex could be a gold mine, especially if it offered senior specials and free newspapers.

Simply Outrageous

A mother from Norfolk, VA has been charged with the use of a device to intercept oral communications, which is a felony. She is also charged with misdemeanor contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

The charges are, to put it mildly, ridiculous.

Sarah Sims told WAVY-TV that she tried multiple times to contact administrators at Ocean View Elementary School about the bullying her 9-year-old daughter was experiencing. When she got no response, she took the matter into her own hands.

Sims said she put a recorder in her daughter’s bag with the hope that it would capture audio of what her daughter was dealing with in the classroom. The recorder was discovered by school staff. The girl was moved to a new classroom and, about a month after the incident, Sims was charged by police.

“I was mortified,” Sims said.  “The next thing I know I’m a felon.  Felony charges and a misdemeanor when I’m trying to look out for my kid.  What do you do?”

That’s how a school handles a bullying situation?

That’s how a school deals with a concerned mother of one of its students?

This is the best use of police and prosecutors’ time?

I’m hoping when this case is resolved in Sim’s favor, that it will be a textbook case of how NOT to do things.

I wish Sarah Sims, and her daughter, the best.

The only crime committed here is a lack of common sense.

Should Laptops Be Banned in the Classroom?

The New York Times had a story this week that reported:

“…a growing body of evidence shows that over all, college students learn less when they use computers or tablets during lectures. They also tend to earn worse grades. The research is unequivocal: Laptops distract from learning, both for users and for those around them. It’s not much of a leap to expect that electronics also undermine learning in high school classrooms...”

As a result of such findings, the author of the article, Susan Dynarski, a college professor, has banned all electronics from her classroom.

If you think that seems extreme, and that students, especially college students, should have the freedom to choose how they take notes, Dynarski provides evidence that the learning of students seated near laptop users was also negatively affected.

This is the second time I have seen a newspaper write a story about this issue; last year the Wall Street Journal also cited research (the same research noted in the Times article in some cases) that handwriting could make you smarter.

As a teacher who does allow his students to use laptops to take notes in class, I’d like to present an alternative perspective.

My sense is that the author of the Times article, and the experimental studies cited, all used a traditional lecture approach in the classroom. In such cases, yes, it seems like taking notes by hand may be more effective than taking notes on a laptop.

But what if the students had access to the lecture notes/outline prior to class, and could bring those notes to class, either in printed form, or on their laptops?

I think in such situations, students don’t have to worry about trying to write everything down, but just fill in their own notes where they feel it is necessary. I believe in such situations, laptops are just as effective as taking notes by hand, since it does require thinking about what to add to the supplied notes, and not just trying to type everything.

I’ve written before about my use of PowerPoint in the classroom, more as a way to keep me on task and ensure that I cover what I want to cover. If I need to write on the board to further explain a concept, I can do that as well. I provide my students with all of my PowerPoint slides in advance of class, and I’ve noticed that many (perhaps the majority) of students print out the slides, and then take notes in the margin of those slides. Other students use their computer to add notes to the slides, and some students take notes from scratch. From what I’ve observed, many of the students who do not bring any notes to class spend most of their time trying to copy down exactly what is on the slide, and often don’t catch what I am saying that is not on the slides. I tell them that they can print out the slides before class, but for some reason these students seem to prefer not to do so.

While I have not conducted any experiments to see which approach is best (it wouldn’t feel right to me to allow laptops in one class and not another, especially if I think laptops are useful, and perhaps some of the students do as well), I have not noticed any dramatic differences in performance among students who take notes by laptop versus by hand.

I’ve also noticed a hybrid approach to taking notes, one that combines both technology and handwriting. One of the students in the math class I am taking brings her Microsoft Surface to class, and using the pen that comes with the laptop, takes all of her notes on her Surface. I admit it would be quite hard, if not impossible to take notes in a Math class by typing on a keyboard, and I take all of my own notes by hand. But the Surface seems like a viable (and tempting) alternative to combining the benefits of technology with the benefits of handwriting.

I’m not a fan of outright bans or ultimatums in the classroom. I think the best approach to the note-taking dilemma is to share the research with students (having them read the research could be beneficial in and of itself), and then let them choose what they think will work best for them. And if the approach they first tried doesn’t give them the results they were hoping for, they always have the freedom to try something different.

And as far as laptops being distracting in the classroom, I agree. My solution is to try and make my classroom as engaging as possible so that students would rather pay attention than go surfing the web. But I realize that I am not always successful at that, and I ask students who think they may have trouble resisting such a temptation to sit in the back of the classroom so that their behavior does not impact as many students compared to if they sat in the front of the classroom.

As far as what I think I would do if I were a college student today, assuming that my teacher made his or her lecture notes available before class, I would print the notes out for class and supplement those notes by hand. If I brought a laptop to class I don’t think I would be able to avoid the lure of ESPN, Facebook, and Twitter.

Who Would Have Known? National Dog Show Is Must See TV

I was flipping through the channels, looking for something mindless to watch, and I noticed that the National Dog Show was on NBC. I wasn’t in the mood for another football game, so I clicked on the Dog Show, fully expecting to watch it for five minutes and then move on.

But there was something about those first five minutes that captured our attention, and we ended up watching the entire two-hour show.

Hosted by the Philadelphia Kennel Club, here’s a brief description of the format of the show, from Wikipedia:

Each of the more than 190 AKC registered breeds and varieties are assigned to one of seven groups representing characteristics and functions the breeds were originally bred for. The First In Group from among each of these seven groups compete against each other for Best In Show.

In case you’re curious, the seven groups are:

  • Terrier
  • Toy
  • Working
  • Sporting
  • Hound
  • Non-Sporting
  • Herding

The National Dog show is one of the three major dog shows in the United States, along with the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship and the Westminster Dog Show.

There were some unusual looking dogs on the show, which I guess is part of what attracted our attention.

I don’t pretend to know anything about what makes for a winning dog, but it didn’t stop me from choosing which dogs I thought were the best in each group. My favorite dog overall was the Newfoundland, even though it was only shown for a brief moment. Unfortunately it didn’t even make it to the “semifinals”.

Newton the Brussels griffon from the toy group (pictured at the top of this post with his trainer),  won the coveted Best in Show title, given to the top canine among those who won First in Group of the seven dog groups.

Newton beat out the whippet from the hound group, the old English sheepdog in the herding group, the Portuguese water dog in the working group, the American Staffordshire terrier in the terrier group, the English springer spaniel in the sporting group and the French bulldog in the non-sporting group.

It was a nice relaxing way to spend a Saturday night, and I look forward to watching it again next year.

But I’m not counting on our Nellie to be one of the competitors.

A Great Day of Giving Thanks

According to Wikipedia, Thanksgiving Day is a national holiday celebrated in Canada, the United States, some of the Caribbean islands, and Liberia. It began as a day of giving thanks for the blessing of the harvest and of the preceding year. Similarly named festival holidays occur in Germany and Japan.

While the spirit of giving thanks is still alive, Thanksgiving now also means the official start of the holiday shopping season, with many stores opting to open later in the day to accommodate the (hoped for) demand. I think the original intent of the holiday gets a little lost in all the commercial activity, and I’m as guilty as the next person.

That’s why I am so grateful, once again, to my sister-in-law, her husband, and the rest of their family for inviting us to their home to celebrate Thanksgiving.

It was a wonderful day, full of good conversation and lots of good food, which is right in line with what the day is all about (well that and football).

So as the day draws to a close, I just want to thank everyone who helped make it such a special day.

I’m already looking forward to Thanksgiving 2018.

Are You a Typical American Adult?

Except for the years (and years) spent going to college, I have lived the life of the typical American adult, at least on one metric.

Based on an analysis of data collected as part of the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), a project sponsored by the Institute of Aging and the Social Security Administration, the New York Times discovered that the typical American only lives 18 miles away from their mommy, and only 20 percent live more than a couple of hours’ drive from their parents.

When my wife and I got married, we lived in Ambler, just 10.4 miles away from where I grew up (King of Prussia), and where my mom and dad still loved. After a few years we moved to Rosemont, which was even closer at 6.2 miles (perfect for when I wanted to run a 10K, which I never did).

A few years later, after my Dad passed away, my mom and aunt moved into our neighborhood, their house just 0.2 miles from ours.

In other words, I haven’t wandered very far away from my mom; even the years I spent in college weren’t too far away from King of Prussia – East Stroudsburg, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia.

One of the biggest determinants of how far people venture from home is education. Those with college and professional degrees are much more likely to live farther from their parents than those with a high school education, in part because they have more job opportunities in big cities.

So at least from an educational perspective, there should have been a good chance that I was one of the ones that moved further away from home than the typical American. But I am, admittedly, somewhat of a homebody, and I had little desire to see what opportunities there may have been outside my neck of the woods.

Another significant determinant is income. Wealthier people can afford to pay for services like child and elder care, while low-income families are more likely to rely on nearby relatives.

Other determinants of where one will live as an adult include geography, marital status, gender, and race:

  • Families live closest in the Northeast and the South, and farthest apart on the West Coast and in the Mountain States.
  • Married people live farther from their parents than singles.
  • Women are slightly likelier than men to leave their hometowns.
  • Blacks are more likely to live near their parents than whites, while Latinos are no more likely to live near their parents.

The most-cited reason for living near home is the tug of family ties, while the most-cited reason for leaving is job opportunities, according to a Pew Research Center survey. It found that with the exception of college or military service, 37 percent of Americans had never lived outside their hometown, and 57 percent had never lived outside their home state (I would be part of that 57%).

So while I may be “typical”, two of my sons could be considered atypical. One oldest son lives in Raleigh, NC (425 miles away), and our middle son lives in Hawaii (4,380 miles away). Our youngest son makes up for those distances a bit, since he lives at home. On average, that makes the average distance that our sons live from their mom over 1,600 miles.

That must mean there’s a lot of adults, like me, who must live much closer than 18 miles away.

So while I have been happy with the choice of where we have lived, I think our two oldest sons are also happy with where they are living.

Fortunately for us, the two locations are great places to visit…

It’s All about the Battery

This past summer I wrote about my purchase of an electric lawnmower, and I said in that post that I would offer a follow-up post focused on my experience with the mower. Well today is the day you have been waiting for.

Let me start by saying that overall, the mower has been great. It does a great job cutting the grass, and is easy to start, and very quiet when running. The only negative is that it carries with it the potential of running out of battery power.

During the summer, the battery was never a problem. Since I wanted to get rid of any gas I still had in my old mower and in a couple of plastic containers, I would use my old mower for our front lawn and the electric mower for the back yard.

So I never ran out of battery power, at least not until today.

Today was the first time I tried using the mulching feature as a way of dealing with the leaves on my lawn. As I’ve written about before, I prefer to get rid of my leaves in this way, as opposed to raking them into the street for collection by our township.

Well the combination of the time needed to cut both my front and back yard, as well as the extra battery power required on occasion to mulch through some significant amount of leaves, was simply too much for the 40 V battery.

The battery died, and I probably was about75-80% of the way done. I did recharge it, and when I went out a second time, the battery only lasted about 10 minutes.

The battery is now charging, and should be ready to go in the morning. The potential of running out of battery power was realized, but it doesn’t seem like that big a deal; a minor inconvenience at best.

In an ideal world it would be nice if batteries could be made that last longer, a topic I’ve also written about before.

Battery life became a big issue this past year with my iPhone. I was still carrying around an iPhone 5, and it’s battery life, with minimal use, was typically less than 8 hours, on a fully charged battery.

I kept putting off getting a new phone until I saw what Apple’s new phone would be like, as well as the new Pixel. Neither one impressed me enough to warrant the significant asking price, so I opted to get an iPhone 7 Plus. One of the main reasons I got the Plus model is because I heard that the bigger size allowed for a bigger battery. A bigger battery meant a longer life.

So far, the new phone has been great. I’ve never come close to running out of battery life, and when combined with my switch back to AT&T from T-Mobile, I now have a phone that has enabled me to make a call or access the web from anywhere I’ve been. For whatever reason, the same could not be said for T-Mobile. I’m not sure if it’s the phone or the new service that has offered me such a great customer experience; my guess is that it’s a little of both.

I think I would prefer it if Elon Musk just focused on making better batteries, of all types and sizes for all uses. I think such a breakthrough would have a bigger impact on society than his electric cars or SpaceX could have.

Just think of all the people around the world who rely on batteries for both business and pleasure. And if you could make everyone’s day just a little more productive and a little less exasperated, think of what the demand would be for such products.

I think I’ll wrap this post right here; the battery on my laptop is just about out of juice…