Sunday, November 9, 2014

Blogosphere

Every once in a while, as a source of amusement, I'll check the stats on my blog to get a feel for the size and reach of my readership.

I can't vouch for the accuracy of blogger.com, the platform I use to write and publish my blog, but it tells me the number of hits I get daily, weekly, monthly and all time for each individual blog that I post. It also tells me which countries in which my readers live, which is kind of interesting. Does that mean somebody in Uzbekistan really cares enough to read about the concrete driveway I put in last year? Holy smokes.

I'm flattered and thankful for the small number of faithful readers that follow my blog on a fairly regular basis. I write this thing mostly to entertain, perhaps provide a chuckle, to raise an eyebrow, maybe even to express a simmering outrage and to finally get that off my chest.

A typical blog post will generate about 40-50 hits on the day of publication. I figure 25 of you are regular readers, the other 15 or so are occasional readers or simply found me by accident. And I am more than satisfied with that.

Every once in a while I'll write something that touches a common core. When my friend Kent Crim passed away several months ago, the blog I wrote about him went through the ceiling, generating nearly 900 page views, about 700 of them on the day of publication. That was gratifying.

But this past month something really bizarre has been going on. A blog I wrote three years ago, entitled "Weighty issue" (see here), was lingering at about 60 pageviews ever since it was first published in 2011. Then, for some reason, it recently started smoldering, and then it combusted.

For the past month, "Weighty issue" was getting 40-50 hits per day. Go figure. I couldn't understand it. The world map on the stats page shades each country green when a reader from that nation pulls up my blog, and for some reason, France was always green. Dark green. Green when every other country was blank. Suddenly, it seemed, the French couldn't get enough of me.

As of today, "Weighty issue" has gotten 1,526 pageviews, although the upward trending seems to be slowing down. The story about Kent Crim is a distant second with 892 hits.

Incredibly, I had 2,200 hits for the month of October. Yikes.

I don't get it. I don't have any friends or relatives in France, so why the sudden international interest in my weight?

Then it hit me. Frenchmen are crazy. Their most popular Hollywood actor is Jerry Lewis, for crying out loud. So why shouldn't I be a popular bloggist in France?

I'm still not sure what to make of all of this. I don't know whether to be humbled for the increased readership or annoyed that the sudden impact of 1,526 readers could be skewering the stats.

I guess I'll be humbled. Merci beaucoup.


Sunday, November 2, 2014

Burning daylight

As I hammer away on my computer keyboard this morning, my wife remains sound asleep.

We gained an hour of sleep because we changed the clocks last night. Back to standard time. Thus, my wife — who sleeps like a cat anyway — gained an hour of sleep.

Lucky her. It didn't work that way for me — I just got up an hour earlier.

I don't know why we change the clocks. Without getting into the politics of it, the whole concept of saving daylight in the summer seems like a good idea to me, so why don't we save daylight all year long? Especially in the winter, when there's less of it.

OK, OK. It's 6:30 a.m. as I write this, and there's daylight right now where there was none yesterday. Great. Who's awake to take advantage of this moment? Who's outside cutting grass or raking leaves? We seem to be adjusting our daylight for the wrong part of the day.

I went to Wikipedia to read up on this to get a clue as to what I am talking about, but the thing read like a Master's thesis and it lost me when it got to the part about disrupting circadian rhythms, which I was surprised to learn had nothing to do with the Bee Gees and disco music. Clearly, resetting the clock is a different kind of Saturday Night Fever.



As a child, clock changing always seemed like a mid-night event to me, a peculiar precursor to Christmas. I was excited about it without knowing why. I'm still not sure why. Do we actually lose an hour? Do we only have 23 hours today? Or did we repeat an hour, similar to the Twilight Zone time shifts in Ground Hog Day? Is that why the official changing hour is 2 a.m., when nobody is awake?

The blue nations observe daylight savings time. Everyone else is normal.
 And how does the rest of the world cope with this? Wikipedia showed me a map of the world where certain western civilizations observe time changing, but others on the planet don't. How can you conduct international commerce and business with an arrangement like that? How can Federal Express keep a tidy schedule with this mess going on?

Changing the clocks also makes me aware of just how many timepieces I own. There's my watch, and there's my wife's watch, which is like a miniature and I can hardly get to the stem to wind the thing back. There's digital clocks on my appliances and my ancient stereo tuner, yet miraculously I don't have to fiddle with anything on my TV or computer, which somehow know to change the time automatically. So, I wonder, what else do the TV and computer know? Then there's the clocks in our cars, which I always try to change while I'm driving. Probably not a good idea.

But I'm probably overreacting and all of this may be a moot point anyway. I'm sure I'll reconsider everything I've said, you know, after I take my nap. At 3 p.m. Or maybe 2 p.m.


Sunday, October 26, 2014

Fun festival

I love the Lexington Barbecue Festival.

I also realize I might be one of only four city residents who actually admits to that, the other three being Joe Sink, Lee Jessup and Newell Clark. But Joe is a founder of the event, Newell is the mayor and Lee is the Opening Ceremonies emcee, so their enthusiasm is obvious (although sincere, I'm sure.)

By contrast, I have friends who actually leave town on festival day, wanting to put as much space between themselves and 200,000 barbecue eaters as possible. Their loss, I figure.

Not much of a crowd at 7 a.m. — perfect for scouting out the festival.
Actually, I'm not a fan of huge crowds, either. That might explain why Kim and I go to the festival around 7 a.m., before it officially opens, to scout out the vendor tents and sand sculpture, listen to sound checks, catch the aromas of funnel cakes, fried pies, blooming onions and cheese steaks in the air, and watch the line grow for Bob Timberlake's autograph on the label of Childress Vineyard's newest bottle of Fine Swine Wine.

Sidebar: One of my friends, a new resident to Lexington, vowed she wouldn't go to the festival because of her anticipation of a ginormous crowd. However, she met us on Main Street around 8 a.m., stayed until 11, went home to chill and meet her daughter coming up from Columbia, SC, and then spent the rest of the afternoon at the festival, mostly (as I understand it) with a smile on her face.

The festival can do that to you. It's truly a bucket list event.

This year the Main Stage featured gates and fencing for security reasons.
 This year, things were a bit different. The city was trying out a new plan for crowd control (to replace the old plan, which was no plan), particularly on the Square, featuring gates and fencing to allow emergency personnel better access to individuals, if needed. Merchants were no longer permitted to set up tables on the sidewalks in front of their businesses, thereby aiding in crowd control, access, and general movement.

I thought it all came together well.

Although the weather was nearly perfect — sunny and cloudless, with afternoon temps that reached into the mid 70s — the early morning crowd developed slowly. Kim and I left by 11-ish, so I had to depend on friends to tell me that the afternoon once again saw peak attendance.

High-flying dogs were a big hit. (Photo by Newell Clark)
 Every festival offers something new, and this year it was the Purina Pro Plan Performance team, which featured amazing Frisbee chasing border collies, shepherds and Chihuahuas. Some of these incredibly agile dogs could leap over my head, no doubt.

This particular portion of the festival was held in the field behind the Civic Center, where the Barbecue Cook-Off is held in the spring. Although it steers some of the crowd away from the vendors and other sights on Main Street, it is a logical gathering place. Stage 4 is located here, as well as the Wine Garden, and bringing folks to this location may take some of the pressure off the crowds on Main Street. It makes sense to me.

For the first time in 31 years of festival going, I did not buy an official festival barbecue sandwich. This has been a long-standing tradition with me, my way of supporting the festival, but this year I couldn't bring myself to pay $6 for a sandwich, or $12 for a tray. Hey, the cost of gas is going down, why not pork? So we opted out and had lunch at a Mexican restaurant. I asked them how come there was no barbecue taco on the menu. They laughed politely. Gringo.

But the party did spin off to Second Avenue later in the day. We have neighbors who have a huge front porch, and during the summer, they occasionally hold impromptu social gatherings for their friends. This was one of those moments. We had perhaps 10 or 12 adults crammed together with a bunch of their kids running around, which might force us to be credentialed next year — like a beer garden.

All in all, it was another perfect festival. I love it.


Friday, October 24, 2014

UNC

I'm still trying to wrap my head around the scandal at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill that involved as many as 3,100 students covering 18 years while taking sham courses in African American studies whose primary objective was to inflate grade point averages.

This is particularly significant in light of the fact that nearly 1,500 of those students — about 47 percent — were athletes, mostly from the vaunted men's and women's basketball teams as well as the Tar Heel football team. The easy "paper" courses apparently were designed to help keep academically struggling athletes — some, apparently, who could barely read at an elementary school level — eligible in their sports

Those mind-blowng and unprecedented numbers were released Wednesday following a detailed report by hired investigator Kenneth Wainstein, a former US Department of Justice official now representing the respected law firm of Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft.

Now it's the NCAA's turn. Originally an academic issue, the question now involves athletics, and the NCAA is reopening its previous investigation (some football players were provided extra benefits, which led to the dismissal of coach Butch Davis) no doubt using Wainstein's report as a template.

The NCAA? Knees used to buckle when the NCAA threatened an investigation. In 1986 the organization handed Southern Methodist University's football team the so-called "death penalty" for severe violations of NCAA rules and regulations and it took the Mustangs nearly 20 years to recover.

It may be telling to say that that particular "death penalty" is the only one issued by the NCAA to date. Apparently, no other massive violations of the NCAA rule book have occurred since then. Yeah, right.

No wonder faith in the NCAA's mission is faltering. If the primary purpose for its existence is to provide an education for athletes, it better learn to be tough, consistent and fair — and without an eye to revenue producers such as sold-out arenas, television contracts and merchandise licensing. Ah, yes. Money. Always money.

There is a four-year statute of limitations in the NCAA concerning investigations, although there is an NCAA handbook bylaw loophole that states "a pattern of willful violations on the part of the institution" or indication of "a blatant disregard for ... recruiting, extra-benefit, academic or ethical conduct bylaws ..." can open and expand an investigation beyond four years.

I think that needs to happen here. We'll see.

The UNC scandal is far reaching. It goes back to 1993. If the NCAA should decide on a death penalty, it could vacate the national basketball championships of 1993, 2005 and 2009, thus tainting, among others, venerable coach Dean Smith.

I have a number of friends who are Tar Heel diehards. Some are embarrassed and ashamed by all this; some defend the school by pointing out this type of subterfuge happens at nearly all major programs (although I'm not sure it happens for 18 years, which implies knowledge and cover-up to keep it going) and so what? I feel badly for all of them who call UNC "alma mater."

A university is also community, so in the end, this affects us all, even if we didn't attend UNC. We should all be appalled. Offended. And saddened.






Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Flu shot

Kim and I went for our flu shots last week.

We've done this every fall for probably the past 20 years.

I think we were scared into it. I remember seeing something on the History Channel about the great flu pandemic of 1918 that infected something like 500 million people worldwide, and killed nearly 100 million of them.

I was learning about this pandemic about the same time that I was getting information from my television that the young and the elderly were the most susceptible to possibly dying from the flu and that it would be wise to get your shot now. That PSA was often accompanied by a video of a crying baby — or a smiling grandmother — getting a hypodermic needle in the arm.

I'm not sure if this is an effective campaign picture for getting a flu shot.
 Twenty years ago, I was in my mid-40s, which even then sounded pre-elderly to me. Kim must have agreed, so we started getting our shots annually. And while we occasionally caught colds, we never got the flu.

Every now and then, our places of employment would offer a flu shot clinic, bringing in a nurse to needle us, or we could go to the county health department.

The last two years, we've gone to our family physician for our shots. This year, I was a little uneasy while sitting in the waiting room. We'd made an early morning appointment and I didn't expect to see many people there. On the contrary, there was a steady procession of folks walking in and walking out the door — presumably, for their flu shots.

There were a few children among them. The kids were sniffling and coughing, and I'm thinking, great, I probably need some kind of shot to protect me from the waiting room. I swear I could see the microbes and viruses flying through the air as we waited.

In due time, our names were called and we got our shots. The whole process took maybe 5 minutes. I felt like I was dong my bit in fighting germ warfare.

Nevertheless, we promptly went home and disinfected ourselves.

What has almost always amused me are the excuses some of my adult friends — who should know better —  have for not getting a flu shot. Some say they'll just take their chances and others claim they actually got the flu after having had a shot once in their childhood, although doctors say this is impossible because the vaccine is not infectious (see here.)

Personally, I think they're just afraid to get stuck by a needle.






Sunday, October 5, 2014

Unexpected gesture

We didn't see this coming.

The other day, I posted a Throwback Thursday item on Facebook about Kim's and my 34th anniversary, which was Saturday.

It was just something nice I wanted to do for Kim. I posted a 34-year-old picture of her smiling broadly in her wedding gown, which I always felt was an absolutely stunning image of her. And with it, I ran a picture of our wedding party, which included our parents and attendants — family and best friends.

Within hours of this post we received a message from one of our newest friends, a woman named Judy who lives in our neighborhood. She came to Lexington several months ago, and we met her on a walking trail.

We learned there are more than a few similarities between us, not the least of which is a connection to northeast Pennsylvania, where I was raised. We have since tried to make her adjustment to a new environment as pleasant as possible, recommending to her anything from candy stores and restaurants to doctors and tire dealers. Kind of a Wehrle Welcome Wagon.

Anyway, Judy wanted to fix breakfast for us Saturday morning.

You have to be married 34 years to get a breakfast like this.
Umm, well, OK. But really, don't go out of your way. It's not like the 34th is a milestone marker or anything.

No, I insist, she said. Do you like sausage?

Saturday morning arrived and the next thing we knew, so did Judy, bearing platters and trays and all sorts of stuff. She needed help bringing it into our house.

Before I knew it, we were sitting at the dining room table. In front of me was a plate with something like a quiche or a souffle (with sausage). It was awesome. Also on the plate were scalloped potatoes, accompanied by red peppers carefully cut into the shape of hearts (for the lovebirds). On the side was a small dessert glass filled with vanilla yogurt and blueberries over a bed of granola. That was followed by little cherry tarts.

The lovebirds — as pictured by Judy.
Omigosh. Kim and I only eat like this when we stay in Victorian-era bed and breakfasts. Otherwise, breakfast usually is a bowl of cornflakes and a peck on the cheek.

All of this gave me pause for reflection. I love my neighborhood. It's the way I remember the neighborhoods I grew up in during my youth. A neighborhood where strangers can become friends and where friends watch out for each other.

I guess most neighborhoods are still like this. I don't know. I think it helps to have sidewalks and houses with porches that encourage invisible invitations and offer limitless opportunities for social gatherings among friends.

I like it. A lot.

But it helps to have a generous heart in the first place. Even if you don't see it coming.





Sunday, September 28, 2014

My feminine side

I was going to title this post "Getting in Touch with My Feminine Side" until I realized it sounded like something I might have to have myself arrested for.

But lately I've become more aware of my sensitivity to the things around me. This awareness could be, in part, a condition of my age as I grow older, although I don't know that for sure.

What I do know is that I've been reading my share of chick books lately. Books loaded with pastel colors on the covers and tons of feminine perspective within the pages. Through the hearty recommendation of a (female) friend on Facebook, I went to the library and picked up "Sullivan's Island" and "Isle of Palms" by Dorothea Benton Frank.

Frank is an author I'd never heard of prior to this, but her work shows up now and then on the New York Times bestseller list. She writes descriptively, with a taste of Geechee and Gullah flavoring, of modern life in the Lowcountry region around Charleston and its environs.

I felt a little funny about checking these books out of the library until I saw on their colorful covers that Pat Conroy, the definitive Lowcountry author, described Frank's work as "hilarious and wise" and that "her books are funny, witty and usually damp with saltwater."

OK, I was hooked. My anima was piqued (the anima, as described by theoretical psychologist Carl Jung, is the female inner personality that resides in the male unconscious. I think it's the anima that makes me cry when my favorite football team loses the big game. For the female, it's the animus. I think. I'm waiting for the animus to tell Kim, my wife, it's time for her to mow the yard). Anyway, I breezed through these two potboilers getting heavy doses of what it's like raising teenage girls, menopause, cheating husbands, small business ownership and what it takes to apply makeup correctly.

Hmmm.

This might have been a little more than I bargained for, although I will give Frank credit for broadening my anima horizons. Kim now has my total empathy, if not sympathy. Or is it the other way around?

My reading list, by the way, still leans to the feminine perspective. I finished and returned Frank's books to pick up the ultimate female Southern epic, Margaret Mitchell's "Gone With the Wind." I've never read it, and it's about time I do. I'm just a couple pages into the 1,000 I still have to read, and I can tell right off that we've reached a different level of depth and perception here.

At any rate, I guess I'm glad I've tweaked my feminine side. I'm ready for glorious sunsets, pina coladas on the beach, cuddling, candles, bed and breakfast inns, to pet a cat, to weep at a sad movie, to just go out and smell the roses.