Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Pool Boy Wonder - Christmas Day 2006

A bunch of years ago, I bought an 8 foot slate pool table, nothing fancy, but the real thing. We nestled it down in the basement (it really isn't big enough, or at least shaped properly, to hold the pool table with comfort) and then we (mostly Eli, my younger son, and myself) played lots of pool - 8 ball, 9 ball, cut-throat, etc. It was great fun and Eli quickly became very good (he was in his early teens at this point). And one of his special skills was his ability to pop the cue ball over one or more other balls, to then knock in his ball of choice. He would do it with total nonchalance, as if he barely needed to pay attention to what he was doing. And he often did hit the ball in. I was always amazed. I could never muster up the skill and confidence to do that without worrying about ripping the felt (Eli never did).

Well, then Eli turned 15, 16...and he was soon way more interested in playing with his friends, so we played but not as often. Now Eli is 20, living in his own apartment 8 miles away, studying jazz guitar fulltime at DePaul University. All very wonderful.

But he came over on Christmas for dinner -- and some pool. Hurray! So we played some games and that was fun, but then before he left, he had a very amusing time popping the cue ball off the table....why do that? Well, click here to watch the movie and you will see what I mean.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

A sign of the times, or just of Orlando?

I just came back from a couple of days in Orlando, Florida. Gave a talk at the Central Florida Oracle User Group and then a full day training for almost 40 Oracle technologists at the Doubletree Club hotel in Lake Buena Vista (right next to the entrance to Disney World).

And since it is wintertime and very cold in Chicago, my wife Veva actually agreed to accompany me, in search of sun and warmth. How nice!

Now, I must admit: I find it hard to visit Orlando, at least the Disney World zone, which is where I almost always end up (Oracle conferences and so on). It is such an relentlessly fabricated pseudo-reality. It is bad enough that most of America seems to be paved over with malls, fast food "restaurants" and chain stores - it all looks enough. In Orlando, that homogeneity is celebrated with bigger versions of the Sameness, as if everything has been supersized and plasticized.

Through the Internet, I reserved a room at the Sherato Vistana, which seemed like a really nice resort hotel. I guess it was, but when we arrived, we were thoroughly alienated by its sprawl. Hey, plus there wasn't even Internet access in the room. Had to visit the (I kid you not) cyber.internet.cafe (really cool name).

Anyway, we stayed there one night and then escaped to an almost-normal hotel, the Doubletree Club, where I gave my training. On the day before the training the skies were overcast and the temperature was only in the 60s. Not poolside weather. But we adjusted our expectations and, determined to enjoy the outdoors (still much better than the 20 degrees in Chicago), we headed to the Leu Gardens.

This is a beautiful nature preserve near downtown Orlando that is filled with enormous Southern Live Oaks covered with Spanish moss, hundreds of Camelia bushes, and much much more. We walked around it for a couple of hours, enjoying the sounds of the bamboo scraping in the wind, the smell of the tropical flowers, and the wonderful colors of the butterfly garden. I encourage everyone visiting the Orlando area to take time away from Wet N Wild, Universal Gardens, Disney World, etc., to visit the Leu Gardens.

Now, as to the "sign of the times", we got back late one evening to the Doubletree Club and the parking lot was quite full. So we drove all the way to the back and as we parked in an empty spot, we noticed the sign to the right. It says "Reserved for Parking Only." Which immediately begs the question: what exactly are they worried people might do in these parking spots besides park? Hold a seance? Swear in the next Supreme Court Justice?

Well....we were in any case careful to do nothing more than park there.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

An abomination in the supermarket

Have you seen the TV Kart? They have them in the Dominick's store nearest our house. I think they are an abomination. Check them out at http://www.tvkart.com/.

What is a TV Kart? Here is a quote from Cabco:

"Cabco is the world leader in mobile children’s entertainment for retailers. With over eight years experience and millions of happy retail shoppers, Cabco works with some of the world’s largest retail chains.

"Our program is unique and has rapidly become a retailing phenomenon

  • TV Karts are a great service program for retailers to offer customers
  • Parents shop in peace while their children watch their favorite programs, or listen to songs and stories in the Karts
  • There is no cost to, or operational impact on, retailers
  • Real time online remote Management System"
And there you have it folks: have no fear, parents! You can "park" your child in front of a screen wherever you go. DVD player attached to the roof of your car so the kids in the backseat can zone out. TV screen while you shop for food. TV, video games, and computer screen at home.

I understand why some parents want/need to distract their child. Many are seriously stressed for time, working two jobs, dealing with endless money problems, wanting some time to themselves, and so on).

But overall I find this trend of 100% Distraction for both children and adults very worrying. Essentially, we are being trained to be uncomfortable in our own mind. Rather than be left to our own to think about things, to puzzle out problems, to be in contact with and learn from the world around us, we plug into a screen that feeds us compelling images and voices. When this happens we move into a dangerously passive mode. This is bad enough when we are fully grown, but it is truly horrible to do this to children.

So for any parents reading this, I urge you to get rid of the DVD player in your car - and stay off the phone when you are with them. Instead, play games with your kids in the car, sing together, point out things passing by, ask them questions. In the supermarket, ask them about the prices of things, about what they like to eat, show them the amazing variety of veggies and fruits that the world just produces all on its own.

Make sure your children are engaged, curious, questioning. Passive children lead to passive adults, lead to people who are more easily manipulated, lead to further degradation of human society, and increase the likelihood that those with power and money will continue to kill and destroy to get their way.

All because of a TV Kart.

I kid you not.