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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Utilize This

This is one of my pet peeves. No wait, that's too soft. This drives me nuts. To explain, please allow me to quote Scientific English as a Foreign Language.
“Utilize is not an elegant variation of the word use; it has its own distinct meaning. When you utilize something, you make do with something not normally used for the purpose.”
So, you don't utilize a meeting room to hold a meeting, you use it. You could, however, utilize a kitchen for that meeting. You don't utilize a credit card to make a purchase, but you could utilize it to scape a thin layer of ice off of your windshield.
Every time I hear people abusing this word, I believe to try to sound more “intelligent”, it irritates the heck out of me.
So, why should I let it bother me? After all, I'm sure some dictionaries are already telling us that utilize and use mean the same thing. That's the way it works. People start misusing words, or creating their own words (proactive comes to mind), and the next thing you know, dictionaries start to change.
I know this may sound petty, but think about it. If utilize loses it's meaning and is watered down to just another form of use, we no longer have a word that means to use something for a task that it's not intended.
The same thing goes for acronym. An acronym is an abbreviation that uses the first letter of each word to spell another. For example, SCUBA is an abbreviation for Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus. That is an acronym. NASA is an abbreviation for National Aeronautic and Space Agency. That is an acronym. IRS is not an acronym. STP is not an acronym.
If we dilute acronym to mean the same thing as abbreviation, we no longer have a word that means "an abbreviation that uses the first letter of each word to spell another. "
Am I the only one who cares?

Can we just let them be kids?

Well, we had an orientation meeting at my son's middle school the other night. When did we make a conscious effort to take away childhood?

What am I talking about? Where do I start?

"That's why it's called 'homework'." That's what the principle said when he explained that they were taking away study hall time from the students to do "silent reading". They were not going to let the students do there homework during half of the study halls. I thought study hall was designed to catch up on your studies. Isn't that why they call it "Study hall"?

It goes much deeper than that. Last year, my son, who has an above average IQ, struggled with his grades all year long. Why? Homework. I can not believe the emphasis that is put on homework these days. His science teacher even had the kids do labs at home. I'm not talking about occasionally, I'm talking about all year long. 

Now I don't want to be all "back in my day" about this, but seriously, what's the deal? When are these kids suppose to be kids. We are talking sixth grade here. In sixth grade, I never had homework. Heck, in all of my public school experience I hardly ever had to bring homework home. I had plenty of study hall time to work on it. And, most importantly, I can't remember homework ever being graded. It was there to support the in-class learning, not to replace it. Basically, almost all of my formal learning was done at school. I had my time at home to experience life. That's the time I used to learn about working on cars, and doing stop-action animation, and launching rockets, and having fun with my family.

So , now they load the kids up homework. They grade it, so if it's not completed the way they want it, you fail. And this year, they are taking study hall time away so that they need to spend more time on it at home. Well, that should help them grow up to be a well rounded individual. Take time away from experiencing life. Do I sound bitter? Well I am. What are they thinking? Are they thinking?

I forgot to add the real kicker to this. In sixth grade, they're going to help the kids (11 years old) discover their careers. One of the huge problems that already exists is that 17 and 18 year old teenagers are choosing their life paths when they have no clue what they really want to do. How many people do you know that wound up in a career that had anything to do with their major in college? 

Let's just let the kids be kids.

Reality? Really?

My wife and I both love reality TV. I hate the stuff she watches and she's not too fond of what I like. How does this make sense?

I guess the key lies in the definition of “reality”. Her definition encompasses shows like Big Brother, and The Bachelor(ette). My definition is slightly different.

I blame MTV, really. Way back before anyone ever uttered the phrase “reality television”, MTV produced a show called “The Real World”. The concept was simple. Take a group of carefully selected young adults, make them live together, and record everything. That began the normalization of voyeurism.

I hated that show. For a show called “Real World”, it seemed so unreal. Here were a bunch of kids living in an apartment that made my crib look pathetic. Their biggest worry was what someone was saying about them behind their backs. If that wasn't unreal enough, they complained about it. All I could think was, “What a bunch of brats.”

My wife loved the show, and I avoided it at all cost. Then Puck showed up on the show. My wife kept talking about Puck. I started to get curious and watched an episode. I liked Puck. He recognized that the show was a farce and wasn't afraid to say so. After his season was over, he did some revealing interviews and confirmed everything I thought about the show. Did that hurt it's ratings? It didn't matter. There were now dozens of new reality programs in the works. Survivor was airing by now and it was huge. Even though, after one season it all seemed so redundant, people loved it.

But wait, why am I bashing these shows, when I openly admit that I love reality TV. Let me explain.

Back when my wife was watching Real World, I was watching the obscure program on the Discover Channel. It was called “The New Detectives”. The show would describe, with reenactment, a real crime that had been committed. Then it would chronicle the collection of evidence that solved the crime and secured a conviction. I thought it was fascinating. “Really? You got all of that from a candy wrapper?“ Growing up in the 70's, one of my favorite shows was Columbo. “The New Detectives” was like Columbo, only better. It was real. Unfortunately, it also disappeared from the schedule.

One day we watched this new show on CBS called CSI. I remember telling my wife how this was a fictional version of “The New Detectives”. She gave me an obligatory “uh huh” and returned here focus to the fictional crime at hand.

As new, what I call “staged reality” programs were created, I found myself avoiding the TV more and more. Sure the reactions and behaviors of the people were real, but the situations were all staged. I'd rather watch a good fictional story.

Then a cable channel called Court TV became TruTV. “Not reality, actuality” was their slogan. Turns out that Court TV, now TruTV, had a nifty little show called “Forensic Files”. It was exactly like “The New Detectives” and I loved it! After that, I discovered “The Smoking Gun Presents The World's Dumbest.” A great show full of real, not staged, videos of people doing stupid things. The most brilliant part of the show is the host of has-been celebrities, most of which with their own tainted pasts, that spend each episode making fun of these clips.

Add to this SyFy's “Ghost Hunters”, and The History Channel's “Ice Road Truckers” as well as a half-dozen fascinating other shows and you can see that I've fallen for reality, or should I say actuality.

So while my wife watches “The Amazing Race” and “Dancing with the Stars,” I'm watching “The Investigators” and “Black Gold”. She loves her realty,I love mine.


"When I get a cold sore, I put Carmex on it, because Carmex is supposed to alleviate cold sores. I don't know if it does help, but it will make them more shiny and noticeable. It's like cold-sore-highlighter." That was Mitch Hedberg's take on Carmex. For those who don't know, Carmex is a waxy covering for cold sores. I guess it's suppose to help the sore heal by keeping it moist, but due to it's waxy constancy, it winds up making it very shiny.

I was driving home today, sitting in traffic waiting for a traffic light to change. Next to me were two small 4 cylinder cars. One was a Chevrolet Cavalier, the other was a Chevy Aveo with a "Yes it's got a hemi" sticker on the back. They were both revving there engines is some sort of masculinity ritual. It was pretty loud because they both had, what are affectionately called "fart cans" on them. Fart cans are those large coffee can looking mufflers that people will put on small 4 cylinder cars to, um... Honestly, I don't know why they do it, but some do.

The reason I don't know why they put them on is because the benefit is not obvious.
Perhaps they think it helps performance? It doesn't.
Perhaps they like the sound? I can't imagine that.
Perhaps they just want to draw attention to themselves. That brings me back to Carmex.

When I see one of these drivers winding out their engines to try to outrun the car next to them, the loud muffler merely highlights just how much their car is struggling to go from zero to sixty mph in about 8.7 seconds (that's not so fast, by the way).

Look, to different people cars mean different things. My drive to work is 45 minutes. Even though I carpool and don't drive every day, on the days I do drive I'd like to enjoy those 45 minutes. So, when I bought my car I made sure it would be one I'd look forward to driving. Others just see a car as transportation and buy for other reasons such as fuel economy, initial cost, safety, etc. Still others want a nicer car than they can afford and have to settle for what they can get. There's nothing wrong with that. But realize that there are ways to improve that car without applying Carmex.

Do you believe in ghosts?

Well, on Wednesday a new season of Ghost Hunters begins.

I've been fascinated with the paranormal since I was eleven years old. That was how old I was when my parents purchased a 200 year old house. Until then, the only ghost I ever knew about was Casper.

When we moved into the house, my father decided to remodel the room above the kitchen to be my bedroom. The kitchen and room above it were the original, 200 year old part of the house.

So, every day after school, I was helping my dad redo the ceiling, build a closet, hang paneling and lay carpet.

At first things just started disappearing. Of course, we all assumed that my dad was just forgetting where he put things. I think my dad assumed that I was irresponsibly moving things. Soon we started joking that there was a ghost in the house that was moving things. Then, things got weird.

We had stacked the lumber in the room when we began. As we started working our way through the stack, we started finding thing buried in it. We had no explanation how a square could disappear and then show up a week later under a stack of lumber. Of course, we didn't put much thought into it.

Finally the room was done, and I moved in. That's when lights started turning on by themselves. When I say turning on, I don't mean just illuminating. The switches were moving.

I had two twin beds in my room. Why? Well, you see, when we had guests my room became the guest room and I was relegated to the couch.

Once, my aunt and uncle came to visit. The first morning at breakfast, my uncle was complaining that the cat kept jumping on him that night and waking him up. He wasn't amused to find that we no longer had a cat.

My sister and brother-in-law stayed in the room once. The lights turning on in the middle of the night annoyed them. I had gotten used to it.

We stayed in that house for quite a few years, and we had audible manifestations, visible manifestations, but mostly harmless, poltergeist pranks.

When they sold the house, they were worried that potential buyers would find out about the activity and it would be difficult to sell. But they sold it quite quickly and moved into a newly built home. One day, the new owners of their old house showed up to ask a rather embarrassing question. “Did anything weird ever happen in the house?”. You see, it was still happening. My parents fessed up, and the new owners thought it was a nice characteristic of the house.

So now, every Wednesday night I watch Ghost Hunters. They take a scientific approach to investigating paranormal activity. I think they'd love our old house.