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Archive for December, 2006

Dec. 31, 2006 — Out with the old

The end of this calendar year means celebrations and revelry for many. Many review the year in Top 10 lists or other like retrospectives. It’s an attempt to gain perspective on the year gone by.

Note that I use the word “attempt.”

In some field hockey wrapups I’ve read the last few days, one player was called the best ever by a coach, another was judged to be the best ever to come out of a region, and another was compared to an ice hockey legend.

One lesson I learned a long time ago in sportswriting was not to crown anyone with the title “the best ever,” especially when it comes to school sports. Another was to avoid the use of the word “great.” The rationale: compare anything you might report on to Winston Churchill.

Now, there have been some outstanding performances and players that I have had a chance to witness in 2006:

Kelsey Kolojejchick controlling the midfield for the Wyoming Seminary field hockey team;

Maggie Tomecka converting a header in the final minute of overtime in the W-League Eastern Conference semifinals;

Meggie Bosica controlling the attack for the girls’ lacrosse team at Ellicott City Mount Hebron (Md.);

Kristi Toliver’s miracle three-point field goal for the Maryland women’s basketball team in the NCAA final;

Kristen Kjellman’s excellence of execution on the attacking end of the Northwestern women’s lacrosse team;

The explosive attacking front of the Selinsgrove field hockey team: Morgan Fleetwood, Taryn Nichols, Rachel Hollenbach, Alicia Mayer, and Bri Doak;

Cat Osterman windmilling her way to World Championship and World Cup titles in softball;

The meteoric rise of a host of Eastern European female tennis players led by Maria Sharapova;

The Voorhees Eastern (N.J.) field hockey team’s 2-1 win over North Caldwell West Essex (N.J.) to win the first-in-the-nation New Jersey Tournament of Champions;

Kristine Lilly’s continuting longevity and relavence to the U.S. women’s soccer team, including the conversion of a penalty kick in the final minute of play in the CONCACAF Women’s Gold Cup.

Quite a smorgasboard, isn’t it?

Dec. 30, 2006 — 185 right, 128 wrong

Today, the last question on my Trivial Pursuit Page-A-Day calendar came up:

How many of every 10 members of Harvard’s Class of 2002 graduated “with honors”?

My guess was one, and it was an answer borne of personal experience; back in 1988, it was pretty hard to get “cum laude.” But thanks to grade inflation and other factors, the answer was nine.

It was the last of 313 questions in the calendar. For the year, I answered 185 correctly, a 59.1 percent rate, an improvement on last year’s calendar when I answered 53.3 percent right.

Yep, I keep score.

Dec. 29, 2006 — Rutgers cuts don’t make ¢ents

My brother was watching a Rutgers football game the other day. And he wasn’t prideful at what he was watching. “Stupid! They’re paying the coach how much?” he spat at the television.

He graduated from Rutgers in 1982, a handful of years after the school decided to upgrade its athletic program throughout. Its football team dropped its traditional game with Princeton. The men’s basketball team, a few years after a Final Four appearance, joined a new conference called The Big East.

Much was expected, but little came out of some of the big-money hires in the so-called “revenue” sports. That is, until Greg Schiano turned Rutgers from a team without a winning record in 12 seasons into a team with a 11-2 record which was perhaps a touchdown or two away from playing for a national championship.

But, as is now being asked, at what cost? A number of varsity athletic teams are being cut or turned into pay-to-play clubs. There has also been a huge cut in state funding, and there is now talk about whether the whole exercise has been worth the effort.

Oh, sure. Rutgers’ football history is one that stretches back to 1869 with a game against Princeton which looked an awful lot like association football — soccer. It continued through the days when a young man named Paul Robeson endured taunts about the color of his skin to play with distinction. John Stiegman, in the late 1950s, became the first known coach to introduce computer technology to the game of football.

But Rutgers football history has not been distinguished in recent years. It played in the ill-fated Garden State Bowl against Arizona State in 1978 — nobody but the Sun Devils wanted to come to the frigid northern climate in December. It has played in the relatively weak Big East since 1990, and has had none or one win three times the last 11 years.

And even with Rutgers football’s rise to the national Top 10 in 2006, it was built on wins over several very weak teams such as Howard, North Carolina, Syracuse, and Ohio University.

Meanwhile, there are athletes on campus wearing the same Rutgers “R” that the football players have, and their athletic careers are being ended. My brother has a special reason to be embittered: he was the coxswain on a national champion four-oared boat in 1980, and the crew team is being eliminated even after spending large amounts of money on equipment and its physical plant since he graduated. It’s a silly decision, seeing as there’s very little to be gained from closing the team after making the investment.

And it’s the same with swimming. The school spent untold dollars building a natatorium only to cut the swim team and let the place sit empty.

Rutgers, it appears, is putting itself into the business of being a sports franchise rather than a university, something against which James Shulman and William Bowen rail in their book “The Game of Life.” And even though I write about women’s athletics, I don’t want to see them or Title IX become a scapegoat for the powaqqatsi that the “revenue” sports have become.

Dec. 28, 2006 — Bugs in the software

According to popular lore, the actual insect that gave rise to the term “computer bug” was a moth which gummed up the works in a Harvard-built Aiken Mark II computer (one of those tube-and-wire contraptions that fits in a large room) in Dahlgren, Va.

Last night, I encountered a bug of a different kind that interrupted my ability to send through a public WiFi node. I was in the midst of a Gmail conversation on my Apple laptop when the Airport logo on the screen went from black to gray, and I got the note, “You are no longer connected to the Internet.”

I was a bit annoyed. Jim, a computer genius who comes out to my favorite swing dance place on Wednesdays, went to examine the offending node.

Turns out that there were three cockroaches hiding inside the casing of the modem!

Fortunately, I think they were just using the modem as a warm hiding place instead of a nest or a feeding station, and it shouldn’t be a problem again … unless they laid eggs inside of it. I’d hate to think what would happen if that was the case.

Dec. 27, 2006 — [[Suspected spam]]

There’s one thing that most people, including the hosts of a favorite call-in radio show, absolutely detest.

And that is the spam that continuously flows into email inboxes. It’s been estimated that one of the biggest drains on worker productivity is not only trying to diagnose unwanted emails, but to tend to the aftereffects of an unwanted email if a bot or virus or worm is let into a computer system.

I’ve been fortunate to have worked with Gmail for more than a year, and it has served me well when it comes to blocking spam emails which have become more and more imaginative when it comes to trying to finding its way into an inbox.

Some try to use spaces or dashes in try_ing to pitch a p r o d u c t to you through s-p-a-m emails. Others have complete gibberish in the email body but have a small attached picture which tries to make its own sales pitch. Here’s one bizarre email that found its way into the spambox recently:

A proverbial parking lot teaches a radioactive cab driver, and the steam engine bestows great honor upon a chestnut. A fighter pilot toward some ocean, the barely radioactive corporation, and a nuclear cyprus mulch are what made America great! If a cyprus mulch inside a grain of sand throws a salad dressing at a flatulent buzzard, then a paper napkin ceases to exist. Any burglar can eat an ocean about a bullfrog, but it takes a real hole puncher to be a big fan of some oil filter.

Lorem ipsem, anyone?

In any case, I have had problems with email filters which have done their jobs a little too well. The America Online filter has caught several critical emails when it comes to communication with my web-hosting company. Another email filter I have through Brightmail has snagged some virtual Christmas cards as well as emails from friends where the salutation in the subject line is simply, “Hi”.

If there’s a moral to this tale, it’s one The Computer Guys often use: be as educated as possible and use a good firewall.

Dec. 26, 2006 — In the midst of a power center

I’m sitting between the fireplace and a big window in a bakery that lies within sight of what has become today’s Bizarro World shopping mall: the “power center.” Instead of the mall being in the midst of the parking lot, this big-box conglomeration is a bunch of stores on the outside, the parking in the middle.

On my travels throughout the United States, I have never understood this. To get from one big-box store to another often requires one to drive up to a mile from one end of the property to the other, instead of walking in the elements.

Instead, I wonder if someone will come up with the same idea as the proprietors of the Palisades Center in West Nyack, N.Y. If you look at the floorplan, you’ll notice that the architects are able to squeeze in an entire Home Depot into this center, as well as a Target and other category killers. Somehow they are also able to fit in a food court, an Imax theater, an indoor amusement park, and a wholesale store.

Is this the cure for suburban sprawl? Perhaps not, but at least it might help some people in terms of gas mileage.

Dec. 25, 2006 — Traditions at Christmas

It was a pretty empty nest for my parents when it came to Christmas this year. My five siblings and I are scattered across the country, from Maine to California.

I was the only one who was home for Christmas, but that didn’t stop my parents and I from preparing our traditional breakfast: flat crescent rolls shaped like Christmas trees, cocoa with peppermint sticks, orange juice with green sugar crystals on the lip of the glass, and Cream of Wheat with sugar crystals on top.

After the repast we went to my sister’s house, located about 20 miles to the north, for dinner. There, they also have the traditional breakfast but have also added a lunch tradition: English Christmas “crackers.” These little paper and foil tubes are sort of the British equivalent of a Cracker Jack box, where the little toys inside are small, the riddles cheesy, and the paper crowns don’t last too long.

But what was even more fun was watching my nieces’ delight in the concept of the digital camera. Maria likes being behind the camera, and Ana likes being in front of it — she is such a ham. Ana also received “My First Dance Dance Revolution,” which is a young person’s version of the amazingly successful video game. It plugs right into the television and is not nearly as difficult as even the beginner levels of the coin-op game.

By mid-afternoon, she was doing some of the technical fancy moves that she saw some kids using in playing the game at local shopping malls. “They memorize the steps,” her mother says.

Perhaps they do. Still, it’s fun to watch.