Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Dylan's Theme Time Radio: coffee

I worked late this evening, trying to get the undergrad catalog done, and when I walked in the back door, my husband said. "You'll never guess what Bob Dylan's theme is the week." Our three Labs were jumping all over me, so I said "dogs." nope. "Cats?" I said as two sauntered into the kitchen. "No, no, no. He'll probably play Mississippi John Hurt . . . The theme is coffee!"

If you are familiar with MJH—brilliant guitar stylist and songwriter—you know he loved to sing about "Maxell House."

This is the "Coffee Blues", I likes a certain brand
- Maxwell's House - it's good till the last drop,
just like it says on the can. I used to have a girl
cookin' a good Maxwell House. She moved away.
Some said to Memphis and some said to Leland,
but I found her. I wanted her to cook me some
good Maxwell's House. You understand,
if I can get me just a spoonful of Maxwell's House,
do me much good as two or three cups this other coffee)

Well much to my disappointment Dylan skipped this gem, but he did play some other greats: songs about sitting round with you best friend smoking cigarettes and drinking that rich amber liquid, that, like he says, "makes a poor man feel like

Dylan's "Theme Time Radio," only available on XM Satellite, is the reason we now have this service. We cancelled our basic cable ($15/month) and signed up for XM ($12/month). In addition to the Dylan show, we also like to listen to Al Franken, who rants about George Bush once a day and keeps us fairly well informed. The best part of his show is his visit each Thursday with news guru Tom Oliphant (of the News Hour and the bow tie), who he introduces each week with a few bars of the "Baby Elephant Walk."

We also like to listen to the Folk Village and The Loft (which features and eclectic mix of singer-songwriters.) If we need entertained, we can turn to the old-time radio channel: The Shadow, Suspense, and the Lux Radio Theatre.

I believe that XM Radio is a much better value than cable. When "Theme Time Radio" is on, it is priceless.

Monday, May 29, 2006

flags at the graves of soldiers

Today is Memorial Day. I took off Friday, so have enjoyed a four-day weekend. On Monday morning, I planned what jobs I could get done around the house during the remains of the weekend. I called my Mother, and then started to think I should drive down to Camp Butler to put flowers on my father's grave. I wanted to stay home and paint and garden, but patriotic duty seemed to call. I could also stop by and till Mom's garden, which would be fun.

My father was not a decorated soldier. I think he got thrown into the brig several times for not returning to the ship on time or other insubordinations. Many WWII veterans spoke proudly of their service. My father felt incredible guilt for the Japanese planes he shot down in the Pacific. He felt anger for the exposure to radiation he received when he and his shipmates were sent into Nagasaki after the bomb dropped. He never talked about his service. He traveled outside of Sangamon County reluctantly. We never took vacations. Travel, to him, meant unpleasantness. After sailing almost every mile of the U.S. coastline and most of the South Pacific, he wanted to stay home.

So, when I found his marker in the crowded cremation section, by following the dates of death, I remembered that it told an umimpressive record: gunners mate 3rd class. My mom had given me the only remnants of spring left blooming in her yard: some floppy, wind-blown mock orange blossoms. Camp Butler has bins of metal vases that fit securely in the ground, but by late afternoon on Memorial Day, the bins were empty. I got a water bottle from the car, but the profusely blossomed branches tipped it over. The ground, still somewhat soft from recent rain, let me poke the branches around the stone. I then poured the water over the dirt.

If you haven't been to a national cemetery on Memorial Day, I think it worth the drive. Flags line each throughway and a small flag is set at the end of each grave. Not knowing the tradition, I wanted to move my father's flag closer to the stone, nearer the flowers, for aesthetic reasons. When I got in the car, Performance Today was on the radio, broadcasting Memorial Day services from Arlington National Cemetery. I learned that the "Old Guard" stays at Arlington all weekend during "flags in" to make sure that a flag stands one foot away from the base of each grave.

Dad did love flowers, but I realized that even more he loved coffee. I decided that next time I visited his grave I would start a new tradition of bringing a thermos of coffee. I will pour two cups. To one I will add two packets of sugar, stir it vigorously, and then send the spoon (metal) dancing across the stone, just as Dad would fling a spoon, dripping coffee, across our oak kitchen table about 10 times a day. I will then say a word, set the sugared one down, and drink strongly from mine, black.

I think that would be better than flowers.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

new tech

We could send publications out as a DVD - with a nice accompanying booklet - like CD liner notes - telling people what's inside and providing crucial information for people who never play the disc. We could interview people, include videos, and save some paper!

Podcasts: potential. Easy to record a message and have it posted within minutes. Link it prominently.

Blogs, blogs, blogs. Chatty, with a charming personality! Blogs could be a community effort. One voice but several writers. Lots of great digital photos - point, click, download, comment.

Many new-tech ways to communicate.


Monday, May 15, 2006

Coffee and the airport

I recently had the good fortune to be able to attend a design conference in Seattle. In Seattle, I found out, they have at least one and sometimes two coffee shops per block. My dream city!

Before deplaning in Seattle, however, I had to catch a wee-morning flight in Peoria. Thank goodness I don't live that far from the airport, as I think I was half asleep driving there.

As I approached the security gate, I noticed, off to the side, a coffee vending machine. For the mere price of one dollar, you could get a paper cup full of scalding hot coffee. I pushed aside other passengers, I think, to get to it.

After several attempts, I found in my bag a dollar bill the machine would accept. I selected the super strong dark brew option. The paper cup dropped and began to fill. A recorded voice motioned me to the security area. I had my carry-on, my coat, my shoes, and my paper cup of coffee. Take any of the above, but not the coffee, I thought.

Hoping not to splash boiling coffee on a TSA agent, I continued to balance the hot paper cup, as I removed my coat and backpack and sent them through the conveyor for inspection.

As I entered the secure terminal, a savvy Bradley student, who evidently travels often, put her dollar into a machine and drew a cup of hot Maxwell House. "Oh, I wish I would have known this was here," I told her.

"I had to keep reminding myself," she said, "that I could wait. It was hard."

Sunday, May 07, 2006

the lost art of communication

Even as we have more and more ways to communicate with each other, we are losing our ability to communicate well.

People may work in cubicles yards away from yours or in a cubicle farm across campus, you may have shared projects and goals, but lack of communication makes achieving these goals more difficult, and the projects suffer.

People act without consulting each other, leading to resentment. They edit or comment on each other's work via pdf or Word files without dialogue that could lead to improvement. When you do have a meeting, participants have brought their cell phones, which, inevitably, start to buzz or play a Rolling Stones tune just as you are about to make your best point.

Is this any wonder?

We live in isolation. Communication is a one-way street. We passively receive the news from the "media," but seldom from each other. When a neighbor passes away, you often read about it in the paper rather than learning the news first hand. A major catastrophe or triumph occurs in the house next door and you never hear about it.

Communication at work these days often consists of phone calls, which are more personal than the even more popular e-mail but are still no substitute for face-to-face involvement. We are more comfortable with these impersonal forms of communication at work because we no longer learn and appreciate the art of interpersonal communication at home.

Without good communication, we become more and more isolated and less and less productive.