Finding Clairity

January 20, 2013

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My friend Clair had a brilliant idea that I’d like to share with the hope that it catches on. Check it out on her blog here. Okay Clair, now that you’ve fixed engagements it’s time for you to tackle Valentine’s Day…

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Perplexing Ping Pong

July 30, 2012

This summer I’ve been playing competitive table tennis at the Rhode Island Table Tennis Association (RITTA). It’s been a lot of fun and I’ve been strengthening my rating in a fairly linear fashion (you take points off a player you beat based on your respective ratings). But lately I’m reached a bit of a stumbling block… my equipment. I’m using a $5 paddle I bought at some discount store. It’s what is called a “hardbat” paddle, which is to say the kind of paddle that comes with a table and has its pips (the little embossed rubber circles on the face) out.

Now that I’ve climbed to the upper half of the B division my opponents are using heavy rubber and foam and expensive “blades” (some guys have spent up to $200). These paddles generate a ton of spin without too much effort. While I’m still competitive with these players I’m not going to be able to beat them regularly without upgrading. As a humble (and therefore poor) teacher, I can’t afford to pay that kind of money on a summer hobby, but I’ve been trying to research the most economical way for me to get on more equal footing. Unfortunately, the complexity is mind-boggling. Blades have different speeds and weights, and the rubber parts (you apply them to your blade) come with an even greater range of properties (spin, speed, control). Then there are over 30 manufacturers of these products. So far I haven’t made a decision, so this Tuesday my $5 special will once again be in action.

CU vs. Banks… Fight!

October 6, 2011

What is the difference between a credit union and a bank? When it comes to what they do for a customer, not much. They both supply checking and savings accounts, make loans, and offer various other financial services. How well they do it is another matter.

When you join a credit union, you have instantly become an owner of that CU. By definition, they are owned by their members, in contrast to being owned by shareholders. This allows them to function as non-profit entities. Credit unions often make a profit, but this profit is then used to reduce fees or negotiate better rates for its members, rather than distributed to shareholders. Every member has one vote, and any member can run for the board of directors of the credit union.

It sounds good, doesn’t it? So what’s the downside? Well, credit unions restrict their membership so it’s not always possible to join one. They’re also much smaller than the monolithic banks that are the product of big banks being bought by even bigger banks (I once used Fleet Bank, which doesn’t exist anymore – is it Bank of America?).

For my part, I’m a credit union guy. Even local smaller banks have disappointed me lately. I recently went to close out an account at my old bank that I hadn’t used in a while. Not only had the couple of hundred dollars I had left in that account been gobbled up by service charges, but they tried to convince me to pay them another $35 in fees that had been charged before the account was closed. This is not likely to occur at a credit union.

USRDA of Radium?

September 18, 2011

The Radium Girls sounds like some sort of girl-power cartoon for kids, but as I have learned it’s actually the nickname for five women who sued their former employer (United States Radium Corporation – USRC) for the health problems caused by the instructions given to them by their supervisors.

Back in 1918, USRC used the radioactive element radium to illuminate the dials of watches and clocks, and hired young women to hand-paint the dials. In order to keep their camel-hair brushes sharp, they were instructed to lick the tips after every second or third application. Radium had been poorly understood for a while, and was often prescribed by doctors and even featured in a popular “energy drink” of the times, Radithor.

But USRC had become aware of the potential health problems caused by exposure to radium yet covered up the fact and made no changes to on the floor policy. The ensuing court case established legal precedent and was highly publicized. The case was settled, though sadly most of the five died within a few years. One managed to live to 50 somehow.


			

Mining and Hiding

September 13, 2011

Back to the 19th century! I listed to a Stuff You Missed in History Class podcast yesterday that enlightened me about the era of the Copper Kings in Montana. Butte was known for mining silver and gold, but became even richer in the 1880s when it became the world’s largest producer of copper, which was in high demand due to the proliferation of electrical street lights and the telegraph during this era.

Like most boom periods, it was a ruthless battle between the three players involved. This one eventually resulted in a monopoly (the Anaconda Copper Mining Co.). One of the three “Copper Kings,” William Andrews Clark, even managed to buy his way into a U.S. Senate seat once Montana became a state in 1889. One of his daughters just recently passed away this year at the age of 104. Amazingly, the last known photograph of Huguette Marcelle Clark was from the day of her divorce in 1930 (can you think of a worse day to be photographed?). She was a recluse and was rarely seen even by her household staff, which is only really possible if you live in a  $100 million, 42 room, 15000 square foot apartment.

School Daze

August 23, 2011

Today I learned something about myself while learning some good literacy strategies. We were talking about annotating, which is something I’ve never done in any book. I dug a bit into my own psyche to figure out why, because it’s certainly a useful tool. It would be very interesting to re-read a book and see what I was thinking way back on my first read. And it would certainly help me remember important parts better. And yet I don’t do it, and I think it’s because I was drilled to take care of my schoolbooks as a child. We covered them with paper grocery bags cut, folded and taped to fit, or with purpose made and colorfully patterned ones you could buy. We were expected to keep them pristine, and it’s a message that apparently sunk in (some I kept perfect by not even reading them). But it really doesn’t make sense when it comes to my own books. Interestingly, the article we read lamented how the digital book transition is a threat to annotation. For me, however, it’s likely the opposite. I just might have to try adding some notes while reading on my Kindle.

I’ve been dreaming a lot more lately. Well, I’ve at least been remembering my dreams more lately. Last night I had a dream that I had a full beard for some reason. I’ve not really one for facial hair, though I once sported a goatee for a few months. I used to regularly sport a bit of stubble, but whether that was a leftover byproduct of the Miami Vice era or simply being too lazy to shave everyday is anyone’s guess. These days the beard is a bit more gray than I’d like for that look. Anyway, it got me thinking about the whole shaving thing  and when it became common. I found out that many Bronze Age (roughly 3000-500 B.C.) cultures made oval-shaped razors out of, you guessed it, bronze. The urge to shave predates even those ancient civilizations though. Way back in prehistoric times people used clam shells, flint and even shark teeth to look “the best a man can get.”

Sharing Space

July 4, 2011

Sometimes I learn directly from other people. Last night at Waterfire in Providence I was meeting up with friends and was taught how to use the “share location” feature of Google Maps on my iPhone (though it should work the same way on any smartphone). It’s very simple. Just bring up the Maps app and then use the GPS to find your current location. Then drop a pin and select that pin. Hit the “Share Location” button and send your location to your friends via email or TXT message. Simple and handy.

Feverish

June 9, 2011

With today’s crazy-high temperatures, I decided to look up the hottest day on record for Rhode Island. It turns out that it was 104 degrees F on 2 August 1975 in Providence. The Earth has a fever!