Friday, June 27, 2008

Photo Friday: Overtaken By Time

At today's gas prices, maybe some of this old farm machinery might get resurrected. We might yet return to the original meaning of "horsepower."

Monday, June 23, 2008

Going Well

Today’s post, while not discussing life-changing issues, deals with an ever-increasing invasion of technology in that most vital of places – public bathrooms.

In order to save water, paper and energy, as well as prevent potential vandalism, places like rest stops, stadiums, schools and colleges, large office buildings and other facilities have been installing automation to control toilets, sinks and towel dispensers.

People used to automatically flushing toilets at work often forget to flush at facilities where the old manual standard prevails. That can lead to all sorts of mess for the next customer. If they’re used to auto-shutoff faucets, they tend to leave water running. If they’re used to waving their hands in front of an auto-paper dispenser, it can get pretty frustrating if they don’t realize it’s an ancient “pull-the-handle” variety.

Sometimes the degree of automation varies within the same bathroom. The toilets flush automatically, but the sinks or towel dispensers (or both) are still manual. Or two of the vital components are automatic while the third is manual. It’s enough work concentrating on the business at hand (or in hand as the case may sometimes be) to be worried about what’s automatic and when you’re going it alone.

Even when a restroom is fully-automatic, that’s no guarantee it’s problem free. The stories I’ve heard of non-flushing auto potties or their evil cousin, the multi-flusher, are downright scary. Some of the sensors entrusted with the vital task of telling the toilet when to flush acquire a mind of their own, delighting in frustrating or startling the users. You can almost hear the thing laughing. And I’ve heard that the next wave of auto-go includes seats that automatically raise and lower or give you a pre-measured amount of toilet paper– who gets to decide how much paperwork’s needed to finish the job? It’s a government plot, for sure.

A reliable female source – who shall remain anonymous – tells me of the time that she was about to commence her ritual when a stall mate had just finished. Not only did her stall mate’s toilet flush, but so did hers – startling her to the point that she catapulted off the seat and immediately peed on the stall floor. The incident left both women shaking – with laughter, to the bewilderment of their male colleagues passing by as they exited the ladies’ room.

I suppose bathroom technology will evolve to the point that such unhappy circumstances might eventually be solved. (Keep checking Modern Marvels® on the History Channel.) In the meantime, I propose an alert system – call it the Automated Certification and Notification System – or AutoCANS, for short. Each public bathroom door will have a label with an icon for the each of the Big Three – toilet, sink and towel dispenser – and a letter “A” or “M” beneath each. That way you can tell whether you get full service, only partial assistance or if it’s do-it-yourself time. On the vital issue of informing the public, it might go a long way.

I guess I’m finished; and now for the clean up. Maybe I wrote this nonsense because it’s Monday –or because I’m in a s****y mood. Whatever.

Bathroom customs vary considerably from country to country. The international traveler’s best guidebook is “Going Abroad” by Eva Newman.

Friday, June 20, 2008

It All Depends on Your Perspective

The "Great Rates" might be good for the oil companies, but certainly not for you and me. I captured the picture below of an interesting juxtaposition of signs near an interstate exchange not far from my home. The "Great Rates" sign is on the lower portion of tall sign post for a Comfort Inn, which happens to be next door to a gas station. To someone driving down the road, they appear side-by-side. It all depends on your perspective...

Thursday, June 19, 2008

"I got a Nikon camera..."

"...I love to take a photograph, so Mama don't take my Kodachrome away."

So sang Paul Simon in "Kodachrome" back in the days when most cameras took film and Kodachrome was the number one choice.

I got a Nikon camera recently, but it's a digital D40 SLR -- no Kodachrome needed.

I've been taking pictures since the late 1960s; mostly scenics. I shot pictures with a Nikon FG film camera for many years starting in the early 1980s. After using a few point-and-shoot digital cameras, I decided it was time to get serious again about photography. It's always been an expression of my creativity, just as my writing is.

So here's some clouds gathering at sunset -- a contrast between light and dark.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Issues or Invective?

I usually avoid discussions of politics in this forum; the airwaves and blogosphere are filled with eminently more qualified (?) pundits. I’m making several exceptions for this presidential election because it’s probably the most important election in a generation.

As I commented in my post “Don’t Call It Advertising,” there’s been a paucity of real discussion and a profusion of attack ads in recent years. Negative political ads aren’t new – they’re virtually as old as the republic itself. What’s different today is the speed and breadth at which such negative attacks can be disseminated –just a few clicks and you’ve covered the globe.

Will this election be any different? Will we have substantive discussion on the issues or will there be more sound-bite sniping and swift-boating? I’d like to believe with all that’s at stake we might just get some respectful dialogue. But I’m not hopeful. As Montana State Senator Jim Elliott says in his Montana Viewpoint® commentary, “But most often candidates are not treated with respect by the other side, and portrayed to be purposefully deceptive, crooked, or just plain dumb.”

Negativity, half-truths and slippery answers – they’re just too good for candidates to renounce. If political ads were held to the same standards as ordinary product commercials, the surge of negative ads would wither.

Politicians alone are not to blame. There’s another reason – a lazy electorate. It’s much easier to watch a few TV ads and form an opinion than it is to really investigate a candidate’s position. If negative political campaigning is to be curtailed, voters must insist on it. But that takes effort.

Speaking of effort, the media’s been focusing on how energized young people are by this election. They could be a huge factor; any number of news articles point to an army of new voters – young people who’ve become interested and engaged in this election through online venues like Facebook and candidate websites.

I’ve seen some of that enthusiasm in the public relations courses I teach. But one cautionary note: online energy isn’t worth a damn unless you vote. And as I will tell my students in September, you can’t text-message your vote (at least not yet). You actually have to take the time to go to a polling place, perhaps stand in line for some time and mark a ballot. (And before that, you have to be registered.) Will they follow through? The country’s future might depend on it.

Issues or Invective? An army of new voters? What’ll it be, folks?

If you’d like to read Senator Elliott’s full commentary on negative political ads, you can find it at:

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Say hey, Willie!

I was enough of a baseball fan growing up to know “Say hey” is reserved for Willie Mays, the great Hall of Fame outfielder, but I can’t resist applying it to Willie Randolph, who was fired today as manager of the New York Mets.

Baseball lost me as a fan after the player strike that prematurely ended the 1994 season with no World Series. It was the best chance for my favorite Yankee player, Don Mattingly, to make it to the World Series after a long and distinguished career, and it was wiped out. (Mattingly did make it to the playoffs with the Yankees the following year, his final season, but the team lost to the Seattle Mariners and didn’t make it to the series.)

Willie Randolph was another of my favorite players. I remember when the Yankees acquired him prior to the 1976 season. The trade was described in the sports media with this clever description (sorry, can’t remember the exact source): “…the Yankees sent pitcher Doc Medich to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Ken Brett, a pitcher with a history of arm trouble; Dock Ellis, with a history of just plain trouble and Willie Randolph, with no history at all.”

Willie went on to establish quite a history as a great defensive player and a very patient hitter in a career that lasted 18 seasons. He finished his career with the New York Mets, the team he would eventually manage after spending a number of years as a coach in the Yankee organization.

As I said, I haven’t followed baseball very much for quite a while, but I tried to keep an eye on favorites like Mattingly and Randolph. After the disastrous collapse of the Mets late last season, I knew Willie’s days were numbered. You know what they say – “You don’t fire the team, you fire the manager.”

How much do managers mean to a team? It depends. In 1975, Darrell Johnson led the Boston Red Sox to the World Series. Johnson began managing the team in 1974, with his disciplinarian style receiving a good portion of credit for the Sox’ new-found success. But by the middle of 1976, with the Sox slumping, Johnson was fired. What about that tough style? “He wasn’t relating to the players.” Isn’t it amazing how the perception of the same style soured so quickly, when the Lost column grew larger than the Win side of the ledger?

I’m sure Willie Randolph will resurface as a manager – he’s a high-character guy and a good leader. Some better ballplayers might help. So, say hey, Willie! Hang in there!