What’s In A Name?

Throughout the Internet’s relatively brief but amazing history, one thing we can always count on is a thoughtful and intelligent response when you ask it for creative advice.

Several years ago, the United Kingdom’s Natural Environment Research Council asked the Internet to come up with an inspirational name for a $240 million-dollar British Navy polar scientific research ship.

The winning name was Boaty McBoatface.

By a wide margin.

The Research Council then decided to quickly pivot away from that suggestion, instead naming the vessel the R.R.S. Sir David Attenborough after the famed naturalist. However, they did honor the Internet’s opinion by naming the lead vehicle among three remote-controlled submarines being carried aboard that ship as Boaty McBoatface.

As it turns out, the initial suggestion for Boaty came from BBC Radio’s James Hand, and that came about from an Adopt-A-Bird program a few years earlier. Boaty’s popularity was apparently an homage to…Hooty McOwlface.

(Mr. Hand did apologize to the Research Council as the Boaty votes started pouring in…)

Names aside, Boaty has over the years become a key player in assessing marine ecosystems and the health of the UK’s waters, and also will be a contributor of information that will help measure the impact of climate change.

Other historic moments in ask-the-Internet history:

Austin, Texas officials passed on the Internet’s recommendation of naming their Solid Waste Services Department the Fred Durst Society of the Humanities and Arts (after the lead singer of the band Limp Bizkit).

Slovak officials balked on the Internet’s advice in naming a pedestrian and cycling bridge near their border with Austria after actor Chuck Norris.

Mountain Dew drank in the early Internet responses towards selecting the name for their new apple-flavored beverage…promptly pulling the plug on their “Dub The Dew” campaign after Hitler Did Nothing Wrong took the lead.

Pitbull honored the Internet’s selection of which US Walmart location should host one of his concerts…the most remote one in Kodiak, Alaska.

Circling back to Boaty, the Research Council has also utilized him in marketing campaigns for children to understand the nature and value of maritime research.

There still remains those who will reach out to the Internet for advice. A couple of winters ago, the Minnesota Department of Transportation welcomed Plowy McPlowface to its snow-moving squadron.

We bought ourselves one of those Christmas mini-trees last December – for the first time – with the thought we’d only keep it through the Holidays as a small yet special reminder of the season when walking by our patio doors.

The tree has since maneuvered itself inside to an encouraging corner of the house, and it now looks like it will make its way to another Christmas.

With the tree now being a full-time resident, it only seemed logical to give it a name. I did not need to solicit the Internet for suggestions.

Hello, Snowy McSnowface…

 

Pictures Courtesy Natural Environment Research Council/The Guardian – Metro News

No Way Four-Way Highway

I come before you to plead my case for elimination of four-way stop intersections. This has been a silent crusade of mine for a while now. Many are unable to process the requirements of successfully navigating the Mother Of All Driving Dilemmas…four-way stop intersections.

All my wife and I were trying to do was get home with our takeout Chinese food. We were not in a particular rush as the local establishment manages to pack out orders at temperatures equivalent to the surface of the sun…which is fine because we like the food hot…and it does re-enter the atmosphere of safe eating by the time we get home.

Yet, there are multiple four-way stop intersections without lights in our path. Why this is I don’t know. Some degreed sadist in charge of “urban planning” perhaps.

On the way home as we were navigating these four-way stops, I commented to my wife how many people seem incapable of knowing who is next to go based on common sense and decency…not to mention who gets to the intersection first.

As I approached the final four-way stop before getting home, I encountered only one other car. Sweet. We and our flaming food would conquer this last hurdle and get home without incident.

While I clearly was the first car to arrive at my stop sign, the driver of the other vehicle pulled up a bit before theirs, but then began to roll into the intersection.

It was MY turn.

Instant replay would have confirmed it. I was first to my stop sign.

It was MY turn.

I rolled out into the intersection as well. I mean, if you don’t at least try to train these people what hope do we all have?

The other car made a full stop at this point. Success. I felt they had learned their lesson and proceeded forward once more…but alas, they did also. It was like they were toying with me.

Both cars were now parked pretty much in the middle of the intersection.

History will show the first obscene gesture was made by the driver of the other car. I point that out with pride, because what I did thereafter will not go down as one of my finest moments…at least that’s what my wife told me afterwards.

I returned the obscene hand gesture with one of my own. I then locked eyes with my new-found enemy – a woman with a cell phone attached to her face – and rattled off a stream of obscenities clearly audible outside our car regardless of the windows being up. Regardless of the decibel count, the other driver would not have to be a lip reader to get the context.

I then sped off, clearing the intersection first. Flush with adrenaline and filled with the sense of victory…I then heard the honk of a horn in the distance. I guess it was her way of trying to win the war even if the battle was lost. I should have taken the high road on all this at this point…but I couldn’t.

I honked back.

A lot.

Discussion while enjoying the cooled-down Chinese food was how I needed to be cool. Take it in stride. Don’t get upset. I’m not a road rage fellow at all. I yield. I take pride in not putting pedestrians on my hood. I’m a damn good guy behind the wheel.

Yet, I have come to the conclusion we need to see the light and install lights at each and every one of these four-way stops.

Then…maybe I’ll start to lighten up.

 

Picture Courtesy iStock

My Laser Focus

In my earlier post about the bullet points of my life while I was away from blogging, I failed to offer up if you ever need advice on what to expect when your retina falls out of position…I’m your guy.

Final week of September 2018. I woke up one morning, looked outside…and the view from my left eye made nearby homes look a little like the bending buildings you see in movies like “Doctor Strange” or “Inception.” At first I thought it had just been a rough night of sleep, but once I got oriented to being fully awake it was obvious something had gone a little sideways…

…like my left retina.

At the time, I somehow convinced myself it was not an emergency situation and started to go about my day. After all, I had cataract surgery a few years ago on the same eye. There were “floaters,” which happened off-and-on both before and after the cataract work, so they did not alarm me. I actually waited awhile, somehow convincing myself the eye would simply reset itself. I had also just gotten my annual eye exam three months ago and was judged to be just fine. It simply couldn’t be anything super-serious and I was planning a fairly busy week.

I eventually did research the Internet (where I always go first for my medical advice). Oops. This could easily be a medical emergency…and my first introduction to the words “retinal detachment.”

Off to the eye doctor, who confirmed the Internet’s diagnosis.

I was immediately booked into the eye surgery center (where I had my previous cataract surgery), scheduled for a next-day, 6 AM procedure. I was told I would actually be operated on at the same time as a couple other folks. They squeezed me in to their schedule, and all I could think of after hearing the confirmation was…1) it’s a super-early hour of the morning and I hoped everyone associated with my procedure would be fully awake, and 2) if there is going to be more than one person operated on at a time, what if they get distracted and work on the wrong eye? I wasn’t sure if I would even be awake to see they corrected the correct one.

Both of those concerns were resolved once things got rolling. Everyone in the room seemed to be awake and ready to go, and I also would not need to be “out” for the surgery. In fact, the surgeon not only announced what eye they would be working on, he had me confirm which eye needed an intervention before digging in.

I will say the surgery itself could not have been easier, or gone better. No discomfort at all – local anesthesia. The vision immediately thereafter was not 100% like before, but it was judged to be 20-20 and I judged myself to be lucky. My doctor (and the Internet) did note not only getting older, but having a cataract removed previously, might increase one’s risk for a retinal detachment.

I did have to go back to the surgeon for a couple post-operative visits. These visits were the only time I felt any discomfort or pain at all. The reason? The surgeon also had equipment in his office which allowed him to go in with his trusty laser and “burn-in” what was needed to further ensure the original surgery was a success. There was no local anesthesia.

The pain was like…like…someone was using a laser on your eye and you had no local anesthesia.

Ouch.

After the second post-op visit – and just an hour later at that – I actually had a job interview (for the role I eventually held until I retired last month). I could still feel that laser’s “touch-up” effects while trying to be calm and collected.

Flash forward a couple of months to the first week of December 2018…I had just started that job a couple of weeks earlier after having to delay my acceptance to fully recover from the surgery. Early in the morning one day, I thought I was back in the movie theatre again…

…out of the SAME eye.

Once more…well before the sun came up…you-know-the-rest. The medical explanation as to why we had the do-over was the first go-round fixed the tear present at that time, but the other side had now torn. Lucky me. The procedure itself was once again a breeze. Everyone at the eye surgery center seemed to be very surprised and quite sympathetic I was back again – so soon – for the same eye. Once more, a couple of post-op follow-ups…and the chance to visit with the laser again.

Ouch.

I still have “perfect” vision in the left eye chart-wise, but the view is a little weirder than after the first reattachment. In all seriousness, I recognize I am fortunate considering there have now been three operations on the eye overall.

Hopefully, the right retina stays upright.

We shall see.

 

Picture Courtesy iStock

Wiffle Reminiscence

This week, in many school districts in and around where I live, the last day of class for the 2021-22 school year is taking place.

The very, very best days I ever spent in all my elementary, junior, and senior high school years was always the last day of each school year.

I hated school. I loved summers. (I love winters now, but I digress…)

In my youth, there was no Internet. Kids actually went outside and did stuff. It was all we knew. Parents sent us outside. Go. Get out. Play!

For me, there were a couple of summers growing up where the focus was solely upon Wiffle Ball…pretending to be a big-league baseball star…on a ball field perfectly suited for such a summertime occupation.

And…it had a swimming pool.

For two summers, my friend Jebby and I role-played major league baseball. (Jebby’s given name was Joseph, but I don’t recall ever knowing the genesis of the name Jebby…) His favorite team was the Pittsburgh Pirates. Mine was the Oakland Athletics. Of course, we followed our hometown Phillies…but they lost way, way more than they won back then, so it was easy for a couple of young kids’ attention spans to pivot towards teams having more success playing ball.

Once school let out these two years in question, we “helped” our parents plan our transportation routes so we could get together at our chosen ballpark to play live games in our Wiffle Ball League (WBL). I use the word live because in our WBL, we also had contingency plans for another way to play games…via a deck of playing cards. As we couldn’t meet in-person every day at our League’s home field (family obligations), and because weather was not always our friend, we designed rules for a card game so the WBL could be played daily.

The first order of summertime business was to determine which two teams we would have in our League besides the afore-mentioned Pirates and A’s. We each had to select another team to represent. (It didn’t matter because, deep-down, we both knew it was inevitable any WBL World Series would likely feature Pittsburgh and Oakland…)

Now, I wouldn’t go so far to say when we weren’t playing face-to-face these off-site, remote card games were “fixed” in any way to give the Pirates and A’s built-in advantages against the other two teams…but it was amazing how well our favorite teams did in those circumstances. We built into the rules “strategy” calls to make depending on certain game scenarios, and perhaps we were slightly more aggressive in making potential, strategic run-scoring decisions for when both Pittsburgh and Oakland were at bat.

(OK, maybe “the fix” was in…)

However, the best part of the WBL was when our transportation schedules were coordinated so we could both be driven to my mother’s work place…a work place that featured our Field Of Dreams.

And…a swimming pool.

My mother worked for a guy who was well-off financially, owning a residence which was at least eight acres in size. He had two structures on the property. One was his actual home, which to lower middle-class kids like us seemingly contained a thousand rooms…although in reality I suspect the number of rooms was much lower.

The other, much smaller building on his property served as an office for himself and his staff of three – one of which was my Mom. The “catch” was both he and the other two employees had residences in other states – they didn’t use this office regularly – so most summer days it was just Mom, Jebby and I spending the day there.

Shortly after 9 AM, the WBL games we had scheduled to be played that day commenced. Again, it was amazing how often the schedule for our head-to-head Wiffle Ball games featured the Pirates and A’s. They were often scheduled to play at the very least a doubleheader – if not a three or even four-game series – which was often a crucial one because these teams somehow always seemed to have permanent residence at the top of our four-team standings.

The office structure and the swimming pool were separated by an eight-foot high, wooden fence. At one end of the fence, it was bordered by a number of pine trees. At the other end, the fence was bordered by the home residence. Between the fence and the swimming pool, there was a wide section of immaculate yard – always meticulously groomed as the landscapers must have cut the grass on weekends – which served as our official Wiffle Ball field.

The designated left field foul line/pole consisted of one of the pine trees. The right field “foul” pole area was deemed as anything that hit the home. The swimming pool was just a short walk from home plate (a rock borrowed from an undeveloped property next-door; rocks also served as our bases). Once the WBL schedule was concluded each of these days, the rest of the day (until Mom got done work) was gloriously spent poolside, listening to the songs-of-the day on a radio, working on our tans.

It was truly amazing Jebby and I stayed close friends throughout our Wiffle Ball careers, because the batter in our League always got to call balls and strikes, as well as determine whether a ball was hit fair or foul. Now, our strike zones were reasonably consistent. We often swung at the first thing we saw during each at-bat anyway. However, there were situations where we differed on fair vs. foul, especially down the left field line.

But alas, we didn’t have umpires…or replay.

Hold that thought.

Now that I think of it, that swimming pool not only allowed us to cool off between or after games, but also to cool off from vigorously debating calls. For a couple of kids who lived in row homes, WBL days were the best part of those two summers. On a giant property all to ourselves, in the sun, playing what was then the national pastime, and being able to cool off in that pool whenever you wanted.

Mom was good enough to make sure we were fed at lunch time. (For the uninitiated, you can burn a lot of calories playing multiple, highly-contested Wiffle Ball games…)

The fence was a great fixture and feature of our field. Aside from the occasional home run sailing (just) over the top, we learned over time to deftly play caroms off the fence and keep each other from advancing to an extra base.

As I recall, Jebby’s Pirates won the WBL World Series in our inaugural season. The second summer, it was my Athletics who prevailed, winning in their last World Series at-bat. The clinching hit for Oakland was a screaming, towering shot I struck which hit the appointed foul pole tree…or not.

Jebby expressed his displeasure immediately and loudly about my calling it a home run. He felt it actually hit another one of the trees, which would make it nothing more than a foul ball, and keeping his Pirates’ hopes alive for back-to-back titles. Of course, in these instances we always defaulted to the real-life, major league rulebook…

“Batted balls that directly strike either foul pole on the fly, or leave the park on a fly to the right of the left-field foul pole and to the left of the right-field foul pole are considered home runs.”

With no umpires or replay technology in my mother’s employer’s back yard, as the batter at that moment in time…my call stood.

A’s win.

It would be the last game in the short, yet memorable existence, of the WBL.

For a couple of summers thereafter, Jebby and I competed with and against each other in real-life baseball. He went on to be a three-sport star in high school and a solid junior college football player. I went on to be a one-sport non-star in high school, and an all-star intramural basketball player at a couple of different colleges.

I don’t know where Jebby is today. Yet, each year when the school year ends and summertime officially gets underway for kids, I sometimes think about those couple of Wiffle Ball summers and smile.

And Jebby, if by some chance you are reading this…that ball was fair.

 

Picture Courtesy Pixabay