Tuesday, February 28, 2012

NASCAR Indoctrination

I watched my first full NASCAR race last night. Well, mostly full. I was DVRing it (damn homework!) and was a little behind so I got to fast forward through commercials and the cleanup of that gigantanormous fiery wreck involving Juan Pablo Montoya and an unfortunate jet dryer truck. Sadly, I began to fall asleep even as the race reached it's pinnacle of excitement. Terrible, right? In my defense, it was close to midnight when the race finally finished after myriad cautions, a couple wrecks, and a jet fuel barbecue.

Even though I fell asleep (did I mention how comfy our loveseat is?) the race was not boring. There was a wreck on the second lap for goodness sake! I don't know that I'm ready to declare myself a diehard fan just yet. But the Daytona 500 was pretty entertaining and I think it'll be fun to follow along with all of the soap opera drama that comes with a season of NASCAR.

And then, he wrecked me on turn 3 because I called him a doodoo head! I'm gonna go throw my helmet at him after the race!

No! Danica! Why would you do that?

Because...*sigh* *sniffle* I hate him...and love him so much!

Okay, so that probably won't happen. Wouldn't it be great if it did! :-)


Let's try and get Dale on the radio here. Dale, this is DW (Darrell Waltrip), do you have a copy?...Dale?

DW, I think he's done drank too much Diet Mountain Dew. He's in the caffeine zone now. Only a victory here today will bring him back.

A bit more likely, but no. Still, wouldn't that be crazy and silly and great? Considering how much sponsor butt-kissing that goes on, it wouldn't surprise me if it was in Dale Earnhardt Jr's contract to drink as much Diet Mountain Dew as possible during a race and then be sure to thank them for the opportunity after his kidneys and bladder have exploded.

I get the gratuitous sponsor-thanking that goes on in every single interview done with a driver/crew chief/owner. Racing is expensive and it's important to keep that money flowing. Here's an interesting article I found from USA Today: Sponsors Make NASCAR's Wheels Go 'Round.

I'm enjoying my NASCAR education so far. What does everyone else think of the sport?

Monday, February 27, 2012

A Dream Dashed

Hello, my faithful and wonderful readers. I trust that this ol' world has been treating you well since our last convergence. Recently I read a couple articles about football and concussions. One is from Yahoo's The Post Game writer Patrick Hruby (on Twitter @patrick_hruby) and the other is from CBS Sports writer Gregg Doyel (on Twitter @greggdoyelcbs).

End Game: Brain Trauma And The Future Of Youth Football In America - Post Game
Death of football? That's crazy, until you start thinking about it - CBS Sports

**Disclaimer: I know nothing about parenting. Anything related to it below is pure speculation and guessing on my part**

My wife and I do not have any children....yet! But we will someday (relax, all you eager beavers!). And when we do, there's a 50/50 chance that we will have a boy. And I'd be lying if I hadn't thought about my future son playing sports--specifically football (yes yes, a girl could also play football if she wanted to). Now, I'm not going to be one of those dads that seeks to live out his childhood dreams through his child and I certainly am not going to turn our son or daughter into a robot who's only goal and purpose in life is to play in the NFL. No no. I want to be supportive and our son or daughter will be able to freely pursue whatever they want, Tiger Mom be damned!

Shifting gears for a moment: I'm interested in reading that Tiger Mom book after having read an article discussing it. The article escapes me at the moment, I'll have to try and dig it up later.

All right, back on track: After reading these two articles about football and concussions I've come to the conclusion that I don't want our child to play football. There's too much at stake and all of the "character building" and "toughening up" that purportedly comes from football can easily come from other, less dangerous sports. The mantra of red-blooded booze swilling Americans is that football is a man's game that teaches boys how to be men. Getting nailed in the head so hard you can't remember your own name is just part of the joy of football. It makes you a man. Being concussed into oblivion and having your brain turned to a rotten swiss cheese mush is also part of the deal. Becoming crippled, potentially abusive and suicidal are also part of it. All for the glory, right? You sacrifice your body for the beauty and wonder of the sport. It's part of the game. Right. Just because that's the way it's been for years and all of these kids are brainwashed into believing that doesn't make it true. Football is violent. Football can be deadly. Yet so many play it.

Football is a game that I've enjoyed and lusted after since I was a child, just as countless other people have. I played flag football in my youth and one year of tackle football in middle school. I've played in the backyard and put up with the pansy (there I go, perpetuating that stereotype!) rules of intramural flag football at my college. I watch it on television and I've even been to a few games. Actually, the first NFL game I went to was on September 10, 2006. It was in Kansas City and I saw Trent Green get knocked out cold. At the time I didn't think much of it. I vaguely hoped that he'd be okay, much like most football fans probably do when an injury like that occurs. We as fans don't really care much about what happens to the players. As long as somebody good is out there for our team it doesn't matter. It's entertainment, right!??! Those guys get paid millions and they know the risks! Sure sure.

We start to care when it's our family members, though. When you see your kid get laid out and later see him stumbling around the sidelines, you care.

As I said before, I want our child to be free to pursue what they want in life. If they're set on playing football, I don't know that I'll be able to stand in the way. Can you really forbid your offspring from participating in a sport? Sure you can! They may resent you for a long time, but you could do it. I don't know! Football folks are in uncharted waters right now. But science is starting to map out where the violence of the sport leads. The fog of football is slowly rolling away to reveal uncomfortable truths about our nation's real pastime. As the CBS article discusses, the death of football seems preposterous right now. But give it time.

When the time comes for my wife and I to discuss sports and other extracurricular activities with our children (around, say, three years old? Give or take a few?) we may be in for some difficult times. I have no idea, really, what we're going to do. I guess we just do our best to educate our children about the benefits and the dangers of activities that they're interested in and be as supportive as we can.

But I'm hoping that my son or daughter doesn't take a shine to football. Basketball's a fine sport and we've got my dad to help in that department. He was quite the roundball player in his day. :-)

My perspective on football has changed. Like so many other follies of youthful thinking, the scales have begun to fall from my eyes.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Sports Post-Football

My faithful readers. I am so sorry it has been a while since I have last written. Blame the laziness. And video games. Homework? Nah, mostly video games. And reading. Surprise! Yes, reading. I, Nate Johnson, have actually been reading a book lately. It's Stephen King's latest, 11/22/63, and I really like it. King has long been my favorite author. After I read The Stand, The Tommyknockers, and It, I was hooked for life. He's got such a way of painting daily life and transforming it into things alternately wonderful and horrifying. He's awesome, the bee's knees.

That aside, I thought I'd comment on sport's fandom/watchiness post-Super Bowl. I know, I know, a lot of people will scoff at the notion that sports even exist between early February and September, but they do! Not that they're anywhere near as good, but a man dying of thirst isn't too picky about where his water comes from, is he? Without further horse patoot, here we go:

Daytona 500/NASCAR: This is something fairly new for me. In the past I've attempted to "get into" NASCAR. But I really can't. I just can't. For me, it's like trying to get into hockey. I did watch the end of the shootout race last weekend at Daytona and surprisingly enjoyed it. The massive wreck I saw probably helped a lot. You couldn't help but watch with all the drama unfolding! A huge wreck with two laps to go and only ten cars left? Riveting! So, I'll give the 500 a shot this weekend, if only for more wrecks.

March Madness: Ah, yes. March Madness (It really is madness because the tournament doesn't end until sometime in April). The month or so out of the year when I actually pay slight attention to college basketball. Until my Yahoo tournament bracket is busted, then I pretty much check out. But it's something, right??!!

NBA playoffs: Again, I don't really care about the NBA until the playoffs arrive, and I still don't care that much. I try to watch a few games, but I'd rather be doing something else.

Hockey playoffs: I usually catch snippets of a game or two each year. Nothing more.

Arena Football??: The cheap, artificial sweetener of football. If you can find what channel it's on, you deserve a medal. Also, I can only watch a few plays before I zone out.

Baseball: America's Pastime! The great sport of baseball! Baseball is a great sport, I recognize that. And I can't help but get excited when it starts up every year. For the first month I'm into it! Heck, one year I even watched the MLB Network in the run-up to the season and had spring training games on in the background while I did other stuff! I don't usually do that; it was a one-time thing. I immerse myself in fantasy drafts and preseason magazines; I watch the Royals on FSN (gah!); I tune in to Sunday-Monday-Wednesday-Funday Night Baseball on ESPN (it really feels like there's a primetime game every night). I watch Baseball Tonight on ESPN. All those fancy baseball card animations at the beginning! Catch phrases! It's awesome! And then I peter out and sink into the long, hot summer.

Baseball? Again!??!

God, when does football start??!!

What channel is Arena Football on? I need something! Even if it doesn't taste quite right! Someone please tell me!! What? It's on NFL Network? Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

We only have piddly cable. And NFL Network, possibly the greatest channel on earth, is not available on cable. Not even on fancy pants digital cable! Not even with the sports pack! Only on satellite. Curse you, NFL. Curse you. Sure, we get the NBA, MLB, and NHL networks. But who watches that stuff? Sheesh.

So, there it is. I will absently watch the summer full of non-football sporting events while scouring Twitter and various sports sites for news on the NFL. Go Dolphins!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Thoughts on Valentine's Day

As you, my precious and happy readers, may have noticed, I write a lot of heavy ranting slop.

I'm pissed about this!

I find this such-and-such thing annoying!

Feel sorry for me because I'm a whiny piece of trash!

You get the picture.

So I'm going to give it a go writing something not so cloudy. Thunderstorms and rain are nice, but we all need some sunny days. And what better day than Valentine's Day? I love you, Wanda! (She's my wife).

Speaking of thunderstorms and rain, I like a good storm. One of those big mothers that roll in late in the afternoon. The heat has been oppressive all day, and then dark clouds start to gather. The sun gets whisked to the shadows by ghostly grey fingers and the dirty cotton clouds menace. Thunder rumbles in the distance and an occasional flash of lightning dances across the canvas. And then the rain just starts to pour. And the smell after that rain hits the hot-as-shit asphalt is heavenly! If we're lucky, the storm will roll away soon after and the sun just might peek out. That's the best time--after a storm. Everything smells fresh and looks marvelous.

You know what else smells good? Grass. After some rain it smells good, sure. But a great smell is after grass has been cut! One of those signs of spring/summer, you can always tell when people have been mowing grass. I remember a time, shortly after my dad and I had moved here to Lincoln. I was about to start high school and was feeling crabby so he had me write down a list of good things or things that I'm grateful for. I don't remember much of what I put on there, but I do remember I put something about the smell of fresh-cut grass on a baseball field. Smell is powerful! And apparently I have some unhealthy addiction to the smell of grass. Could be worse, I suppose.

I'm grateful to have a wife that I love dearly and who loves (puts up with) me. I'm grateful for our two cats, my friends and my family. I'm grateful to have a nice house to live in and to have reliable transportation. Call me a filthy, spoiled materialistic American, but I'm grateful for my Xbox. And I love playing fragtastic war games on it with my friends.

I'm grateful for my health. Aside from my fat ass. That I am not grateful for. Shoot, it's not like I worked hard to get that ass, either! If I worked harder for it, maybe I'd appreciate it more (exercise exercise exercise diet exercise diet diet diet).

I know Valentine's Day is a horrible holiday abhorred by singles and associated with diabetes-inducing levels of sugar, sappy cards, pretty flowers, and gorgeous bloody diamonds. It's also a good day to think about what you appreciate in your life. So lift your weepy leaden soul from the dark ditch of despair on this day (and on other days, too!) and take a look at the good things in your life. You may be surprised.

Monday, February 6, 2012

What the Hordes Pick

This article from Gawker about the People's Choice Awards made me think of when the "favorites" or "most popular" turd monkeys were chosen to be included in various iterations of my high school yearbook. Creed and Britney Spears and Dean Koontz and BMWs, oh my! I think it's in poor form to have high schoolers choose anything. Apparently, it's also in poor form to have coddled troglodytes of America pick things. Yes, these are awards and selections that are based on popularity. Not what is the best. But doesn't it still piss you off just a little?

Of course, the Oscars are a big sham, too. But at least the Academy's picks are a bit closer to the mark of artistry and true talent.

Carry on.

The "Benefit" of Group Projects

Okay, mini-rant time.

I, as my faithful readers know (haha), am in college for the second time. The first time through I went by way of the humanities division of my fine college. Lots of courses on writing, speaking, rhetoric, etc. Very light on the more practical business courses that could then be applied directly to real-world positions (accountant, human resources, computer nerd, marketing, etc). Is this an indicator of the failure of humanities/arts degrees failing to prepare graduates for the real world? That is something to be discussed in another post. For now, I would like to focus on one small item that irks me about classes on the business end of things. Specifically, group projects.

On the benefits of such projects: they are touted to encourage communication and teamwork. Good. Those are two great things. Also, they mimic what you may well encounter in the working world. When you get your awesome JOB that you worked so hard for you will likely work in a GROUP on a PROJECT. Because you have worked on said projects in COLLEGE you will be equipped with the proper tools to SUCCEED.

Okay, I get the wispy theory behind this. I really do. It all sounds good in syallbi form and coming out of the instructors' mouths. I'm sure that it looks equally good when these instructors present their curriculum and the plans to whatever committees they have to placate in order to continue teaching these courses in the way that they want to. All fine and good. Dandy. Just dandy.

When you actually think about it, it begins to crystallize into an observation on the real world. And that is, that these fluffy, wonderful, sparkly-in-the-light-of-a-unicorn's-patoot projects are garbage. They're nothing more than a way for instructors to do less work in their classes. Okay, okay, some of you may nail me here and say:

Nate! These instructors have been doing this for a long time and they are preparing you for real life! They know what they're doing and there have been PAPERS written about this type of thing! Group projects are necessary to develop your COMMUNICATION and TEAMWORK skills! That is what you'll encounter in the real world and you better shut your mouth now before the education gods come down from the Teachers' Lounge Heaven and smite you in their almighty smiteyness!

There may be a time where group projects are a worthy endeavor. Maybe. But I doubt it. Mostly, they are designed to cause great heartache. A student does not need multiple classes and multiple semesters of group projects to realize how tortuous and unnecessary they are! A student needs but one class! I propose that there be a class called The Hell of Group Projects. It will be assigned in a student's first college semester and they will quickly see how awful these projects are. Main points covered include:

  1. One, or at most, two people in the group will actually do any work in the group
    1. At this point, you will hope you are in small groups composed only of those willing to work
  2. You will never be able to find a meeting time that will work for all group members
  3. Actual group meetings will be UNPRODUCTIVE. 
    1. You will leave these meetings knowing that it would be better if you could just do the damn thing yourself
And I think that about covers what that class would entail. Only the most annoying types of projects would be assigned. Those with lots of graphs, group papers (Oh, God! You can keep me out of Heaven, just don't make me do a group paper! That is a punishment truly worse than the depths of all Hell!), spreadsheets, Pictionary-esque diagrams crafted with those fruity (or sometimes poisonous) smelling permanent markers, and pages and pages and pages and pages of peer analysis forms to be completed by hand.

That's it. Students would get it. Then these instructors, instead of crafting these brilliant group projects, could actually teach their damn classes!

I have encountered a strange phenomenon here in my second-go-round: I'm finding that some teachers are teaching in the most asinine way possible which is owed to the myth of the group project. I am now in my second class with this method. This is what the method entails, all summarized on the first day of class:

  1. Give fluffy presentation with syllabus about course structure, which is:
    1. Every day, instructor will give a brief lecture about the day's topic. And by brief I mean very very brief. This is what defines brief. As in about ten minutes brief.
    2. Remaining class time is devoted to GROUP TIME.
    3. Instructor will be wandering around the class, available should groups have any questions
    4. STUDENT/GROUPS are responsible for all understanding and actual teaching of topic to themselves and to each other
    5. Projects will be assigned for students to figure out on their own or in GROUPS (which have previously been found to be useless)
    6. Tests will be given, grades will be handed out
    7. The end.
What used to be clear to me, is now muddied by new-fangled thinking and creative laziness.

Hey! Instead of taking time to go over difficult concepts as well as teaching students the basics, I'm going to just shove it all under the poopy-smelling umbrella of group work! I'll empower the students to teach themselves and I'll give them enough space to be themselves and learn in the best way they see fit! God, I'm a freaking genius! And, in case they think I just use the time to go back to my office and play Angry Birds or Words with Friends, I'll stick around to answer any questions they may have! All while, of course, making sure they get just enough information from me to be only slightly-less confused.

What the fuck are students paying for when they come to college??!! What in God's name is the tuition for if not for students to be TAUGHT! We are empty vessels, here! We are here to be filled with knowledge by the faculty and staff who are paid (an amount that is not known, but probably is too much)! We are not here to sit in silent groups with our expensive textbooks open in front of us while the instructor flits about looking intelligent and caring! Don't just look intelligent! Give us some of that knowledge! We know that there must be some reason why you are paid to carry the title of instructor or professor or associate professor or adjunct professor or whatever your title is. We know you probably worked very hard to get where you are and there is a reason why you were hired in the first place. It was to teach! Not to tell students they will spend the semester teaching themselves! As it stands, a student is paying for a textbook and a semester-long study session with people who are likely just as confused as they are. The goals of the class could have been accomplished with the textbook and a series of YouTube videos. The knowledge is out there to be had much cheaper and much easier. Yet students are stuck because they have to get that piece of paper. That degree. Instead of lording that fact over students, mocking them with the idiocy of today's teaching, how about giving them something they can use. How about teaching? How about engaging them in discussion? Impart your knowledge to the students. Help them understand what is in the textbook. Step them through problems and concepts. There is a reason you, the instructor, are at the college. There is a reason the students are at the college. Stop telling them through your actions, that there isn't any reason to be at college.

Well, aside from that degree thing.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Google Minus

So I deleted my Google+ profile last week. Big news, I know. Let's take a trip down memory lane and examine my short experience on that site:

When I first heard about it I wasn't even sure what it was. Google Plus? What the eff is that? I read a few (or 20) articles from the oh-so-enlightened tech folks who were blessed with advanced previews of the service. The Buzz (sorry Google) was building. It was going to be like Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and email all rolled into one! Awesome!

Do you have social media fatigue?

Uh, maybe.?.?

Then come to Google Plus where you can park your social media-ing ass and gush about how much better you are than the Farmville hordes on Facebook and Lady Gaga sycophants on Twitter!


But I was enthralled and I wanted in. When I finally got someone I know to tag me in a post, which was delivered to my email with an enticing link to The Plus, I clicked and clicked and clicked and clicked until I was finally able to register and join the site. Success! And it was beautiful for five minutes while I set up my profile and invited all of my friends and family. Five minutes more of excitement while I scoured the site for tech writers that I follow on Twitter. Great!

Then I started posting articles I thought were interesting, just like on Twitter. Or Facebook, for that matter. And I posted some more. Occasionally I would +1 (The Plus' version of the 'Like' button) some famous person's post. Or I'd add a comment equivalent to "Awesome!" Meh. The Plus, like Twitter, has lots of interesting people on it who post interesting things. But I seem to have this aversion to wanting to dialogue with said famous people on The Plus/The Twitter (sidebar: I love it when people refer to Twitter as 'The Twitter.' It makes me giggle inside). First, I usually don't have anything worthwhile to say that someone else hasn't said a million times before. Second, said famous people don't really care what you have to say. Third, about a billion other people are blowing up the comments/+1s/reshares of these posts so I get lost in the shuffle. Fourth, I don't really feel like getting into a discussion or flame war with these strangers. Pointless.

What about family and friends? Those are the folks that I really care about communicating with on social media. They're the only ones who will reliably communicate with you, anyway. All the rest of it is just an illusion. Anyway, what about them on The Plus? Well, a few of them joined after I cajoled them. And then there was silence. Because. They. Were. All. On. Facebook.

That's my big takeaway from The Plus. Everyone is already on Facebook. Sure sure, you can join the Plus to rid yourself of the rusty anchor of Facebook that's dragging you down.

You can start over with only the people you really want to communicate with on Google Plus! 

Great! You can do that on Facebook, too.

Yeah, but you can find new people to stalk on Google Plus!

That's what Twitter's for.

Mike Elgan talked about social media fatigue and ditching all of it in favor of Google Plus. He called it the Google+ diet. Mike is a huge Plus user and a respected journalist with a large following. The idea sounds great, but the problem is that if I ditched all of my social media sites except for The Plus, nobody would care. I don't have that much gravitas to get people to join me on The Plus. Emailing/blogging/twittering/ranting/checking-in-ing only from The Plus would only serve to confuse and annoy my family and friends (only people I'm really concerned with interacting with, anyway--Twitter stalking notwithstanding) who would likely then ignore the email notification they received from my post.

So, while I joined The Plus enthusiastically and spammed the hell out of my contacts to join The Plus and leave Dirty Old Facebook for good, it didn't work. What was I to do? If I wanted to converse with any of them, I had to stay on Facebook. But I still wanted to be active on The Plus, trying to post interesting things and show that I was one of the smart ones.

And it wore me the fuck out.

And the answer for me is not to ditch Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare (love Foursquare), Blogger, Tumblr, ad naseum. The answer was to ditch The Plus and embrace my Facebook-folks and my celebrity stalking on Twitter.

I always felt disconnected going from Facebook to The Plus. Like I went from a warm friendly gathering at a coffee shop to a white-washed bullshit convention on how great The Plus is. I'm sure most people ignore what I post on Facebook, as they did on The Plus. But at least those who are ignoring me on Facebook actually care about me! (well, maybe they do. At least some of them do).