Behind the trigger

July 25, 2015

I fired a handgun for the first time today, at the local shooting range. Actually, I fired four handguns, as my husband and I want to get a feel for different sizes and types of guns before purchasing one.

I can’t say I’m excited about the idea. I support gun ownership in principle, but I have never desired to own a handgun. My husband thinks this is odd, since I am the one who had someone kick in the door to my apartment one night (back when I was single) and then proceed to rape me.

It’s true that I’ve thought many times, over the years since then, about what I would do if I again faced someone who was about to assault me, and I had a weapon available to defend myself. Or if I witnessed such an attack about to happen to someone else. Would I aim to wound? Or to kill? Or would I be too terrified to do anything?

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I won’t walk a mile in these shoes

May 9, 2014

In four years of having our son Zach attending college in Holland, Michigan, we had never done any of the sightseeing I had looked forward to when we first visited the campus. Since he graduated this past weekend, I figured I’d better take advantage of the chance to see at least a few of the sights.

We arrived just at the beginning of Tulip Time, so I set out with Al Saturday morning to see some tulips. Due to the cold spring weather, however, mostly we saw a lot of leaves (see Holland’s Tulip Tracker, 5/2 – 5/5). We also saw a few people in traditional Dutch costume, complete with wooden shoes. I couldn’t help wondering how anyone could walk any distance in those things.

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How smart is a smart key?

March 2, 2014

I had been thinking about getting a car with better gas mileage, ever since I started working 42 miles from home. But with the challenge of trying to balance fuel economy, safety, comfort (especially for my husband), and budget, I hadn’t gotten beyond figuring out that I probably couldn’t afford the sort of car we would have liked.

Last month, however, we were faced with the need to replace the car our older son had been driving. And I learned that I could afford a newer car than I had thought, because the interest rates are lower for newer cars. So, somewhat to my surprise, I am now driving a 2012 Nissan Altima.

And trying to get used to a car key that isn’t a key. Well, technically it is, because it gets me into the car and it enables me to drive it. But this “key” has no teeth and doesn’t go into a keyhole. It’s just a fob – a “smart key.”

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November 30, 2013

Working at a college doesn’t always mean getting an education myself (though I am seriously considered taking a class in German next year, since my 8th grade son says that’s the language he wants to study in high school). But now and then I do learn something new in the course of my work – quite aside from the constant process of learning how the software works that is the focus of my job.

With Thanksgiving approaching, a colleague forwarded an article about turkeys and Big Bird. I really had never thought either about what happens to a turkey’s feathers when it is slaughtered to become Thanksgiving dinner (or any other time of the year), or about where in the world those bright yellow feathers come from that make up Big Bird’s costume. But apparently the two are connected.

While Big Bird is not a turkey (according to Muppet Wiki, Oscar has claimed Big Bird is a turkey, Big Bird has claimed to be lark), his costume is made from turkey feathers. Approximately 4,000 of them – unless you want to take the Count’s word for it that there are over 5,961.

This article, written during the 2012 presidential campaign, when Mitt Romney said he wanted to cut funding for PBS, describes how feathers are prepared for Big Bird’s costumes. This introduces a whole new subject to learn about, which gets into the challenging topics of economics and politics. (I’m inclined to agree with this article.)

I doubt that any feathers from the turkey we ate on Thursday (and yesterday, and today, and probably tomorrow) will ever find their way to Sesame Street. Most poultry feathers are either used in low-grade animal feedstock or thrown out (incinerated or consigned to landfill). But scientists have been working on ways to recycle the feathers into useful products.

Thinking without the box

June 16, 2013

An article in the Wall Street Journal recommends that we “Think Inside the Box,” as the much touted technique of brainstorming “has become a byword for tedium and frustration.” I thought back to some training sessions where I have had to try to get people to engage in brainstorming, and wondered whether I had been engaged in something pointless.

The most recent was in a Junior Achievement program on entrepreneurship that I taught at a middle school this spring. One key characteristic of the entrepreneur is to be creative and innovative, and brainstorming would seem to be a way to generate new ideas, resisting the usual impulse to reject an off-the-wall idea without considering whether it might really work.

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The need to know

May 2, 2013

With my current job and longer commute, I have less time to spend looking for interesting articles on the web. But I have a supervisor who makes a habit of emailing us links to articles and websites related to education and the learning process. This one, from The New Yorker, is about the need to achieve “cognitive closure” – to replace uncertainty with answers.

It’s no surprise to learn that people naturally want firm answers to questions and dislike ambiguity. Or that people vary in their need for closure, and that for any given person it depends a great deal on their current circumstances.

Like anyone, I prefer answers to uncertainty where answers are available. But I also tend to be skeptical when the answers provided seem too full of certainty.

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Alone with words

March 7, 2013

Q: A genie has granted your wish to build your perfect space for reading and writing. What's it like?

A: My perfect space for reading and writing would be a one-room library, a small building (but not a small room) set between a beach on one side and a forest on the other. There would be a small kitchenette and a bathroom in the back of the building so I could spend the whole day there if I so chose.

The books in this library would be from all the usual categories that libraries keep, just not a lot of each kind. I could browse the shelves for a good novel to read, or a volume of poetry. The non-fiction section would have lots about science, history, religion and philosophy, not so much about sports, entertainment, or hobbies. Of course, the books would be all the best of their kind – no need to take up shelf space with poorly written books.

I'd be able to go outside when I got tired of reading or writing, or when I needed to walk and think (walking is a great way to get thoughts going), or just wanted to enjoy some time outdoors enjoying the sights and sounds of nature. But if it were bad weather outside, I could stay inside, sitting by the fireplace or looking out the window (there would need to be some on each side so I would have my choice of views).

There would be heating and air conditioning so I could be comfortable in the summer or winter, plus a fireplace just because that makes the place feel cozy, and windows that could be opened in nice weather to enjoy the fresh air.

I'd have a computer with a fast connection, so I could stay in touch (if I wanted to), so I could look up information on all sorts of subjects, and of course so I could write. (I find that ideas flow much better through a keyboard than a pencil or pen.)

While I think of this as mostly a place to read or write by myself, I would want there to be comfortable seating for at least two, so I could invite someone to join me. It would need to be far enough from towns and major roads that one would be left undisturbed, but not so far that it would be hard to get to.

One question remains, however. Would this genie who would grant my wish to build this place also be able to give me all the time I wanted to use it?

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