Football Conversations

As a non-football watcher, I’ve spent many a conversation pretending to have watched something I didn’t, or to care about something I don’t, and to use grammatically unsound complex sentences of negation.

At first, I would maintain the charade as football fans, when discussing football, are complete conversational narcissists, and would never notice that I wasn’t adding anything meaningful to the conversation.  These one-sided discussions would invariably crescendo to an emotionally-charged climax, upon which I would just agree with whatever was said last and laugh, which in turn led to some mutual conclusion that escaped me because I don’t watch football.

Now, I just don’t care enough about garnering favor with random people at the coffee station, so I don’t humor the smalltalk anymore, or so was my intent.  Unfortunately, a surprising majority of people take the dismissive comment to be a joke (for what kind of American doesn’t watch football?), and interpret it as encouragement–thus putting me into the conversation anyway.

So I decided that, as it’s been said: If you can’t beat ’em–kill everyone.  Or rather, inwardly sigh sadly and pretend to follow along.  But I need assistance.  I need information…obtained through any other means than reading, watching TV, or conversing with my fell Man.

I needed an aggregator and summarizer.  I needed the absolute bare minimum content required to form a cohesive thought.  I needed the equivalent of a Twitter feed of sports commentary, but without the racism/sexism/homophobia (the entire social aspect, basically).  I needed a means by which to trawl football articles and identify the most-used words, negating general sentence structure such as definite articles and conjunctions.

Fortunately I found this site: wordcounter.net.  Probably not its intended use–I began pasting the top football news articles into its form and analyzing their content.  I checked 5 such posts, and compiled their keywords:

The first two articles didn’t have enough meaningful content for a full 10 words

Okay, I could work with this.  This Bryant fellow seems to be a highlight.  I’m sure I could muddle through the rest.

I decided to test my theory on Liz, and texted her the following message:

“I heard that in Bryant’s week one, he scored enough points that it’ll be his big season.  He’ll make a good five-star Fantasy Football pick.  Despite the initial loss, Arkansas will recover with enough victories to stay in the running.”

Liz responded:

“What are you reading?”

She was intrigued!  Had I pulled it off?!  I replied, ambiguously:

“Just the highlights.”

She validated my success by sending me an unrelated photo of a dog that was up for adoption.

…Okay, maybe my method needs a little refinement.  Maybe I can pull a larger sampling of articles and write a formula to analyze the character strings.

Or maybe, just maybe…when I tell you I don’t watch football you could stop talking to me about football and I wouldn’t have to design a logic-based analysis of textual media to formulate responses to your banal and pointless rambling.  Now quit hogging the coffee machine.

–Simon

Halloween Costumes

“Hey, who’s Doc Holliday?”  He gestured in my direction as he spoke with my boss.  A colleague, he was in town to meet the rest of the team that worked at this location.  And as what so often happens when meeting people who are normally only a voice, I failed to place the face with a name.  Apparently, he suffered from the same problem, and chose to associate an actor’s particular character with my own.

I’ll note that no one ever sees me and says: “Hey!  He looks like George Clooney!  So devilishly handsome!”.  No, instead I was being compared to Val Kilmer’s character–the emaciated borderline psychopath on the cusp of death from Consumption.  That was me.  And it wasn’t the last time that I would hear that observation.

In truth, I had never seen the entirety of Tombstone.  As far as Wyatt Earp movies went, I found it to be a forced rendition with unnecessary drama.  The story itself is one of violence and drama, so I felt it odd that they pushed it so.  Plus, it didn’t really address Holliday’s backstory.  Instead, he just kind of shows up as a stylish badass with an uncanny ability to attract the ladies, despite his debilitating and infectious disease.  I guess if I was going to be compared to someone, it was a lot better than Elijah Wood’s Frodo.  I could live with it: a dying wealthy gunslinger with sexy ladies.  Fine.

So when the office held a costume contest for Halloween, I decided to see just how convincing the emulation could be.  I bought a cheap black cowboy hat and red vest.  The rest of the outfit I conveniently already possessed, down to the silver pocketwatch.  I even shaved (though I required mascara to darken the mustache that was increasingly turning white).

After much consideration, I left the shotgun at home

It’s not every day that I can make the security guard burst out laughing.

In the end, I lost the contest to Mary Poppins (bitch).  But more importantly were the costume assessments I received.  Notably, from multiple people, that my costume wasn’t all that different from the way I normally dress, and were it not for the hat, they might not have even noticed it was a costume at all.

I guess, in the end, the comparison had been accurate all along.  For better or worse, I’m now permanently associated with the persona.

I’m your Huckleberry.

–Simon

Social Interactions

A pretty young woman smiled at me in the grocery store.

This is noteworthy for a couple reasons.  Firstly, it’s rare that anyone makes eye contact with me.  Sure, I could bemoan the sad state of our current society, wherein we shun our fellow humans as simple and inconvenient co-habitants of the environment, but I doubt that the explanation is so simple.  Perhaps it’s because we work ourselves to exhaustion and simply don’t have the mental reserves to allocate to simple camaraderie–or by the same argument, we don’t have enough time.

Second, based on simple observations of a personal lifetime, it’s rare that women in passing find me terribly attractive, or (as it’s been mentioned on one particular account) approachable.  Maybe I should shave the mustache?  Nah.

In any case, the scenario usually plays out as me approaching a woman’s proximity for unrelated reasons, at an indirect vector, and I–being cognizant of another sentient being, offer the most basic of friendly gestures–a smile.  But rarely is this sentiment properly delivered, for the woman never acknowledges my own existence, and even seems to make a conceited effort to avoid the mere awareness of another living being.  Ah well, that’s par really.

But a pretty young woman smiled at me!

Why would she do such a thing?  Did she need assistance?  No–she was merely pushing a cart.  And I didn’t have the kid with me (which is generally the only time women acknowledge me).  Could it be possible that she felt a simple and basic connection to another living being?  There’s more to this.  Let’s figure it out!

I didn’t have time to take a cursory glace at her cart’s contents, but she had chosen the full-sized version.  Was she shopping for her family?  She was on the cusp of being too young for me, and usually women that age aren’t performing full grocery runs.  Maybe she was practically frugal?  I dunno.  I don’t have enough information to make a proper analysis, and all conclusions are mere conjecture.

But a pretty young woman smiled at me!

Maybe it was the mere sight of a well-dressed man approaching her.  Could it be so simple?  Was it possible that there were other women in the world who found me not only mildly attractive at first glace, but also approachable–enough to risk encouraging me?

Perhaps she merely felt basic empathy for her fellow humans.  I’m no stranger to isolation, and the detrimental consequences of extended solitude.  I recall my clinical psychology course in college, which recounted the sad tale of a lonely man who’s last written words were that he was headed to The Bridge, and if just one person would smile at him during his journey, he wouldn’t jump.  Things did not work out so well.  Not one soul in San Francisco between him and the apex of the expanse bothered to acknowledge him.  Maybe this woman was aware of this story.  Maybe she knew the power of a simple gesture–the way it flooded my neurons with dopamine and brought me momentary peace and contentment.  I longed shake her hand or proffer a high-five–some minimally-invasive action that would allow me to perceive her existence in a tactile manner, to prove and acknowledge that she was the tangible being that brought me so much ephemeral joy.

Maybe she was the one on the bridge, reaching out to someone in the most subtle of ways–too afraid to do more–crying out to a world that doesn’t care if we continue to exist.  I should do something.

A pretty young woman smiled at me!

I didn’t do anything.  I thought for so long about the encounter’s implications that we passed, and I never even smiled back.

–Simon

Social Studies

When I look back on my early education years, I reflect on certain words and phrases.  These combinations have entered public lexicon, and no one seems to question them later.  “Whole Language” was one of them.  Apparently I learned to write during this trend, and was taught how to represent concepts rather than accurate spelling and syntax.  Spelling developed later through simple writing practice, though in the days preceding spellcheck, I didn’t get the immediate feedback, so I was slow to adapt.

But the big one to me, being the historian, is the term “Social Studies”.  Taken at face value without the personal experiences within the American educational system, the term sounds like preparatory education for public sector work.  But what is it really?

Naturally, I consulted Wikipedia:

“…created to consolidate and standardize various subjects which did not fit within normal school curricula”

The wording of that statement seems almost presumptuous, but I didn’t feel like reading the 63-page government document that outlined the program, so I’ll take the summary at face value.  Assuming it’s accurate, 19th-century education apparently didn’t incorporate the broad spectrum of social studies: history, geography, and political science.  And rather than cover each discipline, they were all thrown into a big pot and given a common name.

The problem, in my opinion, was that as schools organized subjects based on time blocks, all of these disciplines were allotted only a shared time–50 minutes, in my own experience.  So for 50 minutes a day, I was expected to learn humanities and social sciences.

And this is where I’ll note that physical education was a double-blocked class.

And physical education is a misnomer–the class was football education.  So for 2 hours a day in my youth I learned how to play football, and was given half the time to study all of the humanities and social sciences.

And social studies is also a misnomer, because the curriculum of this class was entirely comprised of Texas history.  So for the majority of my adolescence, I learned football and Texas history.

I don’t suppose that my Texan upbringing was a common experience outside of that educational system, but why do we continue to group things like this?  Is there some reason the various social sciences can’t be addressed individually?  Then again, science classes were all grouped together too.  I guess when we’re young, we’re just thrown information in the hopes that it will build foundations as prerequisites for more delineated disciplines later?

Just one of many questions I posit for my successors.

–Simon

Generational Technology

I was talking to my father, as I tend to do, and as what usually happens when I engage in such discourse, especially whilst imbibing, I acquired certain information from a specific point of view and found it interesting.  And so, a blog post is born.

We were discussing technology and the inevitable variances by which the differing generations adapt to it.  It’s cliché, certainly, to envision some old geezer hammering away at a keyboard and yelling at a computer monitor.  For many years, in fact, I provided customer service to such people who couldn’t figure out the difference between a browser’s search menu and address bar–possibly why so many modern browsers have now dealt away with the differentiation altogether.

Of course, I knew the stereotype to be a half truth, and I considered my own father a model example to the contrary.  Dad, a professor, had a history of spending his research grant money on computer equipment, and in fact I, as a child, had been quite enamored by his laboratory on campus.  I willingly accompanied him into work during those summer days of my youth for the sole reason of gaining access to the banks of computers which lined the old slate countertops of those musty rooms.  And, by observation and from rudimentary instruction, taught myself how to type properly on a modern QWERTY keyboard–years before keyboarding was introduced into gradeschool curriculum.

Many years prior, Dad had typed up his doctoral dissertation on an electric typewriter.  And now, while I still can’t hope to capture even his most basic interest in networking technology and infosec, still see the man using modern hardware beyond a simple intuitive ease, but with something approaching mild obsession.  In short–he’s entirely comfortable with modern technology.  And this is a man who has no connective tissue in his leg to speak of (he’s old).

And during this particular discussion, he was musing over his students’ inability to use basic computing equipment.  A particular anecdote involved his class sending him email invites to subscribe to Office 365 (a rant for another time), so that he might log in and view their term papers digitally.  Basically, his students sent him friend requests to a digital subscription service to view their shared documents…rather than use a printer.

Of course, I have written about the evil contrivances we call “printers”, but that’s besides the point.

But anyway, Dad told me this story because he had been approached for his thoughts on how his aging generation anticipates adapting to our world of rapidly-changing technology, to which he responded that the youngest generation doesn’t know anything about using current technology, and so such concerns were misguided.

As a point of comparison, I thought about young drivers and realized that the youngest generation doesn’t know how to operate motor vehicles properly.  But then again, neither do most people…and most people don’t really know how to effectively use modern operating systems, or we wouldn’t have Windows 10.

Sooo, I guess my point is that expectations are higher than reality and generational gaps have nothing to do with an individual’s ability to learn and adapt…to a point.  I mean, old people still need to stop driving, but I also don’t think most people are competent enough to handle the responsibilities of the Internet either.  Hmm–a conundrum.

–Simon