Friday, April 29, 2011

Wedding Warbirds

The best part of the Royal wedding?  For warbird enthusiasts, it was the flyover by the WWII era trio: Avro Lancaster bomber and two pursuits, Supermarine Spitfire and Hawker Hurricane.  Much more impressive than the kiss.

Portland, O

I love Portland, OR as a livable city with character, and have walked the downtown green areas along the Willamette River several times.  But this video nails the Portland culture.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Road Trip

I'm needing to book travel to a small Midwest town to visit a client there. I've never been to this particular town before so I look on Expedia to see what hotel choices I have.  An establishment called the Luxury Inn and Suites has rooms for under $60 and has a two star rating (out of 4).  How luxurious can this place be considering it's only competition is a Super 8 and a Day's Inn?  They also have but two stars.  Oh boy, living the high life on the road!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Taming the (Un)common Beach Plum

The beach plum (Prunus maritima) is native along the Atlantic coast from southern Maine through Virginia. It is found most commonly on the strip of older, better stabilized sand dunes. Occasionally, it is found growing naturally on inland dunes and sandy patches several miles from the coast. The beach plum is a member of the rose family (family Rosaceae) which includes about 2000 species of trees, shrubs, and herbs worldwide, including service-berries, hawthorns, apples, plums and cherries, and mountain-ashes. The plant is salt-tolerant and cold-hardy. It prefers the full sun and well-drained soil. It spreads roots by putting out suckers but in coarse soil puts down a tap root.

But enough of that botany stuff.

The deep scarlet to purple fruit begins to ripen in late summer and can be picked over a period of about a month. A half inch to an inch in diameter, they are borne regularly year after year in great abundance. The fruits often differ from one bush to another in size, shape, color and taste. The humble beach plum imparted its name to Plum Island, Massachusetts and Plum Island, New York.

The principal use made of the fruit is for preserving. Beach plum jams and jellies are delicious. Many coastal residents consider them to be unequaled. The jam resembles, that made from Blue Damson plums. When jellies are made without the use of pectin, the result is a thick, tart syrup which is relished on hot cakes and waffles.

I associate beach plums with Cape Cod summers, especially the unkempt dune areas found on the outer Cape – Eastham, Wellfleet and Truro. Fondest memories are picking the ripe berries in early September with close friends, bringing bucketfuls back to a rustic cabin on a sea cliff overlooking the cold Atlantic, and turning those critters into delicious jelly. I can still taste it.

Word Choice

The other day I heard an NPR announcer, or maybe a guest, use the phrase “…this changes the calculus of the situation,“ speaking of some development or another in Libya, I think. You can tell I wasn’t listening too closely to the radio at that point. But the phrase struck me as a tad odd to my ear; it just didn’t sound quite right to me. I realized that I wasn’t sure that “calculus” was the most appropriate word in that commonly-used expression of change. Didn’t people more commonly say “this changes the numbers, or this changes the equation?” I decided maybe, maybe not. Perhaps it was just me. “Calculus” didn’t strike me as wrong necessarily, just not the most “right” to my ears and brain at that moment.

That got me thinking about the preciseness of language, a subject AVI blogs on frequently, and knows far more than I on this topic. But I was contemplating how the written language of common communications has changed, especially as the result of e-mail abbreviations and emoticons, texting shorthands, and certainly 140 character tweets. Maybe our verbal language will catch up. What is the oral version of a Tweet? If it’s a grunt, then men have been ahead in this game for some time now. But I digress.

So the “calculus” example really got me thinking about one of my favorite specialties in the world of humor – malapropisms, words used incorrectly or “inappropriately,” from the French “ill-suited.” I knew what the NPR speaker meant, even if the word choice didn’t quite sound 100% correct, or the most appropriate choice to me. I got the intent. Many comedians have put this verbal device to good use from time to time of course. I think of the late British actress Molly Sugden who played Mrs. Betty Slocombe on the long-running TV series about department store employees, Are You Being Served? (1972-85). Sugden’s character could be opinionated, hot-headed, and a bit of a blue-collar underneath her department store uniform. When she wanted to express how adamant she felt about a topic or position, she would spout enthusiastically, “…and I am unanimous in that!”

But of course the U.S. comedian that made a career out of malapropisms was (or rather is) Norm Crosby. His heyday was in the 1970s and 80s when he regularly appeared on late night TV shows and often as one on the roasters on the old Dean Martin Celebrity Roast events. Crosby also did a fair number of commercials since his jovial, somewhat bumbling verbal style translated well for feel-good TV ads. He was in a number of Natural Light beer commercials for Anheuser Busch, one alongside Mickey Mantle. This commercial for Red Lobster restaurants reflects an excellent use of his talents; a touch of humor, but not overdone where you’d want to groan, “stop, too corny.”

So who cares whether language is precise or not? Our evolving brains will filter through the meanings and find the “appropriate” ones.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Old Friends

Bangor, Maine, ca. 1974

Our (Perfectly Stable, Never Changes, Not in a Million Years) Earth

Since it’s Earth Day today, I guess an earth scientist should make at least one comment or observation. From Yahoo! News - April 21, 2011:

We all know that climate change melts glaciers and shifts sea levels. But have you ever thought about how rising temperatures can threaten beautiful places in every corner of the world? Some of these spots may be closer to home than you think.

For Earth Day, Yahoo! News interviewed Gaute Hogh, publisher of the book 100 Places to Go Before They Disappear. Hogh was inspired to produce the book after witnessing the effects of global warming in his native Denmark. He wanted to show how natural beauty around the globe could be forever altered by climate change.

I have three questions that I’ll mull over during my morning coffee:

• Are these people serious or just out to make a buck?
• Did they never take Geology 101 in college?
• Who is responsible for teaching them that the earth is a static, stainless steel sphere absolved from following the laws of science like the rest of the universe? (and should those responsible parties serve jail time?)

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Oh Dear

Several summers during my college years I worked in the parts department of a heavy construction equipment firm. When I first started the job, I worked with one of the full-time employees named Mike. Mike would often go about the business of the parts department and periodically spout out, “Oh dear bread and beer, if it wasn’t for Momma I wouldn’t be here.” While Mike was Irish, I never equated this little ditty to an old Irish saying or anything, but I can’t recall ever asking Mike where the saying came from either. It has stuck in my head all the years since. So I Googled it one day and learned that my version was only one of many. In fact, Google didn’t raise my version, just these variants listed below.

"Oh dear, bread and beer, if I was home I shouldn't be here!"
"Oh dear, bread and beer, if I hadn't have married I wouldn't be here."
"Oh dear, bread and beer, if I were rich I wouldn’t be here.”
"Oh dear, bread and beer, if I were dead I wouldn't be here!"

Anyone know anything about the origin of this little expression?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Bone to Pick

Anyone else getting tired of business names with the word “dog” in them that have nothing to do with the animal – just the weird whims of the business owner? Consider that one can have a financial exchange with “Big Dog…



Tree Stands





and many more of this flavor. If I see one more plumbing truck pass me on the highway with Black Dog, Lead Dog or Boss Dog in its name, I think I’ll ram it and claim temporary insanity (“bit by a rabid dog, officer, honest”).

Now my sister (the smart one in the family) has a thriving veterinarian practice in the Carolinas, but she doesn’t have “dog” anywhere in her business’ name. Of course if you visit her and her husband on their spread in the countryside (aka, “The Ponderosa”), you’ll see that they have at least 237 dogs roaming the range there. Some are inside dogs only, some outside only, and the rest are hybrids, or cross-dwellers, or whatever the proper canine term is for that lifestyle.

My favorite dog – a Fenway Frank with a tad of mustard, thank you.

Tom Brady Insults Insurance Profession

Patriots’ quarterback great Tom Brady reflects on being selected in the NFL draft. But do you think he owes another group of professionals an apology?

"It was just a tough day, you know?" Brady said after he composed himself. "I just remember being there with my mom and dad … sorry about that … they were just so supportive of me. And they take it as emotionally as I do. And finally, when the Patriots called, I was so excited — I was like, 'I don't have to be an insurance salesman!'"

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Not a Vinyl Guy

I've concluded that I’m just not a vinyl siding kind of guy. Our 26 year old New England home is clad in rough textured wooden clapboard. Fortunately when we built the house we had the foresight, or just dumb luck, to use a penetrating stain on the siding, not paint. While our neighbors’ painted houses peal and start looking a little aged just a few years after getting painted, a coat of solid stain on our house last 7, 8 or more years and still looks pretty darn good.

But even that amount of maintenance costs money and time and we periodically consider shouldn’t we make a move toward vinyl siding, or some other zero maintenance materials? Wouldn't that be the smart thing to do, we ask ourselves. These days some of those products look great with their wood-grained textures and they hold up extremely well. But so far I just can’t bring myself to do it. The uniformity of that factory-made wood-grain and the uniformity of the pieces of siding themselves cause me to recoil. That’s not what New England is about. Hey, if vinyl siding is OK, what’s next, plastic lamp posts? There’s just something about wood and the natural variability of the grain, and even the cut and fit of individual pieces. They’re imperfect, just like me. And somehow, in a small way, that seems comforting to this Yankee brain of mine.

Is This Really a Good Idea?

The Oakland A's have announced they will offer a Jewish Heritage night at their ballpark. So along with a seat your admission ticket gets you an Oakland A' s Yarmulke.  Really. Also planned are Fellowship night (Christian) and LDS (Mormon) nights.  I don't know, is this really a good idea? Jewish baseball, Christian baseball, maybe Muslim baseball. I'm not sure I'd want to show up on Wicca night, New Age night or human secularist night either.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Quote of the Week

From one of my quality management magazines:

“I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I'm not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”
–Robert McCloskey (1914-2003)