The Shape Women Want and the Cuban Missile Crisis

imageI will be the first to admit that I have a habit of saying dumb things. For example:

I did tell my wife, when she was in the early days of being pregnant with our daughter: “you don’t really even look pregnant, you just look a little bit fat.

I did say to my wife: “let me pull the car up and away from the bushes so you don’t get wet getting in” and then proceeded to pull 7’ into the middle of the driveway.

I did tell my daughter: “I think you can squeeze through there.”

And of course, as recently made famous in Faith’s blog, I observed that she is not short.

I’m guilty. I have received curious looks, complaints and periods of silence, not to mention a rather hefty bill for maternity clothes to which my wife added: “now I look pregnant.” I have shared these stories of good-intentions-gone-off-the-rails with friends and coworkers (looking for sympathy). One coworker tagged me with the question “why do you speak?

However, the incident that lurks behind the first half of the title was not my fault. Still, I have been convicted in a “shoot the messenger” moment. I can’t remember the source, but I either watched or read an explanation as to why many things in life are shaped like my favorite travel mug. The author/speaker said: “among other things, it’s the shape women aspire to.” I did NOT say that. I did repeat it to my wife and she informed me that it was a dumb thing to say. Of course, I said it to my coworker, in reference to the conversation that I had with my wife. Again, I was looking for sympathy. Again “why do you speak?

On another occasion, a woman in my office looked at my travel mug as I was rinsing it out and mentioned that she liked the shape. I said “do you know why that is?” I tried to distance myself from the person who first made the statement and I tried to make sure that she understood that I wasn’t referring to her or her shape.

Afterwards, I thought – why DO I speak?

As for the second half of the title, I was imagereminded by a blog friend that October 16th was the 52nd anniversary of the start of the Cuban Missile Crisis. It was also the 52nd anniversary of an early “why-do-I-speak?” moment.

Being born in 1954 meant experiencing Duck and Cover drills, visiting Air Raid shelters and preparing for a nuclear war as if we really could survive under our school desk. During these drills we were supposed to:

  • Remain calm
  • Follow instructions
  • Shut up

Teachers didn’t use the expression “shut up” but some did use the expression “shut up Dan.”

I wasn’t a quiet kind of kid. I followed instructions, but I always found it hard to stay focused. My mind would wander. My report cards often included the comment “Dan daydreams” (as if that was a bad thing). I am so glad that I was born before ADD diagnoses and Ritalin became popular, because I would have been one drugged-up little kid.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis, we had a drill where we all gathered in the gym/auditorium. The idea was to stand quietly for a short period, and then listen to the 2nd grade teacher, Mrs. Kocher. Mrs. Kocher was in charge. She had been in charge forever; she had actually taught my father when he was in 2nd grade.

There was very little to do during these drills, but some of us had “jobs!” I was assigned to roll down the black-out curtains. Well, I was more like a black-out curtain understudy. A 6th grader was in charge of the task, I was supposed to be learning – succession planning I suppose. In any case, while rolling down the curtain, I asked a teacher how rolling down the black-out curtains during the middle of the day was going to help. I got the look that I now recognize as an early form of “why do you speak?” followed by:

This is a drill. You’re doing this so that in the event of a real attack, you will know how to roll down the curtains.”

That almost made sense. I should have stopped and thought about that, but that wasn’t isn’t my nature. I blurted out:

But they are firing missiles at us. Missiles aren’t looking for buildings on the ground, there’s no one in there to see us; they just go up and come down.

Go. Sit. In the corner.”

And, of course, I had to take a note home and explain the incident to my parents. Luckily, my dad handled that one. Dad wasn’t all that good with that kind of discipline because he had been like me in school. Still, he wanted his kids to do better. He would yell at us but he didn’t yell this time, he explained. When I told him my side of the story, he looked at me and said:

Did it ever occur to you that the reason they give you these jobs is so you have something to do? They have you clean the erasers because you fidget in class at the end of the day. This is the same kind of thing. If you don’t want to have to crank the curtains down, go into the room and be quiet.”


Pictures – Dunkin Donuts stopped making my original travel mug. I lost several and I was down to one slightly damaged one when they reintroduced the mug that represents the shape women aspire to. I bought 4. The lower picture is the park that sits where my elementary school used to be. No longer a target of the cold war or a training ground for curtain handlers.

Posted in Family, History, Humor | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 26 Comments

The Results are In…Who Cares?

imageEarlier this year, I was listening to an NPR interview where the person being interviewed was explaining the difficulties associated with conducting political polls these days. Of course, my first thought was “then just stop trying” because I hate getting those ridiculous cold calls, not to mention robo-calls. The problems being discussed ranged from the possibility that children could be answering to the now ubiquitous issue of people keeping their phone number when they move.

My mother’s phone number hasn’t changed in 50 years, but she doesn’t even live in the same state as where that number was issued. She still might get a robo-call asking her to press 1 if you like (this guy) for State Senate.

After a few more minutes and some additional consideration, my more carefully formed second thought was “then just stop trying” because I hate getting those ridiculous cold calls, not to mention robo-calls.

I understand why a candidate would care about poll results, but I’d be skeptical of a candidate who would change his/her story based on results – oh, right, that’s all of them.

OK, I understand that. What I don’t understand is why would I care? Do people really change their opinion of a candidate because other (anonymous) people have? In my opinion, that would be dumb. It would be dumb on the surface because, for something as important as the stuff we vote for, we should make up our own minds. It would be dumber beneath the surface because we probably don’t understand the poll whose results we are reading. In the interview mentioned above, NPR Host Mara Liasson said:

Polling has other challenges. And to be a savvy consumer of polls, like any other product, it’s important to read the fine print. Every poll includes information about how the poll was taken. How many people were surveyed? Was it a random sample? Did the questions seem fair? And, says Pew Research Center pollster Scott Keeter, was the poll conducted by human beings or a computer?

I would submit that any person who cares enough imageabout the political process to understand all of that stuff has probably made up their own mind as to whom to vote for. The poll-consumer’s paradox. Must be:

I care so much about this process that I want to know how everybody thinks, but I’m not going to be influenced by others.”

This paradox is (or should be) present in other situations. One of those areas, an area where I might care but often don’t, is product reviews. That’s because I think product reviews are written by 3 kinds of people:

1) People who don’t really understand what they bought – There lots of negative reviews for a band saw that I recently purchased. It turned out to be a very well-made machine. Some of the complaints were about the lack of information in the assembly manual. If you know what a band saw does, and how a band saw works, the instructions are fine. If you don’t understand that instruction manual, then I would suggest that you shouldn’t own a band saw.

2) People who hate the product – I’m not saying they don’t have valid reasons. I just think that unhappy customers are way more likely to write rant a review than happy customers.

3) People who can’t prioritize – One person said” “the saw itself is a drab shade of blue” What, are you putting it in your living room? Another person complained that: “The saw required two people to unpack” Did you not see that it weighs 250 lbs? By the way, when you’re pushing a thick slab of wood through that saw, you’re going to appreciate every one of those 250 pounds so maybe you fall into this category and #1 above…just sayin.

I prefer reviews that were conducted by qualified people. With respect to power tools, I like the reviews by WoodSmith Magazine because they are impartial (the magazine has no ads) and they are wood workers. If I thought there was a political analyst who was knowledgeable and impartial, I might look at their review of the candidates, but I don’t think any reporter/analyst falls into those categories.

So, for the next couple of weeks, I’ll listen to CDs instead of the radio and I’ll look at tool catalogs instead of the newspaper. Well, I’ll still read the comics.

Pictures – When I searched my Flickr stream for ‘poll’ the only result was the top picture. Apparently, I conducted a poll and my wife preferred that picture over a different one of buildings reflected in the river. I guess I am influenced by some poll results.

Posted in Current Events, Opinion | Tagged , , , , , , | 20 Comments

New Camera

imageOne of the harder lessons to learn, at least for me, is that there is a big difference between second attempts and second chances. The difference between these two things is contained within two adages that most of us were taught as children:

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me

It seems pretty simple, but sometimes it’s difficult to decide which one of those bits of advice is the one to follow. In fact, sometimes they seem like the two sides of the same coin.

This post isn’t going to be about relationships, but relationships, all sorts of relationships, romantic, friendly, employment, student-teacher, religious, you name it, are likely to end at the juncture of one of those adages. I suppose that I should have said “likely to pass through or end at…” but, in my experience, “end” is the appropriate verb.

Clearly, I digress. The title says this is about my new camera. It is, but my new camera was found at the intersection of these adages.

The camera is a Sony CyberShot WX350. I purchased it from B&H. My previous camera was also a Sony CyberShot that I also purchased from B&H. I bought the original Sony because I wanted a point and shoot camera that I could slip into my pocket. Sometimes I want to be able to take nice photos but I don’t want to be bothered with a camera hanging around my neck. I have a camera that hangs around my neck, and when I want greater control over the settings, like when I accompany my daughter on a photo-shoot, I take that camera. Unfortunately, a few weeks before I traveled to England last year, a trip on which I really wanted that slip-in-your-pocket camera, my Sony developed a smudge.

The first time I noticed the smudge, I cleaned the lens. OK, I imageemailed my daughter for instructions on how to properly clean the lens. No Brillo Pad, no Scrubbing Bubbles and no hooking up a blowgun to my compressor. I carefully followed her instructions, took a few test shots and voilà, no smudge. The next day, the smudge returned. A quick wipe with an eyeglass cleaning cloth and the smudge was gone but again, a few pictures later, smudge. This was no ordinary glob of goo.

After a bit of investigation, unfortunately after my trip to England, I determined that the “smudge” was the result of a problem with the sensor. The smudge appeared on the same area of every photo, but only when the area of that photo was a particular shade of blue.

I am a bit colorblind, so when I refer to a “particular shade of blue” you should know that I might actually be describing something you see as blue, light blue, green, purple or gray.

I decided to have the camera repaired. I hadn’t bought an extended warranty, and the original warranty had (of course) recently expired. Given the issue with my vision and the unscientific nature of my testing, I thought the best thing to do would be to print some photos. In the group below, I think you can see some photos have the smudge; some have a slight smudge and some, no smudge. I took this to the repair center. I explained the problem carefully. They seemed to agree with my assessment. We agreed that “it probably requires more than cleaning.”

When I got the camera back, it was clean. It had been cleaned, inside and out and test photos indicated no smudge. A few weeks later, the sky was the right shade of whatever and the smudge returned. I called the repair facility but the conditions under which they would consider their first attempt to be incorrect and refundable seemed way too hard to meet. I wanted it to be a clear case of “you didn’t listen to me” but they wanted it to be a scientific fact. Obviously, we had reached a “fool me once…” moment.

So, why did I buy another Sony CyberShot?

Well, logically I would argue that the sensor problem was probably a freak thing, an anomaly; the kind of thing that happens to 1 out (n) cameras where (n) is very large. Or, maybe it was something I did. Maybe I placed the camera on a hot rock or a damp seat cushion or too close to the microwave or maybe that spider was radioactive. None of the reviews said anything about a widespread smudge problem, so under the circumstances, I think Sony deserves a second chance. Just in case logic doesn’t prevail, I bought a 3-year extended warranty.

Below are some of the first photos from the new camera. I’m having to adjust to the fact that it doesn’t have a “Manual” setting, but I’m learning how to work around that. If at first you don’t succeed…

Note: If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you might have noticed that I dropped the sidebar description of the photos. They were only accurate for a week, and many people are viewing older stories – thank you – so I decided to end the confusion. Now I am either using captioned photos, or obvious photos, or I’ll write the description here at the end. If you’re reading this in email only, you never saw the descriptions and you’re missing the nice large images but I appreciate your reading just the same. The stump at the top, is something I’m content not to succeed with. I tried to get rid of it. I won’t be trying again for a long time.

Posted in Customer Service, Photography, Technology | Tagged , , , , , , | 37 Comments

Too Much Nothing

Earlier this week, I was searching for a clip of the song that Sam sang in Casablanca. No, not that song, not the “play it” song, but the other one. The upbeat one with the verse:

“Who’s got nothin?
“We got nothin”
“How much nothin?”
“Too much nothin”
“Say, nothin’s not an awful lot but knock on wood”

You can watch it here, it’s less than 2 minutes. I was searching for the song because I’ve been thinking about two different kinds of nothing.

Do you ever get to the point where someone is telling you to do something, or not to do something so many times that you feel compelled to disobey? You know, when they drone over and over until the message turns into nothing and then becomes annoying and then avoiding it becomes your mission.

For example, I have no intention of taking up smoking, but I swear if anti-smoking commercials get more blatant, gross and honest-to-the-point-of-being-absurd, I might just buy myself a pack of Lucky’s and go for it. I get it, smoking is bad. Smoking kills. But, watching ads featuring people disassembling various prosthetic body parts really isn’t reaching me. Besides, I don’t smoke! I hit mute or change channels when I see those ads.

Here’s the funny thing. Back when cigarette advertising powered the airwaves and newsstands, back when Rod Serling stood there with a Chesterfield burning in his hand, using the lit end to punctuate his description of each Twilight Zone episode. Back then, it didn’t seem like there were too many cigarette commercials.

So, either the cigarette companies had better marketing departments than the Surgeon General has today, or smoking really does make you look cool. It would be enough to remind me that those cigarettes killed Rod Serling. I’d find that more effective than the soapbox approach.

There’s a section of a nearby town called Rainbow. As imagefar as I know, there’s really only one main road through this section and it’s not conducive to speeding. It’s kind of narrow; it has a few curves and a hill or two. Still, I guess people speed because the folks in Rainbow are all over the place with “slow down” messages. They put one of those radar units out there that posts the speed limit and shows you your speed. Honestly, I speed up a little as I approach that thing. Once, while riding my bike down the hill toward it, I shifted into the hardest-to-peddle gear I have just to try to get above the limit.

The other type of nothing is in my inbox. I get too much nothing in the form of advertising. I’m not talking about spam. I’m talking about legitimate advertising from companies that I’ve actually bought or considered buying stuff from. Two of my least favorite companies lately are Amazon and American Airlines.

Over a year ago, someone gave me an Amazon gift certificate. I used it to buy replacement knives for my Delta 12” Planner.

If you’re not a woodworker, you should know two things about a planner. Thing 1: Planners are used to reduce the thickness of a board. If you have a 6” wide board that is 1” thick and you want it to be 5/8” thick, you run it though a couple of times. 1” becomes 15/16ths and 15/16ths becomes 7/8ths and so on. Thing 2: Planners are expensive.

After buying a set of knives, Amazon followed up with a questionnaire.

Did you like those knives?

Was your transaction the best customer experience ever?

Would you recommend Amazon to others?

Would you write a review of these knives?

I get that. I get all of that. Here’s what I don’t get: Amazon started sending me emails, advertising replacement planner knives for Ryobi, Makita and Dewalt planners. How many planners do they think I own? Even worse, one of the ads was for knives for a Ryobi 13” planner. That’s like…

I started to say: “that’s like sending a woman who bought a pair of size 7 black shoes an ad for size 8 black shoes by a different designer.” But, I realized that my daughter might actually buy that second pair of shoes and they might fit. Cuz, clearly I don’t understand women’s fashion or sizes or how many shoes women need.

American Airlines has done Amazon one better when it comes to stupid. Back in August, I was checking flights from Hartford to Des Moines for my daughter. She was going to visit her cousin in Iowa over Labor Day weekend. I am still getting severalimage emails a week from American Airlines, telling me about “great deals” on fares to Iowa.

A friend once told me: “Dan, you can’t fix stupid” but I’d like to help Amazon and American Airlines understand why people don’t want the things they looked at on their website and why they don’t want more of things they already purchased. Since they don’t seem too bright, I drew a picture.

In case you’re interested, the title of the song I was searching for is “Knock on Wood.” Ironically, there also is a song called “Too Much of Nothing.” It was written by Bob Dylan. If you want to hear Peter, Paul & Mary’s cover of that song, give a listen.

Posted in Humor, Marketing, Rant | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

My Midway Experience

Not on the board yet :(

Not on the board yet :(

People are amazing. When necessary, we can be strong, supportive, calm and we can empower ourselves and others with a spirit of hope and confidence that can help weather the worst storms. We are resilient – equally capable of dealing with the aftermath of those storms.

I don’t normally dwell on the same subject for consecutive posts, but the fire at the Chicago ATC TRACON Facility was a big enough event to support two posts. Last week, I talked about rerouting my travel immediately after that fire. Three days later, I had to travel through Chicago on my way home and, just like on Friday, people provided the comfort that the airlines still couldn’t deliver.

I won’t bore you with the convoluted exercise in logic that led me to stick with my original reservations. For the record, I flew from Iowa (DSM) at 4:05 PM, laid-over at Midway in Chicago for about 4 hours until connecting to a flight to Connecticut.

Several flights from DSM to Chicago had been cancelled during the day and there was a collective angst as we stood in all the normal lines. We grew quietly impatient while the attendants processed a cart full of boxes for a family in line ahead of us. Once at the gate, we paced until our plane arrived. Flying into a mess, none of us were certain we would be going beyond Midway. We boarded that plane like sheep.


The flight – Shortly after takeoff, the Captain got our attention by announcing:

Ladies and gentlemen, this will not be a normal flight.”


Instead of our normal cruising altitude, we will be flying at 13,000 feet.”

The man next to me said “that seems low.” We agreed that it was well over 2 miles in the air, but we could see the ground the whole way. We joked about being glad to be flying over relatively flat Iowa and Illinois. We talked about how seeing the ground throughout your flight is not comforting the way seeing the shore from a boat is. The woman in the window seat said “this looks the same as when I drive to Chicago.”

People – Midway airport was packed! Three full days after the fire, the airlines were busy shuffling people through an incomplete system. Flights were still being cancelled and thousands of passengers were trying to knit together badly fractured itineraries. Restaurants, bars, charging stations, restrooms and any place you could sit were overflowing with people. But there was a surrealistic calm in the terminal, no yelling, no pushing and no racing to get ahead of someone. In fact, people seemed a bit more polite than normal.

Food court – If you’re not one to associate “food court” with fine dining, Midway won’t do anything to change your mind on a good day. This wasn’t a good day but the place was chockablock full of people in search of food and people with food in search of a place to sit and eat. If you study the photos, you will notice that some restaurants had small or no lines. They also had little or no food. Ben & Jerry’s was out of many flavors, but they had chocolate and that was dinner.

I’m not normally the bold social type, but I asked a man sitting at a high table if I could join him. I had been standing / walking a long time and the thought of sitting with my iPad on a table was enough to overcome my shy tendencies.

Soon, the man left and I had the table to myself. I ate my ice cream, I browsed and I continued a comforting group text conversation with my wife and daughter. Then a man walked past my luxury island heading to an empty low table. He was juggling three plates of food and a carry-on bag while trying to corral two young children. As he approached his target, a couple sat down. He looked sad as he searched in vain for another empty table. There were none. When we made eye contact, I motioned him to come and take my place. He made me feel so good as he thanked me that I ended up thanking him.

Reilly's Daughter

Reilly’s Daughter

Reilly’s Daughter – Back on my feet, I ventured past the food court, past the Chinese buffet where only rice and broccoli remained available and past the Mexican buffet with a line that snaked into the seating area. I checked the two bars and remarkably, I found an empty stool at Reilly’s Daughter. Reilly was the name we gave to our second Irish Setter. My wife quipped in a text message that Reilly’s daughter would be Maddie, our 4th setter and a descendent from the big boy’s lineage. Monday Night Football was about to start, and I was happily seated between two Kansas City fans – beer and football. Suddenly, things almost seemed normal in that dark corner of Midway.

I stayed at the bar until it was time to board. The flight to Hartford was almost empty, 68 passengers according to the flight attendant. 68 passengers and from the comments, groans and expletives, 67 were Patriots fans. Fortunately, we didn’t begin boarding until halftime, although a last second KC Field Goal only made the mood more sour. Still, we were all going home and as the line started moving down the Jetway, we were all getting happy.

BDL was empty when we arrived. No lines, no crowds, no worries. The board indicated that a few flights were still delayed but it no longer mattered to me. In my last nod to the others stuck in my situation, I hoped that delayed meant that they wouldn’t be cancelled.

Posted in Perspective, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

Location Isn’t Everything

imageBack in the early ‘80s, I worked as a consultant for one of the then Big-8 accounting firms. Despite the fact that the Big-8 ultimately became the Big-6 and then the Final-4, working for one of those firms back then was a big deal. During my six years as a consultant, I traveled a lot. That sounds exciting doesn’t it? Well, I should mention something about that travel. I didn’t always travel to Boston or New York. I traveled to Providence, RI; Lowell, MA; Syracuse, NY and the aptly named Sevier, NC.

Far from exotic, exciting or romantic places, but I have always tried to enjoy business travel. As Colonel Sherman Potter, M*A*S*H 4077 said in an episode of that great TV show:

If you ain’t where you are, you’re no place.”

I bring all this up because my blog friend Damyanti ended her recent blog post with the prompt:

What was the last city you traveled to and how did it make you feel?

That sounds innocuous enough, but it really isn’t her entire question, it was merely the part I could answer. Her entire question was:

Been to Paris? What is the one thing you remember the most? Would you go back again? What was the last city you traveled to and how did it make you feel?

These questions were part of her blog post about a recent visit to Paris. Her post is amazing, and you should read it if you haven’t already done so. Go ahead; read her post and come back, I’ll wait. Her story is full of the kind of imagery that Damyanti folds into all of her writing. Words that make even the casual reader imagine himself in Paris, in the Louvre or in a café. Unfortunately for me, her questions came after my visits to Salt Lake City, Utah; Omaha, Nebraska and Ames, Iowa.

Don’t get me wrong, those are all great cities. I’ve been to Salt Lake City twice before and I’d be happy to go again. I’ve been to Ames a dozen times and I hope to go back soon to see my family there. I’ve only flown in and out of Omaha, but I’d actually like to spend some time there someday. All great cities.

None of them Paris.

Seriously, Omaha Nebraska. Is. Not. Paris.

But, Omaha is where I needed to be last Friday, and it felt pretty good to get there.

For those who might not be aware, last Friday was the day that a (avoiding adjectives) man set fire to a regional radar facility near Chicago, disrupting air travel at both O’Hare and Midway airports. My flight from Salt Lake City (SLC) to Des Moines, IA (DSM) was scheduled through Midway and was immediately cancelled.

There is no feeling quite as disheartening as being stranded in a city where you don’t belong. Our company event was over. My coworkers were returning home or heading on their way to vacation destinations. Suddenly, the layover in Iowa that I had scheduled as easy as 1-2-6 two months earlier had become a mini-nightmare.

I started the frustrating process of contacting the airline. While watching TV news shots of lines at Midway’s ticket counters spilling onto the streets of Chicago, I faced their virtual equivalent. Southwest Airline’s website became unresponsive. Their iPhone App responded, only to say “I can’t process your request at this time” and their customer service phone line reported hold times of between 1 ½ and 2 hours.


Two hours isn’t a long time if you’re watching a football game, but when your check-out time is rapidly approaching, two hours is longer that you have to act.

On the road from Omaha to Ames

With Southwest unable to help themselves, let alone me,I turned to a larger, more capable airline. Delta had a working website and planes that were still flying. None were flying to DSM, but one was flying to Omaha. My brother lives in Ames, Iowa and he used to pick me up in Omaha in the days before Southwest flew into DSM. People in the Midwest look at distance differently than people in the Northeast; I can’t drive for 2 ½ hours without crossing one or two state lines. He once said of the 5 hour round trip: “around here, they refer to that as a single 6-pack drive.” I’m sure he meant Pepsi.

In wrapping up her story, Damyanti said: “But it is the people who remain with me” – True of Paris and also true of the American high desert and Midwest.

With my hastily arranged boarding passes in hand, I had a few more things to do. Our company meeting had been in Park City, Utah. SLC was 45 minutes away and I needed a ride. I also had to alert my brother to the fact that I wouldn’t be arriving in Des Moines. A coworker exited a meeting to help me get a ride to the airport. A driver agreed to squeeze in an extra airport run and my brother agreed to the cross-state ride.

On the way to the airport, the driver and I were talking about the fire in Chicago and the thousands of people facing disrupted travel plans. I thanked her for helping me deal with mine, and I joked that I was actually going to get to Iowa earlier than originally planned. She looked at me in the rearview mirror and said:

You know, I once heard that your life is defined by what you do when presented with the need for a Plan-B.

As I look back over my 60 years, I find that statement to be true. That will be the prompt for several future posts for me; maybe you can make it one of yours.

Posted in Family, Perspective, Prompt, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 39 Comments

Who Figured that Out?

imageEarly last year, I sent a few family members an article about the work that was being done in Pittsburgh to clean Kaufman’s Clock. My daughter asked a somewhat technical question about the sandblasting technique the workers were using and my brother quickly answered it. My daughter replied:

Interesting. I always wonder who first makes these discoveries.”

And…, my brother answered that:

Most of the time we can’t trace them to one person but… Benjamin Chew Tilghman (1821–1901) was an American soldier and inventor. He is best known as the inventor of the process of sandblasting. Go to Wikipedia for more info — he later patented a process he called a liquid sharpener for files.”

That’s how our family is. My wife shares this trait (so Faith is doomed) of not being content with merely accepting stuff – we all want to know more, we will all conduct some research on a subject of interest. Faith’s question may have its origins in my genes though, because I often wonder who figured out the things we take for granted today.

In my day job, I have had the pleasure of listening to some of the people who figured out Graphical User Interfaces (GUI), Laser Printers, Mice and the technical stuff behind local area networks. We take all of this for granted today, but back in the early ‘80s, people were calling it crazy talk. Knowing this doesn’t make my job easier, but it makes me appreciate things more.

I started thinking about this again after reading another great imagepost on my blog friend’s ItKindaGotAwayFromYou blog. This time, the subject was mushroom hunting. So now I have two blog buddies who seem to know how to hunt for mushrooms, check out West Virginia Mountain Momma’s blog (search for mushrooms because she has several wonderful posts on the subject).

So here’s my thing with mushrooms: Some are delicious, some can make you sick and some are poisonous with a capital POISON but who determined which kind are which? I’m sure at some point there was the unfortunate observation that a particular kind of mushroom killed some of the folks who ate it. But, how did they go forward from that point? I mean, there are about 10,000 kinds of mushrooms. Did they start testing them on the dog? The neighbor? The spouse? My wife doesn’t eat mushrooms; is that a taste preference on her part or a survival instinct?

My father once boiled some mushrooms with a silver Quarter in the pot. He said that if they were poisonous, the Quarter would turn black. Of course this was in the ‘60s, before the Internet and Snopes and when Quarters were still made with silver.

Note: there is no scientific evidence that you can test for mushroom toxicity in this manner. I have a degree in Chemistry, you can trust me.

I don’t get hung up over every discovery. Some stuff, once you think about it, makes perfect sense. Take, for instance the colors we use for clothing and painting our world. I can easily imagine some cave woman looking at a smushed berry, liking the color of the stain and saying “I need shoes and a pocketbook in that color.” I don’t think guys cared about color until cars were invented, by which time most colors had been replicated in the paint shop.

Similarly, I can see how Newton and others discovered and refined our understanding of gravity, but how did we discover how high is too high to jump from? I think somebody probably figured that out before those brainiacs came up withgravity-eq I’m guessing that there were several observations involved but I doubt a bunch of cavemen started by jumping off a rock, increasing the height little by little until one of them broke a few bones. It was probably more like

Thag jump from there. Thag die. That too high.”

The flip side of this is when I “discover” things. (I mentioned this in an earlier post “Is Anything Obvious” in a rant against people ignoring obvious things). I discovered that Kanga and Roo (in the Disney Channel’s Winnie the Pooh), were kangaroos. My very young daughter looked at me and my wife with the perfect “really?” look on her face as I tried to explain that:

No, of course I knew they were kangaroos, but their names make up the word kan – ga – roo. Oh, did you guys already know that? I …see.”

You might remember the Presidential Debate where Texas Governor Rick Perry said:

“…there are three cabinet departments I would eliminate: Commerce, Education and… (insert sound of crickets here)”

I’m having a Rick Perry moment right now. Somewhere in my notes, there are three things that I wonder who figured out. I can only find two. Oh well, I guess you get off easy today. Thanks for stopping by. If you wonder about stuff like this, please share that in a comment below.

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