Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Never Go to Work

One of my favorite musical groups is They Might Be Giants. The group is two guys who do all sorts of nerdy, intelligent, sometime weird and downright goofy songs that only a complete dweeb like me can relate to. Their only big hit, I believe, was "Birdhouse in Your Soul" a number of years back.

Anyway, I was excited to learn that TMBG is coming out with their first CD of songs written just for kids. They have also done a number of video podcasts to promote the songs. I'd like to share the video they did for their song called "Never Go to Work," teaching kids about the days of the week. It's a catchy tune, and the video is neat. It might take awhile to load, but it's worth the wait.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Stupid Is As Stupid Does –– The Post

I normally don't pass on unsolicited things that get mailed to me in e-mail. Half of them are downright boring, and most of the other half seem to be either scams, pornographic material or things that George Carlin supposedly said that he really didn't say.

But, Mrs. Muley today passed on an e-mail she received that included supposedly true accounts of dumb behavior supplied by people on the Internet. These aren't of the "dumb criminal" variety -- they're more like responses of people to everyday things that are lacking just a little in intelligence.

Whether these are true or not, a few struck me as funny:
"We had to have the garage door repaired. The repairman told us that one of our problems was that we did not have a 'large' enough motor on the opener. I thought for a minute, and said that we had the largest one the manufacturer made at that time, a 1/2 horsepower. He shook his head and said, 'Lady, you need a 1/4 horsepower.' I responded that 1/2 was larger than 1/4. He said, 'NO, it's not.' Four is larger than two.' We haven't used that store's repair service since." 
"My daughter and I went through a fast food takeout window and I gave the clerk a $5 bill. Our total was $4.25, so I also handed her a quarter. She said, 'You gave me too much money.' I said, 'Yes I know, but this way you can just give me a dollar bill back.'  She sighed and went to get the manager, who asked me to repeat my request. I did so, and he handed me back the quarter, and said 'We're sorry, but we cannot do that kind of thing.' The clerk then proceeded to give me back $1.75 in change. Do not confuse the clerks."
"I live in a semi-rural area. We recently had a new neighbor call the local township administrative office to request the removal of the DEER CROSSING sign on our road. The reason: 'Too many deer are being hit by cars out here! I don't think this is a good place for them to be crossing anymore.'"

"My daughter went to a local fast food Mexican restaurant and ordered a taco. She asked the person behind the counter for 'minimal lettuce.' He said he was sorry, but they only had iceberg lettuce."
"I was at the airport, checking in at the gate when an airport employee asked, 'Has anyone put anything in your baggage without your knowledge?' To which I replied, 'If it was without my knowledge, how would I know?' He smiled knowingly and nodded, 'That's why we ask.'"
"I work with an individual who plugged her power strip back into itself and for the sake of her life, couldn't understand why her system would not turn on."
"When my husband and I arrived at an automobile dealership to pick up our car, we were told the keys had been locked in it. We went to the service department and found a mechanic working feverishly to unlock the driver's side door. As I watched from the passenger side, I instinctively tried the door handle and discovered that it was unlocked. 'Hey,' I announced to the technician, 'it's open!' His reply: 'I know. I already got that side.'"

Monday, January 28, 2008

Gifted and Talented

Muley, circa 1961, completing the reasoning section of the Iowa Basic Skills Test. Results withheld by request of the author.

Friday, January 25, 2008

I'm Now a Tumblelogger

On a whim today, I took a little online discovery and decided to play with it a bit.

By listening to a recent Rocketboom podcast, and then doing a Google search and finding out some additional information, I decided to get in on what's called tumblelogging.

I went to one of the main tumblelogging site providers, Tumblr (sort of like blogger,com for traditional blogging), and within minutes I had set up my free account and designed my own tumblelog. I call it "Chain-link Deja Vu," and it's located here.

What, I hear you ask, is tumblelogging? Well, being fairly ignorant of the finer points (I still have no idea how it got started, or how many people are doing it), I can only give my impressions. From what I see, tumblelogging is designed for people who spend a fair amount of time online and who want to blog, but have very little time in which to do so. Another way I look at it is, it's blogging created by (and viewed by) people who, at least at some point during each day, have ADD-like attention spans.

Now, I still will keep on with Muley's World, this being the place where I will post when I want to really say something, especially when I want feedback from readers. But having a tumblelogging site, I think, won't really compete with Muley's World, but will complement it.

A tumblelogging site, in effect, is an online depository for all those neat or curious little things we find while surfing the Internet. We want to keep that stuff handy somewhere so we can experience it again, and we often want to let other people see it as well. But, we don't necessarily want to sit down and do a big descriptive post and manipulate a lot of screens and HTML language just to do that.

The tumblelogging site has buttons to let you add things such as quotes, pictures, videos, songs, text and even the transcripts of instant message conversations. Here's how it works. You download a little button on your bookmarks bar that says "Share on Tumblr." Then, if you happen to be surfing the Web and come across a neat photo or YouTube video or article, you just hit the "Share on Tumblr" button. You see a little screen come up with the item's URL code already entered. You give it a headline (if you wish) and maybe write a short explanatory description (if you wish), press the button, and it's automatically put on your Tumblr site. When you go later to look, it will be there.

I like quotations, and in Tumblr, all you do is hit the button marked Quotes, type in the quotation text and the name of the author, then send it to your site. It will automatically format it in quotation style for you. Neat.

Tumblelogging seems designed to be very simple, maybe too simple for some tastes. You can't do things like size photos, add tags or change posting dates and times, and there are no mechanisms for you to leave or receive comments, which I think is unfortunate. However, I think there might be a method they have of seeing what other people are "following" your blog, but I haven't investigated that yet.

I'm not sure how often I will use this. It might just be another one of those online nifties that lose their appeal after the newness wears off. But I'll still have a free way to store all my favorite online discoveries in one place, to revisit at my leisure. And that's worth something.

Friday, January 18, 2008

A Smattering of Quotes

"When I was a student, I had two ideas about history, and one of them was that history was about dead men who had done dull things. History was dates and governments and laws and war and money - and dead men. Always dead men.

But I also read historical novels. And I adored them. People in historical novels loved, fought, and struggled to survive. They died violently; they were beset with invaders and famine and plague. They wore splendid clothes or picturesque rags. They performed miracles of courage and strength just to get something to eat. It was from novels that I learned that history was the story of survival: even something that sounded boring, like crop rotation or inheritance law, might be a matter of life and death to a hungry peasant. Novels taught me that history is dramatic. I wanted my students to know that, too."

--Laura Amy Schlitz, from the foreword to her 2008 Newberry Award-winning book Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!


"... And because in all other monasteries and nunneries all is composed, limited, and regulated by hours, it was decreed that in this new structure there should be neither clock nor dial, but that according to the opportunities and incident occasions, all their hours should be disposed of; for, said Gargantua, the greatest loss of time that I know, is to count the hours. What good comes of it? Nor can there be any greater dotage in the world than for one to guide and direct his courses by the sound of a bell, and not by his own judgment and discretion."

--Rabelais, in Gargantua and Pantagruel


"There’s no reason to think that reading and writing are about to become extinct, but some sociologists speculate that reading books for pleasure will one day be the province of a special 'reading class,' much as it was before the arrival of mass literacy, in the second half of the 19th century. They warn that it probably won’t regain the prestige of exclusivity; it may just become 'an increasingly arcane hobby.' Such a shift would change the texture of society. If one person decides to watch 'The Sopranos' rather than to read Leonardo Sciascia’s novella To Each His Own, the culture goes on largely as before — both viewer and reader are entertaining themselves while learning something about the Mafia in the bargain. But if, over time, many people choose television over books, then a nation’s conversation with itself is likely to change. A reader learns about the world and imagines it differently from the way a viewer does; according to some experimental psychologists, a reader and a viewer even think differently. If the eclipse of reading continues, the alteration is likely to matter in ways that aren’t foreseeable."

--From "Twilight of the Books," New Yorker, December 24, 2007


"It has often been said there's so much to be read,
you never can cram all those words in your head.
So the writer who breeds more words than he needs
is making a chore for the reader who reads.
That's why my belief is the briefer the brief is,
the greater the sigh of the reader's relief is."

--Dr. Seuss, aka Theodor Seuss Geisel

Thursday, January 17, 2008

(Don't) Send In the Clowns

Scientists have finally confirmed a suspicion I've had for a long time -- kids don't really like clowns. In fact. I'm not sure who really, truly, enjoys clowns.

Researchers from the University of Sheffield, who were simply trying to figure out ways to improve the decor of hospital children's wards, did a study of 250 hospital patients between the ages of four and 16. What did they find? They discovered that every one of the kids they surveyed -- without exception --- disliked clowns because they were downright scary.

"As adults we make assumptions about what works for children," said Penny Curtis, a senior lecturer in research at the university. "We found that clowns are universally disliked by children. Some found them quite frightening and unknowable."

I have never been a big fan of clowns. I can't remember how I felt about them as a kid, but I know that as an adult, whenever I went to a circus and the clowns came out to do their "comedy" acts, I was bored, just waiting for the next act when the little dogs jump through the hoops wearing tutus.

I got a different view of clowns when we took my oldest daughter to a circus when she was probably four or five. Whenever a brighly-colored and wild-haired clown came near, she began wailing in fright, as if the clown was carrying a bloody knife and was going to start carving on her stomach. I wasn't used to this reaction then, but when I looked around, I noticed other kids were reacting the very same way. Not all of them, but a good number.

My guess is that all of that clown persona -- the technicolor drag queen makeup, the towering orange and red Afros, the wild, ill-fitting clothing, the honking bicycle horns and the squirting carnations -- simply overloads a kid's circuits. I mean, weren't were supposed to be somewhat afraid of or repulsed by the Joker in the Batman cartoons and movies? And what was he if not just another made-up clown?

Of course, maybe my kids are just overly sensitive. Neither one of them would ever let us put them on Santa's lap to get a Christmas photo made -- they were scared of Santa, too. But come to think of it, a guy in a Santa suit is kind of like a clown, just with fewer colors and props to work with. I think many kids perceive a real, live St. Nick as they do a clown -- not as a friendly adult, but as a big, loud, weird-looking stranger. Maybe there's just too much chaos and uncertainty in a concentrated dose coming at a kid to have him react positively to clowns of any stripe.

Now I know that there will probably be reaction from lots of clown-loving adults and kids out there, and if that's how you feel, it's no skin off my big, round, red nose. And in fairness I must include a disclaimer -- I do like the way clowns tie those long balloons into the shapes of animals. That's a valuable skill, I guess, but I'm not sure you need to look like the survivor of an explosion in a paint and wig factory to put it to use.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Nursery Rhymes I Don't Understand

Yankee Doodle

Picture, if you will, a five-year-old child who knows little or nothing about the American Revolution. Conjuring up this mental image should not prove difficult, given the colonial conflict’s failure to drive the plots of many Scooby Doo or SpongeBob cartoons. In fact, our imaginary child may not even know what the word “revolution” means, and his parents may be determined to keep this information from him as long as possible lest it give birth to plans for armed insurrection in the home.

Go further, and imagine that you are the parent of this child, and that he has just heard for the first time an unbowdlerized version of the American Revolution’s unofficial theme song, “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” Your child approaches you with a confused countenance and asks you to explain what in the world this apparent bastardization of the Barney theme song is all about. Daddy, what is a yankee doodle? (Sounds to me like some sort of forbidden Chinese wrestling hold). Why did the man call a feather macaroni? And what does it mean to be handy with the girls? Daddy? Daddy?

If you’re like me, these are difficult –– if not impossible –– questions to answer.

It’s Raining, It’s Pouring

This vicious little tune demonstrates how a sociopath would respond when asked to write a children’s nursery rhyme.

As is the case with many of these rhymes, the bare story line itself is simple. As a storm rages outside, an elderly man falls, hits his head, and is injured to the extent that he can’t get out of bed the next morning. The implication is that he was knocked unconscious by the fall, suffering a concussion which possibly resulted in a coma. Remember, it says not that the man was a lazy doofus who didn’t choose to get up the next day, but that he couldn’t get up. We are left to speculate –– will he ever get up again? Is he paralyzed? Or is this the swan song of a corpse?

Now, this simply might be a musical variation of the theme of elderly peril that gave us those daffy commercials with the old lady who complained “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” But of course, that old woman was at least conscious and able to call out for help. In this adaptation, Paw-Paw is out cold.

How strange it is that this scenario –– an accident to a senior citizen causing undetermined but possibly fatal injuries –– ever ended up being distributed to little children in preschool via a nursery rhyme. If there had been, say, a man diving into a shallow pool, hitting his head on a rock and sinking to the bottom, unconcious and slowly drowning, his air slowly seeping away, his lips turning blue, would the average onlooker with a musical bent follow their call to 9-1-1 by rushing to a piano and hunting for a cheery accompaniment? Would they then send the hastily scribbled sheet music for “He’s Diving, He’s Drowning” to Sesame Street for consideration?

A related offshoot of this is the “Jack and Jill” nursery rhyme, which tells the familiar story of Jack falling down and “breaking his crown,” with Jill repeating the same moves seconds later. The same themes are played out in the opening scene of “Chicken Little” and in every Roadrunner cartoon ever made.

I must ask –– what is this morbid, gleeful fascination with serious head injuries?

Rock-a-bye Baby

It’s highly likely that Rock-a-bye Baby is the only nursery rhyme created by, for and about squirrels.

Think about it. The only way this catchy little ditty makes any sort of sense is as a cautionary tale for young bushy-tailed rodents undergoing the challenges of high altitude parenthood.

You know the story. Mr. and Mrs. Nutsy, shut out of the highly competitive inside-hollow-tree housing market and unwilling or unable to move to a new forest, give into temptation and take the quick and easy solution to locate Nutsy Junior’s nursery.

As a temporary measure (so they rationalize) they place the little squirrel’s acorn-filled crib high atop the branches of their favorite old oak, and all is well until that big wind comes along, cracking the rotten wood and blowing the crib –– and Nutsy Junior –– over the edge and into a free fall to the ground far below. Our imaginations complete the screenplay: frantic leaping from branch to branch; the inevitable pounce of a snarling canine; excited, high-pitched chattering; a final view of the bloody, broken crib; slow fade to black.

I’m telling you, the squirrel scenario is the only way this sucker makes sense. So, I must ask –– which ambitious Hollywood script editor first got the crazy idea of substituting a human child in the role of victim? Not that all men and women are model nurturers, but in the history of the world has there been even one recorded instance of a human parent hauling their child’s crib up a tree and then climbing back down to watch what happens? Tarzan and Jane didn’t do it. The Swiss Family Robinson didn’t do it. The Three Stooges –– even Curley –– rejected knucklebrained stunts this perilously wacky.

And why do we continue to sing this musically soothing yet narratively disturbing song to our young babes at bedtime? My guess is we do it because it works –– it gets the little ones tired very efficiently. And we tell ourselves, for the most part correctly, that they can’t understand the words, so what’s the harm?

But what about a home in which there are older children present? How do they feel when each night they witness mommy or daddy lovingly rocking little brother or sister to sleep while giving melodic voice to their parents’ yet unrealized ambition to place the little tyke high atop the front yard pecan tree and wait for a good north wind? Hearing this, are these older children able to sleep at night? Do they harbor fears that their parents might maroon them on the roof in an orange crate during a tornado?

I say if we must continue to sing lullabies about babies placed in harm’s way, let’s invent some new ones and add them to the repertoire for variety’s sake. Let’s hear the following scenes played out to the gentle strains of Bach or Brahms:

––a baby is trussed up with ropes and then hoisted to the top of a tall flagpole during a lightning storm.
––a baby in its bassinet is left up in the crow’s nest of a ship during a typhoon.
––a baby in an infant seat placed temporarily on the car roof is then forgotten just before the car pulls out of a parking lot onto a busy expressway.
––a baby taken for a ride in a wagon by older siblings is left on the train tracks just before the 5:13 express blows into town.
––a young child left unattended in an airplane fiddles with the emergency door and is sucked out into the ether after it opens accidently.

These and other new tunes could be written, recorded and collected on a CD called Lullabies to Lose Sleep Over. At the very least, it would make a great Oprah show.

Friday, January 11, 2008

How Long Will You Live?

If you remember your Bible at all, you know it says again and again that our days are numbered, that only God knows what those numbers are, and that our earthly demise can come unannounced at any time.

Of course, sometimes we wish we knew just how long we actually have to live. I mean, if we knew we only had a few months left, we might cash in the CDs and probably wouldn't worry about doing winter maintenance on the lawnmower.

Despite the fact that mortality remains a mystery, there's always someone trying to make a science out of predicting how long we have to live, whether by examining the length of lines on our palms, reading the stars or looking into a crystal ball. Now, some high-tech geeks have gotten in on the act with an online tool.

When you go here, you'll find a panel that asks you questions about when you were born and how healthy your lifestyle is. When you fill everything out, it supposedly tells you the exact day you should die.

There are some bugs I should warn you about. Mrs. Muley and I figured out that when it asks you about your "medicine status," it doesn't want to know if you take prescription pills. It's asking if you abuse your body with harmful drugs. The reason why we figured this out is, when we checked "yes," it had us dying fairly quickly. And when Mrs. Muley's 77-year-old mother tried it out and answered in the affirmative to the drugs question, it told her that she should have died back in 1986, a fact that she found both comical and a bit bracing. When all of us changed our medicine status to the negative, however, the program changed its tune and gave us all much longer lives, even raising Mrs. Muley's mother from her early grave.

What did it tell me? Well, I am supposed to die on Saturday, September 18, 2049, which means that Mrs. Muley will have to teach 6th grade Sunday School by herself the next day. As far as Mrs. Muley goes, she is expected to shuffle off this mortal coil on what would have been my 98th birthday, July 11, 2058. That will leave her almost nine years of wild widowhood in her 90s to go out and party without me.

You'll probably either think this is too morbid to mess with, or you'll take it with a big grain of salt, as I did, and have fun with it. If you fall into the latter category, let me know what the mystical cyber swami tells you.

Monday, January 07, 2008

What Lies Beneath

Now that the Christmas season is behind us, my family is returning to our continuing project of renovating the Muley home. Last night, Mrs. Muley began removing the old wallpaper in our master bathroom. She was able to peel off our most recent wallpaper by hand, exposing the white backing paper underneath. To get this off, she had to use a chemical that softens the backing and allows it to be peeled off as well.

We got a kick out of what emerged once Mrs. Muley was able to strip off the first chunks of backing:

Floral fantasia! This, we quickly figured out, is the room's original wallpaper, dating from the house's construction during the groovy vibe of the late 1970s. (I remember having a very similar wallpaper pattern greet me every morning in the breakfast room of my house as I was growing up during elementary and junior high). I have no doubt that this pattern was considered tres chic back when it was first attached. Here's a closer look:

Intrigued by her archaeological discovery, Mrs. Muley went to our children's bathroom and peeled off a bit of the current wallpaper there. We we thinking there could be another remnant of the groovy 70s underneath -- maybe flocked or mirrored wallpaper, or wallpaper portraying Smurfs -- but all Mrs. Muley liberated was sheetrock.

Finding that old 70s wallpaper hiding undercover in our bathroom makes a lot of things clearer to me now, such as why whenever I take a shower I keep looking for a nonexistent soap-on-a-rope to be hanging from the shower head, and why I sometimes get this unreasonable fear that Alice the maid from the Brady Bunch is going to walk in on me by accident.