Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Very Lucky Person

Yesterday I talked about the anxieties of life with a friend I've known for nearly 30 years.

Today a friend I've had for more than 20 years sent me a text that said slàinte.

A lucky person is one with good friends. A very lucky person is one who can be honest with those good friends.

Happy New Year to all.

What You Say About Society

I got an oil change for my Hyundai this morning. It's the last day of the year, FREEZING, right around 10 degrees, and I went at 8:17, perhaps the first customer of the day (they opened at 8:00). So I kind of expected the crew to be on the grumpy side. But of course, assumptions usually leave us feeling foolish. These guys were super cool and very friendly. I sat in the car while they worked. Used to be I'd sit in the waiting room during an oil change, read a magazine, whatever, but now I'm accustomed to chilling in my car while the work gets done. The classic rock station was playing -- a win for me. When Tom Sawyer came on the radio, they sang along. Awesome. One of the guys put extra punch into the line that ends with "what you say about society." That made me happy. Here's the lyrics if you need them. The lyrics have held up well over time. Though his mind is not for rent, don't put him down as arrogant. Good stuff.

So it's the last day of the year and I don't have many resolutions in mind for 2015. I'll continue to keep my eye on society and probably work to improve my skills in the kitchen. I might blog about food a lot in 2015 and share some recipes along the way. Like this recipe for crock pot meatballs. "Meatballs in the crock pot," you might be thinking, "surely you can't be serious." I am serious, and don't call me Shirley. Trust me on this one.

2 pounds ground beef (85% mix)
1 cup (or little less) Italian seasoned bread crumbs
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
add chopped fresh parsley
add onion and herb seasoning (I use Mrs Dash)
1 egg, beaten

1 jar spaghetti sauce (if you live in Buffalo-Niagara region, Pellicano's works great.)
1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes (Redpack with spices. Redpack is the best.)

1.      In a bowl, mix the ground beef, bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, parsley, spices, egg and a little milk for moisture. Make some meatballs!
2.      In crock pot, mix the spaghetti sauce and crushed tomatoes. 
3.      Place the meatballs into the sauce mixture. Cook on low for approx 3 hours.
4.      Add one or two tablespoons sugar to the sauce along with pepper and more seasoning if needed.

Source: (Always cite your sources!) I made a few adjustments to the recipe.

Monday, December 29, 2014

You Might Like This Recipe (and/or the Book Naked Statistics)

Nice to have some down time between semesters. Figured I'd show my loyal readers one of my favorite Christmas gifts. My mother-in-law got me a book of crock pot recipes. I'm pretty happy about it because I use my crock pot on a regular basis during the winter. The other book in the picture wasn't a gift. I picked it up at Big Chain Bookstore to read during break. I'm teaching Research Methods next semester and thought Naked Statistics might get me in Methods mode. I'm halfway through. It's an entertaining book with lots of fun examples. My favorite example so far comes in chapter 5, which covers basic probability. The author (Charles Wheelan) writes about the 1981 Schlitz beer campaign that culminated in a blind taste test against Michelob during halftime of the Super Bowl. 100 people who identified as Michelob drinkers were selected for the test. As he explains on p. 69, a blind taste test between any two beers in the Schlitz category (think Budweiser, Miller, Michelob) is essentially a coin flip. It turned out that 50% of tasters chose Schlitz in the test. Success!!! Schlitz got to say "Half of Michelob drinkers like Schlitz better!" As Wheelan points out, Schlitz simply exploited the fact that these beers taste about the same. Still, it looks good when you can say that half of people who claim to prefer a different beer end up choosing your beer in a live taste test.

I'm veering off course. I actually set out to share the crock pot recipe I'm using today. This looks like the easiest chicken and vegetable chowder recipe ever.

I usually modify recipes but I'll mostly the stay the course with this one. I'll use fresh mushrooms instead of ones from a jar. Otherwise I'll follow the recipe.

So this pretty much captures my break so far: reading about statistics and cooking up food slowly. Also catching up on e-mail and attending family gatherings. So far, so good.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Cold Take: Elf on the Shelf

2015 will be the year that I perfect the cold take. What is a cold take? I'm not quite sure how to define it, but here's one I wrote for an example. Whatever it is, a cold take is unlikely to get many page views and has no chance of going viral. What follows is my cold take on elf on the shelf.

Maybe you've read the recent piece in The Washington Post about how elf on the shelf prepares children for living in a police state. I can understand people thinking the elf on the shelf is creepy and that it trains children to be under surveillance.

But I have a much simpler take. The elf on the shelf is fun. My kids had a lot of fun with it for the past two Christmas seasons. They are 7 and 4. Each morning during the past few weeks they would run down the stairs to find the elf. It was fun for them to see where the elf was perched each day. My wife and I would take turns moving the elf. Some nights we forgot, so the elf stayed in place, which led to us lying to our kids by saying "I guess the elf really was comfortable in that spot." I acknowledge a downside to elf on the shelf is that it involves lying to your children. It reminds me of something a student once asked in my class. I can't remember what the topic was, but I think he brought up Santa or the Easter Bunny and passionately asked: "Why do parents lie to their children?" I didn't have an answer then and I don't have an answer now. I still think it's a good question.

But in the interest of tradition and fun, I think it's okay to have your kids enjoy the idea of a shelf hanging around the house for a few weeks. It's nice to see your kids have fun. For us, the elf on a shelf wasn't part of a behavior modification master scheme. But I will say this in a way that is intended to be lighthearted and humorous: make no mistake, we used elf on the shelf as an attempt to temporarily get an edge on our kids. If you think our kids listen to us just because, well, the fact of the matter is, they don't. Well, to be more specific, our 7-year-old listens to us most of the time. Most of the time, our 4-year-old does not listen to us. Our 7-year-old tends to follow instructions. Our 4-year-old, as Terrell Owens might say, beats to his own beat. I don't want to crush my 4-year-old's rebel spirit and I don't want my 7-year-old to be obedient. I love that my kids are different from each other. I guess I might like some balance. I suppose it would be nice if 4-year-old listened more and 7-year-old listened less. Practically speaking, it helps to have cooperation sometimes, such as when you want to leave the house. In such a case it would be nice if 4-year-old agrees to put on his sneakers. And if it takes less of a hassle to get those sneakers on due to the presence of elf on a shelf, I will take what I can get. Frankly speaking, elf on the shelf made close to no difference in the behaviors of my kids. 7-year-old listened as he normally does, 4-year-old refused to listen as he normally does. I have to remember something I've learned during my 42 years on this planet: people will do what they do. Maybe 4-year-old listened 3% more than usual. I'm not sure. You can't quantify everything, no matter what Big Data says.

Now I'm just rambling and this is a factor in why my think pieces average 14 page views per week. So let me wrap this up like a Christmas present. We had fun with the elf on the shelf and it had little or no impact on the behavior of our kids. If we were looking for an edge on our 4-year-old, I don't think it happened. I think he overpowered us as usual. Good for him. As for coming to grips with living in a surveillance state, that's a think piece for another day.

New Habits? Maybe Who Knows Let's Find Out

Click click click check check check.

Seems that's so much of what I've been doing for sooooooooooooooo long.

I was reluctant to buy a smartphone knowing I'm an information junkie and then I bought one and sure enough I have the phone in my face way too much.

This is not to say phones are evil and we shouldn't have them.

It's to say I'm always looking. Always looking.

For a while I've thought one of the reasons we like to text and tweet and interact with phones is the real feeling that whatever is happening in front of us is less interesting than what's happening anywhere else. The conversation in the living room pales in comparison to the universe of people saying smart things and sharing pictures.

I'd like to cut down on my checking. And I really don't expect to replace my checking with more time spent looking at the sky and the trees because I already do that. Much of my life is spent looking at trees and birds and people and cars and my kids. I think I'm just trying to change the habits of how I go through everyday life. Less checking. Less expecting. I still want to know exactly what I've been checking or expecting because I really don't know.

As a first step I have dropped off from Twitter for now. I like Twitter and will probably return to Twitter. I decided to depart for now because it was the thing I was checking the most. Check check check click click click. I tried to check less and click less but I was constantly drawn in and just so curious.

I guess I want to see what happens when I'm doing less checking. Maybe I'll write more or write differently. Maybe I'll drink more coffee or eat more chocolate or do more push-ups. Maybe I'll write a symphony except I don't know how to and don't want to learn. Maybe I'll stop writing bad sentences or change my maybes to definitelys. I just checked to see if definitely comes in plural. I don't think it does but it should. So far I'm still checking Google as much as I usually do.

Check please.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Skating in Buffalo (and other Good Times)

There's a new ice rink in downtown Buffalo. It's one of the attractions at Canalside in downtown Buffalo. We had a blast going to Canalside in the summer when our kids played in the huge sandbox and took advantage of the other play activities. They're ages 7 and 4 and wanted to give ice skating a try. So yesterday we took them skating for the first time. They fell down a bunch of times so there was more falling than skating but they had fun anyway. I busted out my CCM Super Tacks that seriously might be thirty years old. They were handed down to me by my uncle who played a lot of hockey in his youth. I can skate okay but still can't stop properly or cross over. But one day I will.

I'm amazed by what a great job they've done at Canalside. Years ago it felt like there wasn't much to do in downtown Buffalo. It seemed you really had to work hard to find things to do other than go to bars. I definitely like bars but I also like to have options available to me that don't center around drinking. The ice rink is big and beautiful. Here's a picture I took with one of Buffalo's largest buildings in the background. It looks like an artist's rendering come to life.

Afterwards we grabbed a meal at Dinosaur BBQ. It's easier than ever to find a place to eat in Buffalo. So many good options. I love the fact that it's also easy to find Buffalo-made beers in restaurants. At the Dinosaur restaurant I enjoyed a Sponge Candy Stout from Resurgence Brewing Company. Really good stuff.

The kids fell asleep on the drive home. My seven-year-old is a bookworm and fell asleep reading. Seeing my kid sleeping peacefully with his hands on a book gave me a feeling of happiness.

Now it's Sunday, the day I'm usually making soup or chili in a crock pot to warm our bones on a chilly winter day. Today I've got sauce and meatballs in the crock pot. Can you really use a crock pot to cook meatballs? I'm about to find out in three hours.

A weekend like this makes me grateful for the simple adventures of family life. Tomorrow is gift wrapping and other preparations for a week of family gatherings and gift exchanges. I'm in the holiday spirit more than usual this time of year.

Happy holidays everyone.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Cold Take: Review of Bruno Mars Halftime Show

All year I've been meaning to say how much I enjoyed this show. Bruno delivered. Dude can dance. And I had no problem with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. People made fun of Anthony Kiedis because he went shirtless but I think he looked awesome. I'm late on this review but got it in before the 2015 Super Bowl halftime show. This is what's known as a cold take. Hot takes were the rage in 2014. Being late to the party with a super cold take will be trendy in 2015.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

2014: A Poem

Remember this summer when you were mad at me because I wouldn't take the ice bucket challenge?

I said "It doesn't look right or feel right to have ice dumped on my head when people are getting tear gassed in Ferguson" and you replied "Why won't you just support a cause?"

And now we're arguing about protests happening all over the place and you keep saying "Why are these people so mad?"

I have tried time and again to answer as best I can but you keep talking louder and louder.

You haven't listened to a word I've said.

My question for you is why won't you support a just cause and since you're doing all the talking maybe you can tell me what you mean by these people anyway?

Monday, December 8, 2014

To Be Continued

It's the last week of classes where I teach. Sweet. I've been tired.

Last night I fell asleep on the couch at 8:30. I slept until 5:00 this morning. I haven't slept that much in one night since 6th grade.*

*Maybe. Point is I'm not a great sleeper.

Driving to work this morning, I passed someone who was fixing her hair while she was driving. She had one hand on the steering wheel and at least one eye on her rear view mirror looking at her hair. Seeing her made me think of how I do stuff like that too during my morning commute (checking on my appearance to get ready for the day and whatnot). It's part of going into society. Then my mind wandered to how we all get ready for our day and how some of us send our children off to school to eventually become grownups in society. It's still weird to see my 7-year-old get on a bus. There goes a little person who used to be a baby who used to sleep on my shoulder.

So much ugliness in the world there are times I say to my wife "What were we thinking bringing kids into this sick world?" I've had that thought a lot in the last year.

To be continued...

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Readings about Michael Brown and Ferguson

These are some of the articles I've read about Michael Brown and Ferguson. I'm sure this list will grow. I'm collecting articles to use in my classes and to share as resources for teaching and learning.

Why We Still Have to Say #BlackLivesMatter - Jenifer Bratter

Ferguson Must Force Us to Face Anti-Blackness - Michael P. Jeffries

Telling My Son About Ferguson - Michelle Alexander

Mike Brown's Shooting and Jim Crow Lynchings Have Too Much in Common. It's Time For America to Own Up - Isabel Wilkerson

Ferguson: The Fire This Time - Bob Herbert

The Death of Michael Brown and the Search for Justice in Black America - Mychal Denzel Smith

Chronicle of a Riot Foretold - Jelani Cobb

The Anger in Ferguson - Jelani Cobb

Ferguson, U.S.A. - Teaching Tolerance

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Dancing in September Struggling in December

Yesterday was the first day back in class after Thanksgiving Recess. We're at the point in the semester when energy levels are very low. It was pretty obvious in looking around the classroom that my students weren't energized yesterday. I asked a general "How are you" to my students and didn't get much of a reply. So the best follow-up I could manage was "It's December. What do you think about that?" A student said: "Checked out. I'm checked out." I always appreciate a honest reply. Her candid response captures how a lot of students and professors feel this time of year. In September people are smiling and ready to run through a wall to teach and learn (okay run through a wall is too much, point is we're really excited) but by December fatigue has set in and we're ready to wrap up the semester (and presents). We still have papers and final exams to deal with and that's not something that makes us happy. It's a struggle to close it all out. September is awesome. December is less than awesome. So there you have it. Dancing in September struggling in December. You may use that poetic phrase to sell t-shirts or coffee mugs if you like. I do hope you'll send me a portion of the proceeds.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Step Your Game Up, Santa

Hope my 7-year-old gets the photo copier he wants for Christmas. He writes comic books and wants to make copies. Santa and the reindeer will have to raise their game to make it happen. Good luck to the crew.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Labels, Stigma, Outsiders

I'm looking through my copy of Howard Becker's Outsiders as I prepare to teach an upcoming session in my Social Psychology course.

I'll share a few quotes from the book:

"The deviant is one to whom that label has successfully been applied; deviant behavior is behavior that people so label" (p. 9).

"Whether an act is deviant, then, depends on how other people react to it" (p. 11).

"Deviance is not a quality that lies in behavior itself, but in the interaction between the person who commits an act and those who respond to it" (p. 14).

"I have been using the term 'outsiders' to refer to those people who are judged by others to be deviant and thus to stand outside the circle of 'normal' members of the group" (p. 15).

"Differences in the ability to make rules and apply them to other people are essentially power differentials (either legal or extralegal)" (pp. 17-18). Click here for a longer quote about groups who have the power to label.

Click here to read an essay by Courtney Anders which speaks to the power of labels and the experience of being made an outsider. During class I'll discuss her essay after going through some of Becker's insights about the sociology of deviance.

I'm using this post to organize my thoughts for teaching. I conclude with a recommendation that Becker's Outsiders and Erving Goffman's Stigma be in your book collection.

Monday, November 10, 2014

When Colleagues Make You Laugh

The week starts off on a good note. I was hustling around the office making copies and getting ready for classes today. I ran into a colleague with whom I get along quite well. I recently e-mailed a picture of my kids to her. She said: "That picture is so cute. Good thing they take after your wife." Talk about LOL--that cracked me up. I wasn't expecting to get my chops busted first thing on a Monday morning. We've been colleagues for approximately 15 years. Her remark was all in good fun and well received.

I previously recorded a short "TODD Talk" about being a good colleague--click here if interested-- and my encounter this morning with my colleague reminds me that good humor can go with being a good colleague.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Caught Some Peace

I caught some peace at beautiful Knox Farm today in East Aurora, NY.

Love this bird house at the farm...

Love this tree too...

Watch out for those tree hugging sociologists!

Wine Drinking + Card Playing = Fun

Friday nights aren't usually exciting in my family's life. We are all tired after a week of school and work. The hustle of making it through the week leaves us exhausted. Last night we broke format. Instead of pizza night followed by an early bedtime, we went to a friend's house to hang out with a few couples. Our kids ran around in their basement and let the grownups have fun. We drank wine and played cards and had some laughs. It was a nice way to wrap up the week. We didn't bring a fancy bottle of wine. We brought this over-sized bottle of wine. A semi-sweet wine from a nearby winery. I am convinced of wine's restorative properties. Not to mention the importance of laughing. Drink wine. Laugh. Support a New York State winery. All good.

Friday, November 7, 2014

America is a Circus

There is something going on with a man and a snake. I've seen bits on the news. I have read a few sentences about it. I don't know exactly what's happening but I have glimpsed the future of society and it looks more ridiculous than the present.

And there is Alex from Target. Read here if you please. Similar to man with snake, I'm not totally certain what's up or not up but I do know this is a society meant for a guy with snakes and a boy from Target.

The young fella from Target seems nice enough.

I try to keep my head down and work and help support my family. But I am losing to America.

As a sociologist it's my job to keep my eyes on society. But it pains me to look.

I truly try to enjoy the circus that is American society. Some days though.....

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Something That Makes Me Happy as a Professor

There are many things I like about my job as a college professor. But today I just want to mention one. Papers were due in my Introduction to Sociology course today. Some of the students were hyping their papers and that made me happy. One student promised "This paper will change your life" and another student warned "You better be sitting down when you read this paper." Another student said her paper will make me cry. I love that these students showed enthusiasm about the paper. I love that students felt so confident about their work that they guaranteed high quality. In my career, I can't recall many instances of students hyping their work so I guess I found it refreshing. I praised the students for raising the bar and told them I'm excited to read their papers. Just a nice thought from the day that I wanted to share and remember.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Joe Maddon - Use Everything at Your Disposal

Joe Maddon is interesting to listen to in this press conference. Now the manager of the Chicago Cubs, Maddon talks about using analytics while maintaining a human touch. "You have to be able to utilize all that's at your disposal...It's not just necessarily about a number. But the numbers are really good. And they really point you in the right direction. But then again there's human beings involved too...I think you need to balance it between a human being and the number." I like his very reasonable approach: using information to make decisions without losing sight of people.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Good Idea (Maybe) But the Execution Wasn't There

I tried something new in Introduction to Sociology yesterday. I used as an example of how we don't reveal everything about ourselves to the people in our networks. I had already taught the basics about Erving Goffman's Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. I like the idea that social interaction is an "information game" in the sense that we strategically reveal some details but conceal others. We keep secrets from friends and family and there are things we avoid talking about.

In the class when I introduced Goffman, I emphasized the point that surely we don't tell people we know everything. But that doesn't mean we have to keep all our secrets. I find it fascinating that people use as an outlet to share their secrets. It's an anonymous way to circulate a secret. Maybe it makes you feel better to unload your secret. Maybe you were itching to tell someone but couldn't trust anyone to keep your secret. So as a follow up to the class about Goffman, I showed a documentary about and then had a brief discussion with students when it ended. The documentary at times feels like an advertisement for the site. But I like hearing people associated with the site give their perspective about secrets and I like the examples of secrets that are shown throughout the video. And I like how the video includes footage of college students going to live Postsecret events on campus (there are students who take to a microphone to share a secret in public).

But I didn't execute the discussion as successfully as I hoped. I counted on students having spontaneous reactions to the video. I figured they would offer insightful comments and that I could mostly play the role of moderator. But they were quiet (perhaps a Monday effect) and the few questions I did have planned didn't really spark an enthusiastic discussion. It was a reminder that I can never have enough discussion questions in store. When a class goes quiet, it's best to have plenty of questions ready or get them involved in a short writing exercise. Maybe I should have gone to the index cards to have them respond to the video. Well, a lot of teaching is trial and error. If I try this topic again, I need to be more creative in building a discussion around the video, and need to be better prepared if the topic is one that leaves them on the quiet side.

It's Really Just a Day

It's really just a day of grading exams

doing laundry

chicken in the crockpot (let's hope the allspice works out)

mowing the lawn

talking on the phone

thinking about classes / preparing classes / thinking about teaching

lots of e-mails too

and I'd sure like to get those "free" U2 songs off my phone but I can't find my login information anywhere


I don't know if this is a poem or a blog post. I wanted a way to say it's really just a day.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Throw Like a Girl

Excellent 16 minute documentary about Mo'ne Davis. Directed by Spike Lee. Enjoy.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Thought for the Day from Eddie Vedder

I frequently listen to the Pearl Jam station on Sirius. I especially enjoy the concert footage that plays on the station. I've never seen Pearl Jam live so it's only through listening to the radio that I came to appreciate Vedder's interaction with the audience. In between songs he says things that surprise me. I like how he meanders and ponders. The music surprises me too. On the way to work today I caught the end of "Waiting on a Friend." I had no idea they covered the Stones in concert. Goodness.

So what's the thought for the day? During a show in Vienna that took place on June 25, 2014, Vedder said: "Don't jump ship. Don't become the man overboard. They might not find you." And what did he mean? Well, it's open to interpretation and frankly I haven't arrived at my personal interpretation yet. But the words struck me and that's why I share them here as thought for the day.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Teaching Karl Marx in Introduction to Sociology

Tomorrow I'm teaching Karl Marx in Introduction to Sociology. This is a rough outline of my plan.

I'll probably begin class by showing "Wings" by Macklemore and have them analyze the video. Then I can explain the concept of commodity fetishism. This is an exercise by Patricia Louie that's available at The Sociological Cinema site. I will also share Peter Kaufman's explanation of commodity fetishism that he wrote in his blog post "You Might be a Marxist" at Everyday Sociology Blog.

Then I'll mention that Pope Francis is a critic of capitalism. A quote from the Pope in this article that stands out is: "It is not a problem of Italy and Europe...It is the consequence of a world choice, of an economic system that brings about this tragedy, an economic system that has at its centre an idol which is called money."

I also plan to show and discuss a three minute video ("Karl Marxio Brothers") posted at Critical-Theory for it's themes of alienation and exploitation.

Another video I plan to show and discuss is a six minute video about cocoa farmers who taste chocolate for the first time. This is another exercise from The Sociological Cinema, available here from Lester Andrist.

I'll finish by talking about what happened at Rana Plaza in Bangladesh to emphasize the importance of working conditions and to show what can happen when people work in hazardous places. The article mentions safety upgrades, labor laws, and workers' rights--these are things I want students to consider.

I think these examples will demonstrate that Marx's ideas remain relevant and significant in the world today.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

My Week in Words and Images

The week started with football. I went to a Buffalo Bills game with my brother and cousins. The game was boring but it was worth it to spend time with family and enjoy a day in the sun. Watching people was more fun than watching football, which is unsurprising for a sociologist to say. For me it's fun to see what people are wearing. I have no idea what this jersey means, but it caught my attention. I feel bad about cropping the picture so as to cut off this person's head, but I don't want to show his face.

I am endlessly amused by people who wear Zubaz. These silly pants have been around for a long time and I love that people wear them. There may come a time when I invest in a pair.

Although the game was mostly uneventful, it was fun to be part of a crowd and enjoy the celebration when the Bills scored. Each time the Bills score, fans enjoy what is known as the "Shout song." I recorded this one at the game:

In all, it was a pleasant day, even though the Bills lost.

Skipping ahead to Tuesday, I enjoyed a great day with my 3-year-old son Mack. I already blogged about it so click here if you want to read about our nice day together.

Something else that stood out from the week was a New York Times piece about Instagram influencers. That's right, there is such a thing as Instagram influencers and click here for proof. Articles like this make me feel like I live in some other society. After I read the article I wrote a few tweets that I still like a lot.

Moving ahead to Friday, it was picture day at Mack's daycare so he was looking pretty smooth. My wife posted a picture of him on her Facebook. Dozens of people liked the picture and commented.

This provided an opportunity for one of our friends to tease us by saying "This is proof that coolness skips a generation." If I were on Facebook I would've liked his comment or busted his chops in return.

Now it's Saturday morning and I have already completed a trip to the grocery store. I noticed pumpkin spice cream cheese which strikes me entirely as TRYING TOO HARD.

Well it's only Saturday morning so we have plenty of weekend to go. I shall share additional musings should anything semi-interesting occur.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Home Run

Woke up around 5:30 this morning, graded some exams, then made lunch for my 6-year-old before he went to school. On most Tuesdays my 3-year-old son Mack spends the day with my in-laws, giving me a bunch of hours to grade, prepare classes, go to the grocery store, do laundry, exercise. My normal. But I'm with Mack today and it happens to be 70+ degrees so we went to the park to play. It felt like the rest of the world was at work until a group of kids from a nearby preschool took over the playground. Mack and I found some quiet at the baseball field. Sometimes life gives you a home run and you don't even have to do anything to earn it. Mack made friends with an older kid who pushed him on a swing for a while. Then we took off to eat hot dogs at a nice little place near the playground. Now the little bird is taking a nap so it's time to get back to grading.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Enjoying Life as a Soccer Parent

I truly enjoy my life as a soccer parent. I never played soccer as a kid. Back in the day in Niagara Falls, we played baseball, street hockey, basketball and football. Soccer wasn't popular in my peer group. I still don't understand all the rules of the game. But it is a beautiful sport to watch.

My 6-year-old son played baseball this summer. He had fun with his teammates and was proud when he made good plays, but the games dragged on for hours and he would get tired and frustrated. Some of the other kids seemed to love being at the ballpark. There were times my son seemed to merely be tolerating it. I take no joy in watching my son be joyless.

Soccer appears to be a different story. By all indications he seems to love playing soccer. He loves practicing and playing. And that makes it fun for me. Watching Troy play soccer on Saturdays has become the highlight of my weekends. Watching him having fun and loving life is a wonderful feeling.

Here is a picture of my kids at the soccer park together:

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Absurd Thoughts for the Day

1.) Is there any research to explain how a Christopher Cross song gets into your head?

2.) If someone invites me to a Tupperware party, I think I will attend.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Morning Television in America

I sat in front of a television this morning waiting for work to be completed on my car. LIVE with Kelly and Michael was on the telly. I think that's the name of the show. No doubt I'm familiar with Kelly Ripa and Michael Strahan. But I've never taken interest in the show; nor was I a fan when Regis Philbin was co-host. Happy talk is not my thing. Kelly and Michael seem to have decent chemistry. They served up an okay interview with Ted Danson and plugged a cookbook from Martina McBride. On the one hand, it was a welcome departure from cable news. I've written before about Fox News being a common sight on TVs around town. It might be the case that anything is better than Fox News. But really, morning television in America is awful. Honestly, I have no idea about how to make it better. So call me a complainer without a cause.

The End.

Monday, September 29, 2014

What's Your Favorite Store?

I have said in a previous blog post that kids ask the best questions. Today my 6-year-old tossed a good one at me. He asked "What's your favorite store in the whole world?" I was stumped. My first thought was that I don't have a favorite store. That got me thinking about how I don't really like to shop and buy stuff. Not very often anyway. I consume, that's for sure, but I don't get a great deal of pleasure from going into stores and purchasing things.

A few years ago, I might have said that my favorite store was a used bookstore in a neighborhood where we used to live. But the bookstore closed. In that same neighborhood there's a cool store that sells used CDs and I liked that store a lot too. But it being 2014 and everything I tend to obtain music in other ways.

So I guess it comes down to any establishment where I can get food. I think my favorite store is an old school bakery in Niagara Falls, NY called DiCamillo. There are several locations but I especially like the ones on Pine Avenue and Niagara Falls Boulevard. They have great donuts and good coffee. You know what they say: happiness is a donut and a good cup of coffee.

Now that I've thought this through, I'll tell Troy about my answer when I pick him up from school.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Sleep Deprivation Episode #8,452

My 3-year-old woke up this morning around 4:00 hollering about who knows what and everybody went back to bed but I couldn't get back to sleep. So I hit the couch and watched an episode of Beat Bobby Flay in which the "star ingredient" was beets. That led to puns about Beeting Bobby Flay and that was all well and good except I still couldn't sleep and before long my beautiful 3-year-old was up again hollering about something else. We all got to where we needed to go this morning and now I'm slugging coffee so I can function in the classroom soon.

This morning I almost tweeted "I haven't had a good night of sleep since 1987" except that's not really true but I like the sound of it so I devote this sentence to it. I've been a parent for almost seven years and there have been many nights of deprived sleep. Plus life before kids which included a ton of sleepless nights, especially in the grad school days. But that is a-okay.

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

One of Those Days

What a terrible day. It started when I went to the bookstore. The guy wouldn't sell me the Bukowski book. Or the Kerouac book. He said they weren't for sale. Jerk. So I said “The least you could do is carry my book. Why won't you carry my book? I live in this neighborhood, people might like to read it.” 
Then I went to the Marina convinced I could get happy. I got close, could almost feel content, but some kid ruined it for me. He was trying to climb a tree in front of me. He would climb a bit, stumble, climb some more, slip, try again, fall, but I gotta admit, the kid was persistent. He kept trying to climb it. I liked his effort, but boy he was annoying, and he was in my space. I don't like it when people are in my space. An hour went by and this kid was still trying to climb that damn tree.  Finally I yelled at him: “Give it up kid. Give it up! You've got no chance.” 
He climbed to the top of the tree, grinned, looked down at me, and smiled.  That kid should be thankful he met me.


Author's note: This is a work of fiction.

Morning Love

Holding hands this morning with my son in a grocery store parking lot. I like taking pictures of shadows.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Quote of the Day (Courtesy of My Colleague)

"Nice to see you," I said to a colleague I always like to see.

"'It's nice to be seen,' as I like to say" he replied.

The End

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

In an Unsurprising Development, Fantasy Football and Algorithms Have Joined Forces

In an unsurprising development, fantasy football and algorithms have joined forces.

The current NFL season is the first time I'm in a fantasy football league. I've always been hesitant to join because I didn't want another thing to check. I'm already a frequent checker. I check Twitter, e-mail, my blog readership, my phone, etc. But I figured "Hey why not try something new and it might even be fun." It's been fun so far. I'm not in a league filled with guys talking about their players. I mention that because the author says something to that effect in the opening of the article to which I linked. My league is a mix of men and women competing against each other with very little trash-talking so far.

The author is excited about the computer generated content made available by Yahoo Sports because it's a convenient source of information; some of it is even humorous. The author notes there's way more content than would be possible by relying on "human writers."

As for me, I still prefer human writers.

But I reserve the right to change my mind. Perhaps the day will come when I replace myself with a machine to generate content for this blog.

Monday, September 22, 2014

I Wasn't Great in the Classroom Today

I wasn't great in the classroom today. I had three classes. I feel like I was 0 for 3. There are so many factors at play that it's hard to determine why class sessions don't go exactly like we hope. In this case it seemed like we all had a case of the Mondays (possibly civilization's all-time worst cliché but perhaps something to it). Today was a cold and dreary Monday and I didn't feel much energy in the room with any of my classes. Having not slept great last night, I also didn't have max energy. I worked hard to cover the material and there were occasional good moments, but overall classes felt flat to me and I'm thinking it felt that way to my students too. I was happy with my preparation but my execution wasn't solid. It's lousy to come away from a day of classes feeling like I struck out three times. But I try to have a short memory about days like this. I try not to over think what happened and look forward to better classes next time.


If you pay attention, you'll notice that people frequently take positions that are untenable. I do it too.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

A Way to Communicate Dislike (Hatred?) for Politicians

Drove behind this vehicle today. Always struck by automobile decals that demonstrate intense dislike for politicians. Meanwhile, the person indicates affiliation with a local sports team. It's like, "piss on these politicians but I do like this hockey team." I wonder if the person feels this way about all Democrats, or just these two Democrats in particular.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Video of the Week: Black Flag "TV Party"

As a well-known sociologist (lie) with 17,504 Twitter followers (lie) and nearly 600,000 page views on this blog (lie) I am frequently asked (lie) by national media outlets to share my favorite video of the week (lie).

Lies aside, I heard "TV Party" by Black Flag on radio a few times this week and it led me to find the video. Henry Rollins and band mates yelling out TV show names from the 80s ("Hill Street Blues," "Dallas" cracks me up). The song also serves as criticism about watching TV ("Why go into the outside world at all?" ... "I don't even bother to use my brain any more").

As a fun song with media criticism, this is definitely my favorite video of the week.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Yik Yak

One of the great parts of my job is I get to learn something new on a regular basis. Today I learned about Yik Yak, and I am grateful to my students for bringing me into 2014. We were discussing an article about social media ("The Anti-Social Network") and talked about Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. A few students talked about Yik Yak and how it differs from the other sites.

In reading a little bit about Yik Yak I found this article that talks about the rise of anonymous postings. Very interesting how sites and apps come and go. Wonder if Yik Yak will be a household name soon.

Here's an article at Inside Higher Ed about Yik Yak ("Don't Ban Yik Yak") that makes good points. The comments are worth reading too.

Here's yet another article at Inside Higher Ed about Yik Yak ("Yik Yak Rhetorics"). The author notes: "College students are hardly the only people thinking the uncomfortable or the offensive. All around us uncomfortable thought exists. Eighteen- and nineteen-year-olds are not the only people who make private thought public on a whim. We all do. My Facebook feed is proof. The majority of my Facebook friends are, after all, academics. They seldom hold back on their thoughts."

At The Society Pages, Britney Summit-Gil shares her thoughts about Yik Yak. She writes:
"Yik Yak also complicates notions of private and public. My identity is private, but my innermost thoughts are public. I can complain about the people closest to me without hurting their feelings or experiencing their wrath." Another excerpt: "There must be something satisfying about Yik Yak since users keep coming back. Maybe it’s the validation of being upvoted for something funny or relatable, maybe the whimsical nature of the app itself, or maybe the hope of making a personal connection with an apparent stranger. Probably all three."

Like it, love it, or hate it, Yik Yak is surely giving folks something to talk about.

I've Been Married 10 Years. I Have Thoughts.

Today is my 10th anniversary. I have an observation to share...

You see it all around you. Good lovin' gone bad. And usually it's too late when you realize what you had.

Wait a second those are 38 Special lyrics from "Hold On Loosely."

Driving around not too long ago with my wife, the song came on the radio and we rocked out to it for kicks and giggles. We talked about how we both used to think the song lyrics were "Hold on Lucy" for the longest time. So we laughed and continued rocking on. I guess the point is that fun is an important part of marriage. So there's my simple thought for the day.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Fade-Outs in Popular Music

Hat tip to Dave Purcell (@davepurcell) for sharing an interesting article on Twitter this morning about fade-outs in popular music.

After reading it, one of my favorite all-time fade-outs came to mind:

And then more Police tunes came to mind so really this post is just an excuse to show Stewart Copeland playing the drums and taking over this song:

 Happy Monday everyone!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Worst Poem Ever

not a tastemaker
not a donut maker
but i can slam dunk a donut in coffee better than a LA Laker.

-T. Schoepflin 9/9/2014

Monday, September 8, 2014

Hard/Skilled/Dangerous Work

Standing outside this morning with my son waiting for the school bus to arrive, I watched a group of workers begin a roof job across the street. Whenever I see people work on a roof I'm struck by the degree of difficulty in doing this job and how dangerous it must be. When I think of jobs I'm afraid to do and for which I don't possess the required skills, roofing is near the top of the list.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Shiny Happy Cookies

Once in a while Big Supermarket should give these away, the people would be happy and they'd have a good day.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Roasted Broccoli (Don't Call it a Comeback)

I was watching an episode of Beat Bobby Flay recently when Flay (who I like watching) challenged two chefs to use broccoli as the star ingredient. During the contest he said something about broccoli being ready to make a comeback. For those of us who aren't true foodies, broccoli never went away in the first place. Broccoli is relatively affordable and an easy vegetable to prepare (or heck, just to eat as is). I usually steam it and the result isn't always flavorful. So while the great chefs around the world wait for broccoli to become fashionable, I'll just continue to enjoy it as a staple. Tonight I tossed it up in olive oil, salt, pepper, and chopped garlic and put it in the oven. Wish this was in my cooking repertoire sooner, because yum.

I had it in the oven a few minutes more than necessary, so I almost burned it. Notice it doesn't look perfect but I wanted to show it in all its imperfection. Check out this short post I wrote that is meant as commentary about how we present ourselves as eaters via social media.

Yes I just blogged about broccoli. The topic doesn't move the needle and they might take my Sociology card away. But hey, I consider myself a sociologist of everyday life and to me that includes documenting mundane moments. By the way, the broccoli was a side for our dinner tonight. The rest of the meal was breaded chicken and rice. It's food my kids will actually eat and the meal only takes thirty minutes to prepare. I'm guessing pretty standard fare for families who aren't super talented in the kitchen nor exceptionally imaginative about ingredients, spices, or methods of preparation. Also budget friendly.

3 Unrelated Thoughts

1. Mostly low-wage workers in a low-wage society working on Labor Day, right?

2. I don't think the good people of Buffalo can handle another losing season by the Bills.

3. Refreshed from vacation, cable news talkers will be ready to start blabbing about 2016 presidential election.

September Brings Promise and Possibilities

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Food Trucks and Classic Rock

I'm thinking of things that make people happy. Food trucks have to be on the list. This is Buffalo's favorite food truck.

I have a five-word review of their food: Lives up to the hype. I enjoyed some food from Lloyd earlier today. I was at a fun event that had food trucks and a cover band. The first song they played was "White Room" by Cream, which pleased my inner classic rock soul. They also played a Bad Company tune. Bad Company doesn't usually make it into a cover band's rotation. Being raised on classic rock, I never turn away from a Bad Company song. Don't judge me.

I'm grumpy 74%* of life but give me good grub from a truck and classic rock and I'm good.

*Very rough estimate. Family, baseball, and sociology are some other things that make me happy.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Summer Stats

76 playground trips

41 ice cream cones

19 barbecues

4 date nights (all with my wife)

1 vacation

12 lawns a mowing

7 cobs of corn

32 awkward interactions

88 beers (not all at once and not when driving)

2 courses taught

1 book revised

1 county fair

120 daydreams

19 catnaps

plus many good nights of sleep

a summer that was mighty good enough for me.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Competent Dad, Almost

When Mom's away, Dad's in charge. He has everything under control except.....punchline!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Nine Busy Days

Well, that was exhausting.

I just completed a summer course that lasted nine days. I taught Introduction to Sociology. We met nine days from 8:30-12:30. Like any introductory course, you can't cover everything that ever happened in the discipline, and that isn't my goal in teaching SOC 101 anyway. After all, it's called Introduction to Sociology. A long time ago I settled on the primary goal of getting students to think sociologically. I don't try to cover the entire history of the discipline when I teach intro. I suppose I would try if the course were called Comprehensive History of Sociology. Luckily it's not. I emphasize the sociological perspective when I teach an intro course. So whether it's for nine days in summer or four months in a regular semester, I cover as many topics and ingredients as I can, but I don't stress out about not covering everything. So there's theory, empirical research, some history of the discipline, film clips that illustrate sociological ideas and current events that bring the sociological perspective to the surface. It's hard to cover so much sociology so fast but I like the idea of being immersed in sociology for nine days. A downside is that students didn't have much time to digest the material as they learned it, but I liked that students were able to concentrate on one subject for nearly two weeks (in addition to nine classroom days, students spent one day on campus catching up on required work for the course for a total of 40 hours for the course).

The 8:30 start time presented an interesting challenge. I needed at least an hour before class began each day to organize my thoughts and review the material I planned to cover. I found myself leaving my house earlier each day as the course progressed. The eighth day provided an unexpected adventure. I left my house at 6:00. Ten minutes later I was cruising on the highway when suddenly I heard the sound of my tire popping. I still had about thirty miles remaining in my commute. I convinced myself I was just losing air--that maybe my tire wasn't entirely flat and I'd make it to work okay. When I got close to work I stopped at a gas station hoping I could just inflate my tire. But the tire was shot, so I finished off the ride to work (not the smartest thing to do) and called for service. By now it was 7:00 and I had to finish writing an exam, print copies, and review material for the day. I did what work I could until a nice guy from a towing company arrived in the parking lot. He quickly put on my spare tire and now it was 7:45. I finished my prep work and made it to class on time in a composed enough state of mind. This was the one day of the course when I had made plans to do something after class. On the other days I would go back to my office and do some work to get ahead for the next day. And there was also grading to do. On this day I had plans to meet a friend at a baseball game in Buffalo that started at 1:05. So I drove slowly to Buffalo and enjoyed an afternoon taking in a baseball game with a friend on a beautiful sunny day. When the game ended I stopped at a tire repair shop to have my tire patched. They tried to save it but couldn't, so I had to pay $100 for a new tire. It's the kind of unexpected expense I can afford without worry, a reminder of my very comfortable social class position and that I'm fortunate to be able to pay for things that fall outside our family budget. I then met my family at a nice little weekly event in town where vendors sell fruits, vegetables, and other goods. They call it a "Farmer's Market" but that's a stretch considering there's a guy who sells doughnuts, a woman who sells cupcakes, a food truck with hot dogs and fried dough, and a pizza stand. There are some folks from nearby farms that do in fact sell fruits and vegetables, but really it's just a pleasant gathering that offers an opportunity to buy blueberries and eat a doughnut on a Thursday afternoon. Afterwards I graded exams at home and did some prep work for the ninth and final day.

I wanted students to enjoy the last day and finish on a strong sociological note. I did an activity that I found in a collection called Sociology Through Active Learning Exercises. This involved having students indicate the characteristics they believe are most essential for leadership in an organization. Some of the traits that students could select were strong, aggressive, loving, nurturing, caring, confident, relationship-oriented, rule oriented. There were a several more choices. I added the word nice to the list of characteristics because I wondered if that was an attribute that students associated with good leadership. We did a basic analysis of responses and talked about our conceptions of leadership and whether we define leadership in ways that favor men more than women. So it was a productive exercise about gender and leadership and how our notions of a "good leader" can exclude women from leadership opportunities. Most students did not select nice as an essential leadership characteristic. So that gave us a chance to talk about the possibility of nice people--men and women--being overlooked as candidates for leadership positions.

We also did an exercise about social change. We had a nice classroom with three whiteboards. On one board I wrote "I think America is a pretty great country but there are some problems that need to be addressed." On another board I wrote "There are major problems in American society that require significant change. Until progress is made, America cannot be considered great." The third board said "I think American society is good enough. Leave it alone." I told students to stand in front of the board with the statement that most closely resembled their opinion. Six students went to the board that said there are major problems that require significant change. Seventeen students went in front of the board that said America is pretty great but problems need to be addressed. I was encouraged when no students stood in front of the board about leaving America alone. Hey, you never know, I thought there might be a few students satisfied with the status quo. I was heartened that all students acknowledged the basic sociological premise that flaws exist in society and we should do something to tackle social problems. So this led to a discussion about some of the actions we can take to address social problems. I was pleased when a student mentioned protesting as a way to enact change because it gave me the opportunity to say we are stronger collectively than we are as individuals.

I liked how the course ended and happily there is a bit of summer left. In May, I was dreaming of giant contact lenses and thinking about what I needed to accomplish this summer. Now that I have completed two summer courses, I can enjoy more time with my family and continue plugging away at changes to my Sociology in Stories book that are due to the publisher in October. So on I go.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Sunday Evening Stroll in Buffalo


I love a lazy Sunday and this is one of them. Went for a walk in a park with my family. Then we went to a diner. I love diners almost as much as I love Sundays. I had breakfast even though it was lunchtime. Having breakfast for lunch at a diner on a Sunday is a great day. Plus there were a bunch of stacked tires in the diner parking lot which made for a cool picture. I'm tired and happy on this lazy Sunday.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Puffs on Plate

"Where Data is King and Jargon is Queen"

I don't want to lose track of the phrase "where data is king and jargon is queen," which appears on page 213 of This Is Not a Test by José Luis Vilson. I love that phrase. There are valuable uses for data and some amount of jargon and buzzwords is inevitable, but we need to remain critical and creative thinkers so that we don't automatically accept any new idea that comes along packaged in data and trendy language.

Throughout the book, Vilson emphasizes the importance of building relationships with students. We can introduce all the technology, accountability measures and evaluation systems we want, but what remains paramount in education is that we treat students as people, teach them with respect, and strive always to connect with them in ways that enhance the teaching and learning process.

I have a healthy respect for data but I am not a "datamaniac" (a term Vilson uses on page 184 that I like). Of course we can use data to help us understand how we can improve all parts of the teaching and learning process. But we need to be cautious about assigning magical powers to data. Data are not the be all end all.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Enormous Vehicle, Skinny Popcorn

On my way to the grocery store today, I drove behind a Hummer.

I don't see a lot of Hummers on the road these days. Which makes sense because of the price of gas. Also, it looks as though people prefer large automobiles rather than gigantic ones.

While doing my shopping I noticed a new product. I buy a lot of popcorn and this is the first time I've seen this brand.

I am inspired to develop a popcorn product called "Middle-Aged Guy With Expanding Waistline." Naturally, I will lend my own image for marketing purposes.

Look for a focus group in 2015. There will be beer and popcorn.