World’s Largest Microwave Oven

Back in the 50’s and 60’s science education was important in the United States.  Why?  We had to catch up with the Russians who launched Sputnik (or if you prefer Спутник) in 1957.  As part of the scientific education, every junior and senior high school in America tried to teach the students the metric system.  But they did it wrong, so almost nobody learned.

The metric system is so simple; you’d think everyone would do it, like a computer keyboard in alphabetical order or a telephone key pad in the same order as the keypad on a calculator.  Oh, I forgot, sorry.

How many inches in a foot?  Good.  Feet in a yard?  Feet in a mile?  Yards in a mile?  Got you on at least one of those, didn’t I?  Okay, now, how many milliliters in a liter?  How many millimeters in a meter?  How many kilograms in a metric ton?  Do you see a more regular pattern emerging here?

So when we were emphasizing science education, instead of teaching kids how to play video games and download songs to iPods, we tried to teach kids the metric system too.  It’s used in most of the rest of the world, so it only made sense.

Here’s how they did it wrong, and why we didn’t learn it, and start using it.  They taught us to convert from the old system to the new one.  We had to memorize dozens of conversion factors, yet there are very few times when we need to convert.  Washington DC is about 400 km from where I live.  Richmond VA is about 600.  My in-laws lived about 2,100 km from here.  My son went to college roughly 1,750 km away.  Do you need to know how to convert those figures to miles to tell me which one is closest and which one is farthest away?  If I told you it’s possible to average 100 km/hour on the Interstate highways, could you figure out about how long it would take to drive to any of those places?  Thought so. 

If the 7 mm socket wrench is too small, are you going to try the 6 mm socket?  Didn’t think so.

Forty degrees centigrade is warmer than most people care to be, although it’s a temperature I’ve experienced numerous times in various parts of the country.  Twenty-five is fine though.  I can convert -40 centigrade to Fahrenheit in my head (because that’s the only temperature that’s the same in both systems), but I don”t want to be that cold in either system and I’m proud to say I never have been.  Incidentally, Fahrenheit is capitalized and centigrade isn’t because there was no Mr. Centigrade.

Why do I bring this up at this time?  The rock slide.  According to the website of the Mariposa Gazette, a newspaper published in a community near Yosemite Park, this happened on Wednesday, August 26, 2009:  “Several moderately small rockfalls occurred in Yosemite Valley from early yesterday morning through early this afternoon.  The rockfalls released from the Royal Arches area directly above the Ahwahnee Hotel.  The largest rock that fell is estimated to be 350 cubic meters, about the size of a microwave oven.”  I added the emphasis.

I haven’t been an editor in a long time, but if the world’s largest microwave oven fell in my yard, a short distance behind my house, I’d put that in the lede, wouldn’t you?  The microwave oven in my kitchen may be about 350 cubic centimeters, I haven’t measured it, but unless I misplaced a decimal point or three, 350 cubic meters is about half the size of my house.

Ted Kennedy

I’m sorry Ted Kennedy died.  When I heard, I did what I always do, I subtracted my age from his and said to myself, “I hope I have more time left than that.”  The older you are, the older “old” gets.  I now think a lifespan of 77 years is much shorter than I used to think it is.

A man I used to work for knew the Senator from Massachusetts and once told me a joke I considered really funny that he said Ted Kennedy told to him. I met Ted Kennedy once;   He came to Long Island for a political fund raising dinner years before he ran for president himself.  I was a reporter at the time.  I didn’t know the man.  I didn’t even know anyone who was a close friend.  I can only say what it looked like to me.  That night, he looked distracted.  He was in a big crowd and he kept looking around.  Perhaps he was worried for his safety.  Who could blame him if he was?  He’s the only one of his brothers to die in old age or even to die a natural death.

This morning, when I walked into the local deli, they had the TV news on and they were showing a recording of Senator Ted giving a eulogy at his brother Bobby’s funeral.  For the very young, Bobby was assassinated when he was running for President in 1968.  Everyone who was alive in 1963 and many people who weren’t know that his brother Jack was assassinated while he was President.  I have to wonder why Ted ran for President after two of his brothers were killed, one in office and the other trying for the job.  When TV reporter Roger Mudd asked him that question, Ted didn’t seem to know himself.

Seeing the late Senator’s image on TV this morning at his brother’s funeral reminded me that I could have been there that day.  I wasn’t.  If I had been ordered to be in the military honor guard at Senator Robert Kennedy’s funeral, of course, I would have been.  My first sergeant, however, asked me if I wanted to be in the ceremonial guard.   My answer was that if he wanted me to, of course I would be, but if I had a choice, I’d prefer to pass.  I didn’t have the right ceremonial gear and would not have liked to spit-shine everything I owned, three or four times.  Plus, even at that tender age, I didn’t enjoy standing still in one place for a long period of time.

I’m reminded of a joke Abraham Lincoln used to tell, although I don’t know if it was original with him.  Lincoln said a man who was about to be tarred and feathered and ridden out of town on a rail was asked how he felt about it.  His response was, “If it wasn’t for the honor of the thing, I’d rather walk.”  I skipped out on Bobby Kennedy’s funeral, in spite of the honor of the thing.

The Dentist

I’ve mentioned the dentist before.  I said that I once told someone to have a nice day or go to work, but I didn’t do either that day; I went to the dentist.  Today, I went to the dentist again.  There’s no question that hanging upside down in the dentist chair, with your head tilted back a little farther than it will go, and your mouth wide open is unpleasant.  It’s especially unpleasant if you have compressed discs in your spine.  I don’t like the thing that sucks all the saliva and water out of your mouth either.  But shots of local anesthesia are really good if you need them.  I hate it until it wears off, but I’d really hate the pain if I didn’t have it.  Nitrous oxide is good too if you need it that.  They even have topical anesthesia that they rub on your gums when they’re cleaning your teeth.  That isn’t a good idea if, like me, you’re allergic to Benzocaine.  It makes me itch, so I take a pass on that.  But there are good things about going to the dentist too.

First among them is there is a dentist to go to.  Can you imagine a world without effective dentistry?  Especially once chewing coarse food wore down the enamel on people’s teeth, I imagine there was a time when most people had a toothache frequently, once a week at least.

I suppose one or two hundred years ago, the only thing you could really do about a bad tooth was have it pulled or pull it yourself.  Even that was iffy.   I don’t know when general anesthesia was invented, but I know it wasn’t typically used during the US Civil War and while penicillin was invented in the 1930’s, it didn‘t become widely available to the general public until after World War II.  Technology has improved immensely, even since the 1960’s and fluoride in drinking water and in toothpaste has greatly reduced the number of cavities an average person suffers in a lifetime.  Plus, most of the time, when I leave the dentist’s office and the anesthesia has worn off, whatever I went there for doesn’t hurt anymore.

I’ve been going to the same dental practice since I was in my mid-twenties.  When I retire and relocate, I expect to receive a pension from them.  In that time, I’ve had four dentists, including the new one who saw me today.  To me, the absolutely best thing about this practice and about others I remember too is that the office is efficient.  If I need to schedule an appointment, I always can.  If I have an emergency, they always accommodate me.  If I get there on time, they see me on time.

Did you understand what I just said?  The dentists I deal with are always within a few minutes of on time.  From what I understand, that isn’t unusual for dentists.  If every health professional I’ve ever dealt with was as punctual as my dentists’ office is, who knows what I could have accomplished with the five years of my life I would not have wasted in doctors’ waiting rooms?

Things I Know

  • If you’’re drinking beer instead of water in this hot weather, you’’ll be plastered before you’re hydrated.  But you already knew that, didn’’t you?

  • Morning glories are migratory plants.  Not like triffids, exactly, but If you plant them, your neighbor will soon have morning glories too.  So find out if your neighbor likes them before you plant them.  If your neighbor hates morning glories and you hate your neighbor, plant them anyway.  My neighbor planted morning glories a few years ago.  The herbicide I’ve been using on them ought to be called morning glory food.  They seem to like it a lot.

  • I’’m glad I didn’’t plant tomatoes this year.  They aren’’t growing well and there’’s blight.  But I’’ve planted tomatoes in years past, so I do have tomato plants.  They came up on their own and they started late enough that I don’’t think they’’ll mature before the weather changes.

  • My blueberry yield is way down too.

  • This weekend was the first time I watered my lawn all summer.  But before it showed faint signs of turning brown, it grew so fast last week that I had to raise the mower deck higher than it’’s supposed to go in order to mow it without choking the mower.

  • The grass is growing so well this year that I’’m trying, so far unsuccessfully, to remember to mow it every five days instead of once a week.

  • My wife’s car is being bombarded.  She parks it under the large oak tree in front of our house and we have a bumper crop of acorns, but we don’’t have enough squirrels to hide all of them.

  • In New York, every year when it gets over 90 degrees, TV stations send news reporters around to find people working outdoors in the awful heat.  I wonder if any New York TV news director knows that in Death Valley, CA, they run a 135 mile super marathon every summer.

Things I Know

  • It wasn’t a sense of duty that compelled me to my office this morning.  I didn’t sleep well last night.  It was nice where I live when I got up this morning, but the car had to go to the shop to have its brakes checked.  So, I walked to work instead of calling in sick and driving to the beach.  I love the beach and I can’t tell you the last time I went; it wasn’t this year.  I felt better about going to the office and not the beach at lunchtime because as soon as I picked up the car at the garage, it started raining.

  • It’s hard to believe, but Monday was the first day this summer that it officially hit 90 degrees in New York City.  I could use a little global warming around here.

  • I saw a cicada’s molted skin in my driveway.  That’s unusual, because they usually leave them in the trees.  Some people view cicadas as a sign of summer.  Since they are at their peak around here in mid to late August, I view them as a sign of impending autumn.

  • This next is to anyone who read or heard about the horrific wrong-way accident on New York’s  Taconic Parkway that killed Diane Schuler, her daughter, her brother’s three children, and three men in another car.  If you think no mother could jeopardize the lives of her children, and other people they love, by deliberately driving drunk and/or high, you’re wrong.  I’ve seen it lots of times.  I’m not saying Diane Schuler did it deliberately although it looks like that may have happened.  But many people have done it deliberately.  I hope no more lives are ruined among those left behind.

  • Muhammad Ali was at the new Yankee Stadium last week.  As if age didn’t attack everyone’s physical prowess with enough fury, it’s sad to see Ali, who was once one of the best athletes in the world, devastated by Parkinson’s Disease.

  •  A guy from Jensen Beach Florida was arrested for having child pornography on his computer.  The accused said in his defense that it was his cat’s fault.  He said the cat downloaded the illegal material when it jumped on his computer keyboard while he was downloading music.  If the cat didn’t use a pointing device, I guess it wasn’t a cat-and-mouse game, was it?  As a former Congressman I know once said under different circumstances with respect to another criminal case, the plaintiff only has to get one of the 12 jurors to buy that story.

  • On one of the few days it hasn’t rained around here this summer, I saw a guy driving around town in a black 1960 Ford convertible.  He was slouched behind the wheel with his left arm draped out the window in a way that tells you this is a man who wasn’t raised in air-conditioned cars with the windows always rolled up.

Things I Want (Or Need) To Know

  • Has anyone done any research on murder-suicides?  There was another one a few miles from where I live.  This bozo killed his daughter and his mother-in-law and critically wounded his estranged wife before turning the gun on himself.  These incidents really trouble me.  Why isn’t suicide enough for someone like that?  But how would you find out if all the perps killed themselves?

  • Have you seen the funny TV commercial for Staples office supply stores?  A father is gamboling through the store, buying back-to-school supplies and the Christmas song, “”Its the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” playing in the background.  Clearly from his antics, he agrees with the song, but about back-to-school time, not Christmas.  His kids follow with a really down-trodden look.  Clearly from their body language, they don’t.

  • What’s with the weather around New York this summer?  Has it been hot?  Well, my wife runs the room air conditioner in our bedroom every night it’s in the window, whether it’s hot, or humid, or not.  This July, we used about 12 percent fewer kilowatt hours of electricity than we did last July. 

  • Has one of those car alarms that flashes the headlights and honks the horn ever prevented a car theft?

  • If someone is signaling a left turn, why pass him or her on the left?   I’d particularly like the person who did that to me today to answer that question.  Someone could have been seriously killed.

  • Michael Jackson died more than six weeks ago.  To the best of my knowledge, he’s still dead.  So could we please stop devoting so much air time to his demise?  That is, of course, unless there’s some news about it and there hasn’t been any in quite a while.

Cash for Clunkers

Ever since I got my first car, I’ve always owned at least one vehicle that gets over 20 miles per gallon.  So I’m in favor of fuel-efficient vehicles.  Cash for clunkers though, not so much.  It just doesn’t work for me.  Not even now that the Senate  has agreed with the House to add another $2 billion to the program.  Here’s why. 

First, I have two cars right now.  Between them, they’ve driven about 250,000 miles.  I consider one a clunker and the other one not.  The government says one of them is eligible for the program, the other one not.  My problem is my non-clunker, the van, is the car the government would pony up $4,500 for me to get rid of and that won’’t help me because it’s worth more than that on the used-car market.   

I like my Toyota, but even Toyotas wear out eventually and mine is old enough to vote, so I think it might wear out at some point in the foreseeable future.  If I trade it in, I’ll get a lot less than $4,500 too.  However, according to the EPA it gets a combined 23 mpg so it isn’t eligible for the program.  I’d certainly consider getting something newer that gets 33 mpg, the ten mpg improvement the government is looking for, but to qualify, the car has to get 18 mpg or less. 

I was also hoping the Congress would add a cash-for-brakes incentive before next Wednesday when the Toyota goes into the shop for a checkup.  No such luck!

Even though the program won’t work for me, I’m still paying for it and so are you if you’re gainfully employed, gainfully retired, or independently wealthy.  Since I bought my very first car I’ve always owned at least one that gets superior gas mileage.  And now my tax dollars are going to all the bad little boys and girls who drove SUVs and other gas guzzlers in an effort to encourage them to be good.

When I got out of the Army, they gave me a medal for being good.  That was nice, but I couldn’t wear it after I got it because I didn’t stay in the Army, so I didn’t have a uniform to put it on.  I would rather have had cash.  Today, I’d rather have cash too.  I’m not getting any either, but in the cash for clunkers program, I don’t even get a medal.

Citi Field

I went to Shea Stadium to see a ball game on Thursday, but Shea wasn’t there, so I did the next best thing and went to the ball park next door to where Shea used to be.  I went to Citi Field to see the Mets play the Colorado Rockies.  It was a good game and I couldn’t ask for better results, 7-0, our team.

My son and I saw another Mets – Rockies game at Shea in 1993.  That one was the first game the Rockies ever played that counted in the standings.  I went Thursday because a friend of my son was our house guest for the week while taking the New York Bar exam and the baseball game was one of the things she did to thank my family for our hospitality.  Her thank you to my wife and the one to my daughter were equally thoughtful.

Since they first took to the field in 1962, the Mets have called three baseball parks home, the Polo Grounds, Shea Stadium, and now Citi Field.  The Polo Grounds was a grammatical nightmare.  How do you refer to one place with a plural name?  Since it was only one place, I’m sticking with singular because it was a singularly bad baseball stadium.  It served both the baseball and the football Giants.  It was shaped like that to accommodate football.   I am not a football fan, so I don’t know if it did that well, but I went there as a little kid and I still remember clearly that I couldn’t see the whole field.

The scoreboard was in deep, straight-away center field.  It operated manually like the one in Fenway still does.  When the Giants played there, they put people with binoculars in the scoreboard to steal the opposing catcher’’s signs. What can you say about the Polo Grounds if you remember it, except maybe, “”Thank God they tore that mess down.””

Before I was a Met fan, I was a Dodger fan.  Ebbets Field seemed more charming to me, but there were posts supporting the upper deck and the late Sandy Amoros certainly proved in a memorable way that the seats behind the posts weren’t the only ones in Ebbets Field with obstructed views.

I don’t remember obstructed seats being a problem at Shea, but Shea did have issues.  It was built on the cheap and looked it.  The worst way they saved money there was by not having enough bathrooms.  Some people have a lot of nostalgia for Shea, not me.

Citi Field is clearly an improvement in every way but cost.  As long as they can find enough people to pay the price, I imagine the team owners have no objection at all to the price.  Upper deck seats are $25 each for a Rockies game.  I think they cost more for Mets v. Yankees.  However, to make the price more bearable, they don’t call it the upper deck; they call it the Promenade Deck.  I’d call “Promenade Deck” hoity toity, except I haven’t heard that phrase used since forever.  And if there are any bleachers at Citi Field, I missed them.

Citi Field isn’t a municipal stadium built on the cheap.  It’s a shopping mall with a baseball field buried somewhere inside.  It’s a nice baseball field, but it may have some obstructed seats too because they play the live game feed on the giant screen in the outfield.  When the first giant screens came into existence, playing the game live on them quickly became against MLB rules on the theory that a TV shot of a blown call would incite the crowd against the umpires.  Why go to the stadium to watch the game on TV anyway?  I have cable; I can watch the game on TV at home.

I went on Thursday to see the game, so I didn’t explore the park much.  If I go again, I’ll probably go as soon as the gates open, walk around and see as much of it as they’ll let me.  I don’t have enough money to see it all.  I wish they’d have tours when the team is out of town.  I’m sure there are interesting things to see.  If they do offer tours, they are hidden along with the bleachers I couldn’t find.

The older you get the more ridiculous prices become, because you can remember what things used to cost.  You don’t have to be very old to find the prices at all major league baseball stadiums ridiculous.  I hear the prices at New Yankee Stadium are even higher than they are at Citi Field.  One of life’s little pleasures is a day game on a beautiful day, a day game your team wins in decisive fashion.  I hope I never get so old that I can’t afford to go.  But the $25 seats have moved from the corporate-owned field boxes behind the dugout at Shea to the Promenade Deck at Citi Field in only 15 years, so it could happen.