August 2008

Cool Find

I got a new phone today, mainly so that I could give my old one (but still working, thank you) to Gamma, whose phone was smashed in an unfortunate fall on a frozen lake last Winter.  It still makes and receives calls, but there’s no screen, and therefore no missed calls notice, no texting, etc.

Alpha needed a new one too, so we just spent half the afternoon in the cell phone store.  But, we lucked out and got a college kid working with us, and he was gracious enough to share a wonderful secret:  ringtones from Myxer.  The kind you can have sent to your phone in a media message and save to your phone, absolutely free.

Sure, I knew how to download ringtones on my phone for a small fee — except that you had to also have network service enabled ($10/month per phone) or pay the network charge at about $1.50 per minute.  Because I have teenagers, and a limited budget for cell phones, I have the network service disabled.  They can still send and receive texts — unlimited texting, even — but they can’t send pictures, browse the ringtones or games shop, and stuff like that.

Today is the first time I’ve found a way to expand the ringtones offering without the risk of forking over a lot of the green stuff.  So, in light of the good mood, I thought I’d share the love.

I’ve still got the Rolling Stones as my primary ringtone, but can flip over to Clapton or Heart with a couple of thumbstrokes.  Love it.

Oak Ridge Pity Center

I have to admit, the name fits.

The story about impending "physical activity" at the former Oak Ridge Mall is not one to get excited about; they’re going to drill a geothermal test loop.  They want to find out it it’s possible to more efficiently heat and cool that empty shell?  What could be more efficient that having it locked up, as it is now?

The real story here is not the storyline, nor the editorial that follows.  The story is that people — whether the people commenting online, or the editorial staff themselves — are blaming the city leadership for the fact that our city center is empty, forcing many Oak Ridgers to Knoxville to shop. 

Folks, the mall is privately owned.  Every time our city leadership has attempted to do anything to bring in fresh retail opportunities, citizens fire up a petition and hold a referendum to quash any government involvement in potential progress. 

Don’t blame our City Council; they’ve tried, but been stopped by referendum every time.  If you signed one of those petitions, or voted "no" in a referendum, look in the mirror for the leader who failed to fix our city’s biggest problem.

Next in the blame line are the few remaining anchors on the site, who’ve exercised their rights to say NO to potential new businesses who might increase competition to their stores.  But, with no competition, there’s also nothing to draw traffic, nothing to entice those stores to carry better lines of merchandise (we tend to get the cast-offs that didn’t sell elsewhere), no synergy.

It would make just as much sense to blame the Oak Ridger.  After all, when the paper was locally owned, we had a vibrant shopping center.  The owner, publisher and editor lived here, shopped here, and helped set an example.  Today, none of those are true.  Therefore, it must be the newspaper’s fault, right?

No.  It’s our own fault.  The fault of the citizens who signed to govern by referendum.

If you’re going to throw someone out, that’s where you need to look.

senseless…

School shootings always are. 

15 year old Ryan McDonald got up this morning, kidded with his grandmother, caught the bus and went to school — where he was supposed to be, doing what he was supposed to be doing.  Somewhere along the line, he got crosswise with Jamar Siler in the cafeteria.  Jamar pulled a gun from his backpack and shot Ryan in the chest.  Ryan died within the hour, at UT hospital.

For a few months, Central High School parents have been expressing concerns about discipline at the school, or lack thereof.  But school officials seem to have dismissed it as trivial stuff, like shoving in the lunch lines.  I have to admit, it’s a long leap from shoving in the lunch line to shooting a classmate over breakfast.

Not so many years ago, teenage machismo was settled with bare knuckles after school.  More often than not, the parties ended up friends afterward, their differences settled.  What has changed in the psychological makeup of teenagers, that permits one to take a gun to school, kill another child, and calmly walk away?

Did Jamar look at Ryan’s bald head (due to a medical condition that left him completely hairless) and see racism?  Did he think that the taking of Ryan’s life would improve his own?

There is no sense to be made of this.

UPDATE: Murder runs in the family?

TVA: worth the price?

I first got the news via a text message on my cell phone: TVA is raising rates for electric power by 20%, effective October 1.

Blue Collar Muse has an excellent (and link-rich) post about the subject.  And he’s right about where the blame belongs.  But, there’s more to the story that gets under my skin in a big way, referring back to an article in the News-Sentinel last December 13:

In a separate report to the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, TVA detailed incentive payments greater than $25,000 to 54 top executives.

TVA President and CEO Tom Kilgore earned total compensation of $1.84 million for the fiscal year, up from $1.59 million last year. Kilgore is eligible to make $2.7 million next year under a compensation plan approved last month by TVA’s board.

Other top earners for 2007 were Chief Operating Officer Bill McCollum ($1.76 million), Vice President of Nuclear Generation Development and Construction Ashok Bhatnagar ($1.04 million) and Chief Nuclear Officer Bill Campbell ($1 million).

Since TVA is supposed to be a not-for-profit type entity, it surely seems to me that part of the criteria for earning bonuses ought to be whether they’ve done all they can to provide maximum customer service at the minimum price.

Folks, November is fast approaching.   We all know that developing alternative energy sources is necessary, whether to protect the environment or to quit sending billions to people who want us dead.  We’ve used hydroelectric for years, and it works well when it rains.  We’re developing a taste for wind and solar, which works well where the wind blows or the sun shines.

Nuclear power doesn’t depend on the weather.  It’s reliable, and we know how to do it right. 

John McCain gets it.  So does Zach Wamp.

Move-in day, round 2

After church this morning, we began the second day of moving kids off to college.  This time, it was setting up Alpha in her new apartment.  It’s still part of the university residence hall system, but this year, she’s off the meal plan and has a kitchen of her own.  It’s an exceedingly nice place — better than any of the digs I had in college, or even immediately thereafter.

Like Beta, she’s way up in the sky.  However, after lugging boxes up 10 flights of stairs several times yesterday, today we decided to be slackers and wait for the elevator.

And wait…
and wait…
and wait…

This, after waiting an hour for a cart.  But we lucked out today and got a humongous cart, so we only had to make five trips (the first and the last were without the cart).

I’m going to hear that elevator alarm buzzing in the back of my mind for weeks.

Although I’m exhausted, I’m now home with only two children — two who are ready for back-to-school tomorrow!
*  *  *  *  *
Tomorrow is a big day: the official dedication of our new high school.  I’ll be there — why don’t you join me?

Move-in day, round 1

Today was freshman moving day at UT, where the normally efficient residence hall is transformed into residence hell.  Especially the first half of the day, when the girls move in.

Why are girls different?  Easy.  Boys move in with a suitcase of clothes, a computer, a TV, and maybe a game system.  Two trips carrying everything, or one with a cart.  Girls — moving into half a tiny room with fixed furniture, seem  to bring enough stuff to outfit a 2,000 square foot, two-bedroom house.  Futons, easy chairs, matching comforters and throw pillows, full-length mirrors, the works.

Especially freshmen girls.  Somehow, after a couple of years of this trauma, most pare down the quantity of trinkets needed.

After a long wait in a long line of cars at 8:00 this morning, it took another hour and a half to get all the stuff off the curb and up into the room.  HWTFM and Beta made three trips up ten flights of stairs carrying boxes, before we finally got a cart.  Then, once the cart was procured, it was about a 40-minute wait to get on the elevator.

After cramming all that stuff into the tiny room, then we had to loft the bed.  Note to next year’s parents: the lofts provided through the University don’t fit together all that well — take a toolbox.  Fortunately, Beta’s roommate’s dad had one.

Beta has an excellent roommate… I’ll have to give some serious thought to her super-cool nickname.  Don’t have one yet.

Tomorrow, we move Alpha into her new apartment, and the saga will continue.

Two Decades

Yesterday, we celebrated Alpha’s 20th birthday.

This picture wasn’t quite 20 years ago, but about seven months later, but it’s one of my favorites.  I used to worry about her getting sunburned, getting enough of the right things to eat, getting lost, getting hurt… you know the list.  It’s every parent’s list.

Today, all of those same worries are still there, but add to it a host of others — safety on the road, in her new apartment, and on and on.  However, her track record shows that most are imaginary worries, except perhaps the part about getting lost.  So, for her birthday, she became the proud new owner of a Garmin GPS navigator.

She spent the summer on a research project in Georgia; next summer, she’s hoping to be learning cryptography at the NSA.  No telling where she’ll end up, but at least now, she can get there.

*  *  *
The excitement doesn’t end for us though — our house looks every bit like we’re all moving out, with boxes stacked all over the place, and stuff strewn about everywhere there isn’t a box.  We’re not abandoning our house… but the older two are checking in to their accommodations at UT.

Following Alpha’s lead, Beta recently procured a new MacBook (and free iPod Touch to go with it) so that she’s ready for college.  Although it’s true that the MacBook costs about double a comparably-equipped PC, Microsoft stopped allowing new machines to be sold with XP rather than Vista on July 1.  My limited experience with Vista is more than enough to figure that if she has to learn a new OS anyway, she might as well learn OSX.

(Someone is wearing a big "I told you so" grin.  You know who you are.)

Sunday evening, I’m going to learn what it’s like to have only two kids at home.  Only one who can’t drive herself around.  I almost feel as though I’m being fitted for wings.

The Charter Question

“It has been my observation that structures of city government change in times of economic or social unrest."— Arthur J. Holland, Mayor of Trenton NJ for 26 years

Although the question of district vs. at-large representation was a weighty factor in the 2003 Charter Commission races, with those favoring district representation mostly on the losing side, our petition-happy citizens have mustered the signatures to bring the issue up anew on the November ballot.

I was getting bored with the presidential campaign anyway.

That Oak Ridge is in a time of economic unrest is obvious; the social unrest is harder to define, but it’s there.  That the two are intrinsically related is also apparent, since the clamor for change tends to rise from a resistance to higher taxes coupled with a pent-up demand for additional services.  Both of those are due to inadequate growth in the tax base (or shrinkage, in the case of sales taxes).

Would district representation result in our economy growing at a healthier rate?  Would the citizens be more open to allowing the investments needed to expand our retail offerings?  I don’t see how.

But, would district representation encourage political trade-offs, like agreeing to fund a police substation in one neighborhood only in exchange for a new park in another?  Very likely.  Would district representation limit the choices for our City Council?  Most definitely.

Nationally, the argument for district representation is usually  to ensure greater minority representation, but that doesn’t seem to be a problem in Oak Ridge.  African-Americans constitute about 8% of Oak Ridgers as of the 2000 Census; with two of seven Council members, they currently hold 28% representation.  So that’s not the problem.

Persons over age 65 were 21% of our population on the 2000 Census.  I’m not certain whether that group might be under-represented (not knowing the exact ages of all Council members), but we all know that people over 65 have a higher rate of voter participation, so it seems like Council would be fairly attentive to their needs.

Before you bring up the wish for a new Senior Center, refer to the economic unrest previously mentioned.  We just don’t have the money.

Folks, Oak Ridge is not such a metropolis that we can’t know people in neighborhoods other than our own.  It was a wise Council and populace who changed our form of government from 12 districted representatives to 7 at-large decades ago; let’s not go backward.

We do not need a charter change — we need to get on the same page about improving our economy and get busy.

Stargazing

It seemed like a fitting activity for the last week of Summer vacation: to stay up (or wake up, in my case) past moonset at 1:54 a.m. and lay on our backs to watch the Perseid meteor shower.  It’s something we’ve done on occasion since the children were small, sometimes huddled in coats and sleeping bags, depending on the time of year.

This morning, Alpha and Delta joined me in the front yard.  Although our yard isn’t ideal for star gazing, between the trees and streetlights, we still saw an impressive show.   The air is crisp for mid-August, but pleasantly so.

Several things crossed my mind as I lay there watching for the streaks of light across the sky.  One, that it would be really nice if streetlights were motion-activated to reduce light pollution and energy consumption.  Also, that it won’t be many years before there will be no one to watch the meteor showers with me (HWTFM sleeps through them). 

On the northwest coast of Michigan, where we spent the latter half of July, the stars are much more visible due to greatly reduced light and air pollution.  The Milky Way is easily visible with the naked eye on any clear night.  On the farm though, dark is REALLY dark, and the large cat and coyote tracks are enough to deter me from hanging out in the orchards in the middle of the night.

One of these nights, I’d like to attend one of the public stargazes at Roane State’s Tamke-Allan Observatory.

Countdown

Four days and some hours until I check Beta into her dorm at UT.  One day beyond that, and Alpha moves in.  I’ll be down to just two children at home, and it’s the two who get along rather well.  I’m thinking it’s going to be a very good year.

Next Monday, the new ORHS opens to students, and at 3 p.m., to the public.  I hope you’ll all come to the grand opening ceremony — it wouldn’t have happened without you!

This morning at the teachers’ back-to-school breakfast, the air was practically crackling with excitement!   I spoke with several new teachers, all of whom were excited to be here because they have kids, and they wanted their own children in Oak Ridge Schools.

Everyone’s tickled with the new digs.

I also took an impromptu tour of the new Alternative School in G-Building.  Compared to the new high school, it clearly isn’t new; compared to the Daniel Arthur building where they’ve been for the last several years, it’s a palace.  I’m impressed with the security features (alarms on every door except the main door, which goes through the office; physical separation of the middle and high school grades), and think this is going to work out much better.

Just a few more days of Summer for the kids, but they’re ready to go back to school.  And I’m ready for them to go.

Next »