Friday, August 25, 2017

Cha cha cha changes

Before the Outer Banks Voice there was this. And some even older blogs. It's back. And we'll see where it goes!  But this time, the renewal is here to stay. So keep tuned in. I have a life beyond the Voice and Facebook. And all can coexist!

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Redux again?

Yeah, I think so.

This blog has a long history.

I've been public as "OBX Republic", anonymous as "Pancho Villa" then back again as Russ's Outer Bank Blog. When Rob Morris and I started the Voice five years ago, I retired the blog.

 In 2014 I brought it back briefly so I could write about subject matter that wasn't Voice relevant--especially national politics and the like. But I soon discovered that the Voice and a full time teaching job nine months a year at College of the Albemarle left little time for writing this blog.

I also have another blog, Gin Gents, I share with Jim Trotman and Harold Gracey, leaving even less time.

But I still have things I want to say that aren't "Voice worthy." Nor are the Facebook post-worthy, but they might aspire to the classification of Facebook "link-worthy."

Some of the things I want to write about are political on a national level. Some will be corrections to stuff that seems to circulate around the local internet, especially on sites like TOPIX, that concern me personally that I prefer to address in a forum other than Facebook.

Other stories may just be for fun.

Many (about six!) people keep at me to revive this blog. But blogs seem to be on the decline and these days, Facebook is where the action is. "Hidden Outer Banks" (good), the new OBX Report (good ++), the Curritucker News (I don't like it, but 8600 people do!) seem to be the way to go.

Thus, no guarantees that I will post regularly or even irregularly.

But I'm going to try harder this time around than I did in 2014. Dedicated to Dix Allen who is the one person who misses this blog the most...

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The limits of texting revealed

There is no doubt  I love technology.

But as addicted as I am where smartphones, the iPad, streaming audio and video, surround sound and computers are concerned, there is a limit to the usefulness of all this space-age tech.

And yet, the events I witnessed at the Subway in the Kitty Hawk/Walmart complex last week made me realize that perhaps this tech revolution has advanced even further than my liberal boundaries might allow.

Let me set the scene.

I am munching on a 6-inch tuna sub at a table directly adjacent to the front door of the restaurant.

Enter, stage left, a couple in their mid-thirties, a son about 13 years of age, and an older woman who could be a grandparent or an older sibling of one of the two people comprising the couple.

Upon entering the Subway the foursome gathers just past the threshold, forming a circle where "dad" is the obvious leader of the tribe.

Let me put a qualifier on "dad" by adding the word "peripatetic".

As the other four attempted to communicate their orders to dad, he circled about like a shark poised for the kill and shouted (literally) commands to his subjects.

As dad gained control, his master plan was revealed to anyone within hearing distance.

He and "mom" would go to the counter and order their food.

So far, so good.

But the child and the older woman were exiled to a table, about six feet away from the first stop in the Subway ordering process and commanded, by dad, to TEXT their orders to him via cell phone.

As mom and dad approached the first "stop" on the Subway ordering circuit, "dad" wielded his cell phone like sabre--held high and constantly consulted.

When it came time to commence the sandwich orders, mom and "dad" easily communicated their desires to the Subway employee.

Then it came time to consult the cell phone.

Dad was astounded. The older woman's text, for whatever reason, failed to make it to dad's cell phone.

In order to resolve this problem, dad resorted to an age-old technology which those well-versed in such matters call "yelling."

He yelled across the void to the poor woman and she yelled back her order. This required several exchanges as well as some comments denigrating her technological prowess.

The kid, born into the world of modern social communication had successfully transmitted his text order to dad.

But alas, apparently the child didn't know the Subway methodology.

Suddenly dad was once again yelling across the chasm...

"What kind of bread do you want?"
"What kind of cheese do you want?"
"You ordered cold cuts-do you want Italian or what?"

Eventually, all four sandwich orders were completed, sans technology.

Dad, who became quite exasperated by the text message failure even yelled across the establishment to his son, "I love you, but this is exactly what I wanted to avoid."

Little did "dad" suspect that his already disrupted orderly process was about to descend into Dante's "Inferno."

For, as most of us know, it is at the register in Subway where one must declare their allegiance to a "combo"; which includes chips and a drink, or some lesser combination of drinks, chips, sandwiches and desserts.

Now, once again yelling across an even greater chasm, the two texting subjects were forced to physically join the parental units at the register.

Chaos ensured to such an extent that dad actually swatted a bag of chips out of the hand of the older woman as the four tried to complete the orders.

Of course, when the process reached it's denouement, the quartet chose the table directly next to me so I could have a front row seat to the post-mortem game analysis.

While the other three began to devour their food, dad stared..and stared..and stared some more at the register receipt.

He announced to the assembled family unit that he was "sure" they had overpaid--perhaps by being charged extra for chips or a drink that should have been priced in a combo, or perhaps something else equally sinister.

I'm not sure of the mathematical knowledge required to reconcile a four-person Subway order, but dad made sure the rest of the family understood the fault fell squarely in their bailiwick.

"This is why I asked we text our orders so we coud avoid this!" he proclaimed.

By now, the rest of the family had plowed through most of their lunch, but dad kept staring at the receipt.

Finally, he expertly determined that they had paid for one bag of potato chips they did not possess.

 He sent the older woman to retrieve the chips despite her protestations that she didn't want any chips.

He again assured the family that he wasn't mad. He even forced an almost genuine laugh.

"But, this wouldn't have happened if you all had just texted your orders correctly to me. This is why I like to be organized. The money doesn't matter, but I know we overpaid."


While I thought I would enjoy reading that day's New York Times on my iPad the real world turned out to be much more interesting than the virtual news world.

And if his son ever turns out to be one of those kids who act out and becomes a national headline, we'll all know why.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Time travel confirmed

Being a sci-fi fan I have always been interested in the concept of time-travel and the possibility of a rift in the space-time continuum.

But like ghosts, ESP and alien space ships crashing in New Mexico, I've never believed time-travel was possible.

Enter my mostly tech-challenged spouse.

Suddenly, time is nothing but a concept and "real time" no longer exists at our abode.

It all started with the DVR from Direct TV.

My lovely wife hates tech. Her smart phone sports all of about seven "apps". Ditto for her iPad.

Once she arrives home, she never turns on a real computer and she doesn't want to know how they work.

She cannot access Pandora, Netflix or anything called "streaming" on our home theater system.

HD, Dolby, Surround Sound..they aren't discernable to her optic or auditory nerves.

But the DVR she mastered in about 30 minutes.

When I come home at night and the TV is already on, I enter a nether world of time distortion.

It might be February, but all of a sudden a tropical storm warning crawls across the bottom of the screen or a teaser for the 11 o'clock news informs me that we can expect 80 degree weather tomorrow and Romney might have sewn up the GOP presidential nomination.

Startled, my wife then informs me we're watching an episode of CSI Miami/NY/Vegas or NCIS/NCIS-LA or Criminal Minds or The Mentalist from a time before the real estate market crashed because "I'm not sure we saw this episode."

I never know if its 2013 or 2009 when our TV is on.

Then came Candy Crush Saga.

In this game, you get a maximum of five lives for "free" and when you exhaust them, one has to wait two or three hours to get five more lives so one can advance to the next levels.

But my nominally tech-challenged spouse figured out that if one advances the date on one's iPad in the "Settings" area, real time disappears and future-time travel exists.

She has now borrowed so many future Candy Crush lives her iPad thinks it's 2090 and her CNN newsfeed is reporting something called "First Contact" by a race of aliens with pointy ears.

Any day now, when I arrive home, I expect to find a black hole or horizontal, lightning-type rift in the sky above our house.

Until then, if I miss a deadline or seem confused about the current state of affairs it's because I don't know if its 2009 (the DVR), 2013 (old-fashioned "live" television) or something with a Star Date (Candy Crush Time).

All I can tell you is that based on Candy Crush Time, the Chicago Cubs still haven't won a Word Series as of 2107 and The Simpson's have yet to be cancelled.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Revitalizing Manufacturing

I plan to get back to some local items and even some humor, but I wanted to dedicate this blog post to some national and global issues.

I subscribe to way too many magazines, newspapers and periodicals, especially quarterly journals. I have a stack of unread journals going back two years!

This post features an article from one of my favorite quarterly journals, the University of Texas's "Issues in Science and Technology."

"Issues" is published in collaboration with the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the Institute of Medicine and the University of Texas at Dallas.

The publication takes issues in science and technology that are prominent in  political and mainstream media discussions.

While avoiding technical jargon and esoterica, the journal is still academic in nature and explains issues in terms most college students should be able to understand.

In the Winter 2012 issue, Stephen Ezell discusses "Revitalizing U.S. Manufacturing"

He points out the fallacy to those who believe the U.S. is now a service economy and no longer requires, or can compete globally with a strong manufacturing base are simply incorrect.

While I am no fan of government programs, Ezell points to examples in western Europe and the Pacific Rim where public-private sector collaboration in research and improving domestic manufacturers acumen in entering the export market can succeed and create jobs and wealth.

Existing U.S. programs such at the Small Business Administration and the U.S. Export-Import Bank are focused in the wrong areas.

He also suggests changes in the tax code to promote Small Business Enterprise (SME) research and development efforts. Another idea I endorse is his proposal to overhaul the U.S. corporate tax code.

Give it s read-it is a proposal Republicans, Democrats, conservatives and liberals can agree upon.

What would be even more useful is if we could convince local and state politicians to read more articles such as these so that policies and political pressure could come from the grassroots to the top instead of the usual top-down command system that characterizes the culture in Washington, D.C.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The New Normal

The "new normal" is a phrase often tossed around by politicos on both the left and right.

From the right, the mantra has come to epitomize large government and a grudging acceptance of a stagnant economy coupled with higher-than-normal unemployment rates.

The left sees the "new normal" as capitalism run rampant, where big corporations have replaced the robber-barons of the 19th century.

They control our finances from Wall Street while doling out minimum-wage jobs to vast swaths of our citizenry toiling at Walmart or McDonald's.

Both sides have valid concerns about what we as a nation have come to accept as normal.

But none of that will matter if our future denizens are unable to read, much less write, something as simple as this blog piece.

It's an issue we talk about often-the decline of our nation's public school system.

Here is what the "new normal" looks like from my perspective:

  • High school graduates who have never written a term paper.
  • Open book tests are the norm rather than the exception.
  • Test reviews and "study" guides that basically tell students what will be on each test.
  • Absolutely no grammar skills.
  • The use of slang and "words" like "gonna" or phrases such as "America is all pissed off and messed up" introduce the theme of an essay.
  • Forget calculus. Many high school graduates can't compute the area of a triangle or even a square, nor can they calculate percentages.
  • In one class of fifteen students, not a single class member understood the word "mandate."
  • Textbooks are never read and are seldom brought to class.
  • The vast majority of students I meet have no idea how to use a library, even one "online"--- to research a paper. They freely "cut and paste" from newspapers, Wikipedia or articles they stumble upon via Google with no understanding of what they are 'writing'.
  • See the preceding bullet point. They don't understand plagiarism either. 
Go to any college website, especially community colleges or commuter-based four-year institutions and browse the online course catalog for "Developmental" courses.

You will find these courses often comprise the single largest component of the catalog. These courses are generally offered in English, writing, and math and are, quite frankly, geared to what most of them should have been taught before they left middle school.

Because of all of the above, many students must spend their first two or three semesters taking courses that carry no college credit and are offered to bring them up to a skill level their state-issued high school diplomas imply they have already mastered.

What is interesting is that only a few students really complain about the workload in college being "too hard."

If you sit down and converse with these young folks, you'll find many, if not most, are appalled and angry once they attempt to read a text or follow a college lecture and realize, to put it in the vernacular, they've been ripped off by their public school systems.

School systems across the country tout their "test scores", which seems to satisfy voters and justify huge salaries for school system administrators.

Teachers, on the other hand, are still relatively underpaid and contrary to media stereotypes, they are as frustrated as I am with the quality of the product they are turning out.

But their hands are tied. Test scores mean more than critical thinking, discipline, or holding students to even "average" performance standards.

While our public schools wallow in political correctness, standardized tests, and self-interested parents who worry more about material possessions, our kids are suffering the consequences.

In my generation, there was no global economy. I didn't compete with high school graduates from Poland, India, or China for well-paying jobs with companies who operate across international borders.

Our kids will compete in such an environment.

And they aren't ready.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Why our public schools underperform...

High school graduates have never seen a footnote, written a term paper, and are baffled by simple arithmetic such as calculating a percentage or the area of a triangle.

But our school teachers are well versed in free speech (as practiced in authoritarian regimes) and Dr. Phil psychology.

Which is why our family home schools its pets.

"A pencil is a weapon when it is pointed at someone in a threatening way and gun noises are made," said Bethanne Bradshaw, a spokesperson for Suffolk Public Schools. 

What is really scary is that a Suffolk School system employee not only "thinks" this way, but repeats those inane thoughts in public, and most likely, will never be fired by her employers or feel any pressure from the public.