Dan's Thoughts

FOCUS

I watched an interesting documentary on YouTube the other day.  No, it had nothing to do with white guy contortionists, or cats, or auto accidents at a Chinese intersection.  It was about the spine-tingling excitement that is education in our modern society.  The narrator – who had a British accent so clearly he knew what he was talking about – explained that the overriding issue in education these days is getting kids to focus.  ADHD has overtaken skinned knees as the most prevalent childhood malady and the entire educational system, plus half the pharmacological companies in the world, are devoted to forcing children to tune out all external noise and remain laser focused on multiplication tables or the literary rantings of a guy who’s been dead for 185 years.

The documentarian’s point – and remember, he’s British so he knows – was: how in God’s name can kids stay focused when the onslaught of technology has children bathing in stimuli 24 hours a day?  And it’s tough to argue with him.

When I was a kid, I had a TV in my room. Occasionally, I’d do something shocking, like curse out a neighbor or rant for 15 minutes about how much I hated my mom’s oatmeal (can’t imagine me doing that, can ya?) and, in response, my parents would confiscate my TV.  With nothing else to do but stare at the wall or flip through an Encyclopedia Britannica, studying didn’t seem like such a terrible idea.  It was easy to focus back then because what the hell else was going on?  Some neighborhood kids were playing “over the line”? A bird was chirping?  Whoop de doo.

Recently, my chip off the old block daughter told my wife to “shut her pie hole”.  I guess letting her read some of these blog posts wasn’t the best idea.  In any event, my wife rips the TV out of my kid’s room as punishment.  Seems reasonable, right, since she’s lost a privilege that will leave her bored enough to contemplate what she’s done?  Uh, not exactly. My daughter proceeded to spend the next seven hours playing Plants v. Zombies on the Ipad, right before she downloaded three hundred hours of I-Carly to her Ipod in between checking out internet sites bashing Justin Bieber on her I-Touch.

And we expect kids not to have ADHD?  They can barely fall out of bed without being drowned in a multi-media tsunami.  If you’re not hyperactive in the world that Steve Jobs created, you’re probably missing a chromosome.  Forget about focus, forget about concentration, drop your kid off at an Apple store for a weekend and they’ll have cancer cured before school starts on Monday.  Even the prospect of failing out of school doesn’t scare our kids anymore so why focus on doing anything academic?  Beating the Japanese in the dangling participle section of standardized tests doesn’t mean squat to these kids.  Hell, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs both dropped out of college.  Those two couldn’t even concentrate on picking up girls at a fraternity party and it didn’t seem to hurt their employment opportunities much.

We need to figure out ways for kids to survive in this world without being constrained by the lessons we learned in the ’70’s.  Forget about the old focus on focus – it’s almost as irrelevant as everything you and your 40yo friends do every day.  Let your kids run.  Let ‘em play.  Don’t worry if they haven’t read the blackboard since kindergarten.

Maybe their creative juices will be roiled enough that, one day, they’ll come up with the 22nd century’s version of Facebook.  Then, they can focus on their investment decisions and you can sit around the most palatial nursing home focusing on the instructions for your colostomy bag.  Hopefully, there won’t be anybody British around to explain why you’re doing it wrong.

Google Analytics

Some people get a kick from cocaine. Others can’t pull themselves away from crystal meth. Personally, I’ve been addicted to Google Analytics. If you don’t spend the majority of your time holed up in an office writing a blog that nobody reads, you might not know that Google Analytics is a free software tool that allows you to see how many people visit your website on a daily basis. It provides you with a barrage of metrics to tell you whether you’re clearly on your way to an IPO or if you’re clearly wasting your time.

For the first several months I spent blogging, I must admit that I had an unholy infatuation with Google Analytics. I would pull it up constantly, praying to God that my latest Facebook post had instantly propelled thousands of readers to visit my site, after which I’d be showered with Kim Kardashian money and regularly featured on various internet magazines to discuss “internet stuff”, like privacy, and the Huffington Post, and kiddie porn. Within minutes of a particularly brilliant Tweet, I’d run back to Analytics, certain that my latest 140-character punchline had attracted tens of thousands – no, HUNDREDS of thousands – of shut-ins who have nothing to do with their day other than read humorous parenting blogs and feast on the carcasses of neighborhood children that they’d just harpooned.

I couldn’t go eight hours without checking the progress of my site. More experienced bloggers begged me not to do it but those were the same guys who told me that all I had to do was write one blog each day and, within three months, I could quit my job and supermodels would be throwing themselves at my feet. After a year though, I was still employed and, worse, still married.

So, as I do with my children, I didn’t listen to any of those people. I sucked on that Google Analytics crack pipe like I was a redheaded Richard Pryor.  “Navigation paths”, “keyword effectiveness maximizer”, “entrance/exit summaries”, I had no idea what any of that garbage meant but I couldn’t get enough of it.

The problem, though, was not inhaling my statistics five times a day, it was what the statistics were telling me and, trust me, it wasn’t good.  Simply and ebonically put, wasn’t nobody showin’ up.  If you read one of my blogs, I gotta tell you, you were probably the only person who looked at the stupid blog that week. And honestly, Mom, I wish you would’ve told some of your book club friends what they’re missing.

Google Analytics spent an entire year advising me that, regardless of how hysterical I (and my mom) thought those blogs were, apparently, nobody else seemed to share that opinion. I opened up the Analytics site on occasion and the thing spit on me. For other people, the software displays charts and graphs; for me, it shows cobwebs. Really, people, what the hell is going on? The second month my site was live, my readership went down 5% from the previous month. I knew something was wrong there. I was right. The third month, my readership went down another 20%.

I talked to everybody I knew in the blogging world (which means I talked to one girl and one guy who haven’t left their living rooms since the early ‘90’s). They told me that I had to break the Analytics habit. “You can’t look at Analytics every day. You don’t weigh yourself every day when you’re on a diet,” they said. That made sense to me considering the fact that, as fat as I am, I’ve thrown away 15 or 20 scales that my wife tried to bring in the house. “You don’t measure the height of the grass before you cut it,” they also said. This, however, made no sense to me since I speak too much English to be a gardener.

In any event, I realized that they were right. It’s not my blog that’s the problem. It’s the stupid visitor counter that Google Analytics was pasting on my site. What the hell does Google know anyway? If they were so smart, they wouldn’t have gotten kicked out of China. The two computer dorks who started the company have been billionaires for years, what do they care if their stupid application is ruining my life? They’re probably sitting in some nerd circle with their fat nerd girlfriends and dumb nerd dogs trying to figure out how they can game the numbers to piss me off.

So I decided to quit – cold turkey. No more stats, no more monitoring my site. I didn’t look at Analytics for months and I was the better person for it. Sure, the numbers sunk so low that the software eventually turned itself off but, in the end, what’s it really matter how many people read that obnoxious crap? My wife still gets half my stuff, my kids would still choose their Wii over me and nobody at my new publisher will ever know that their new author had a readership in the single digits.

Wait, did Google Analytics say I had two readers yesterday, or three?

The Apple Store

THE APPLE STORE

So I’m off to China and Mexico this week on business. I will be gone for 8 days and spend 37 hours in the air during that time. There are three things I’d rather do than spend 37 hours in an airplane over a week: (1) get dragged naked through a field of broken glass; (2) dip my testicles into a bowl of piranha; or (3) go into anaphylactic shock.

In anticipation of the boredom, claustrophobia and inevitable clashes I’m going to have with crying babies and the guy who will slobber on my arm rest, I needed to find something to do on the plane other than battle the stewardess for the last can of Pringles. I could bring 7 books in a steamer trunk or give up a mortgage payment to purchase wifi while on the flight. Or I could take a deep breath and learn how the hell to use the Ipad 2 I bought six months ago. It’s been very helpful as a door stop to date but that’s probably not the highest and best use for the thingamajig.

I resolved to sit there with the indecipherable tablet as long as it took. I spent an afternoon pressing the one button on the Ipad over and over again, assuming eventually something had to happen. I got tired, though, and put it in storage. However, my wife retrieved it from the trash compactor while I retired to the den to play Pong. After I calmed down, I tried one more time to turn it on but the Satanic screen did nothing more than laugh and spit in my face. Who knew that Steve Jobs’s genius was so vast that he could give a mobile device salivary glands?

Failing to make any headway on my own, I decided to go to a Mac store near my office. I thought I’d run in there during lunch, grab a couple of accessories, pick up a few instruction manuals and be on my way. I thought I could do this in an hour. I also thought that I could write a sequel to War and Peace on my way back to the office and possibly build a third story onto my house before I went to bed.

The Mac store is located in a sleepy mall near the beach. The traffic is pretty slow, nothing more than a few old people shopping for bloomers at Macy’s and a bunch of surf rats looking for board shorts. Then, there’s the Apple Store. While crickets chirp in every other section of the mall, there is a continuous riot enveloping the Apple Store or Geekstock, as it should be known. By the frenzied crowd, you would think they’d found the Ark of the Covenant, or maybe free porn. Los Angeles was quieter in the three days after the Rodney King officers were acquitted.

The Mac-olytes had set up a velvet rope outside the store and the queue reached back to the empty Gap store at the other end of the mall. They were asking us to pull numbers and I had to beat my way past the scalpers to reach the machine. I walked to the back of the line where the Apple employees had thoughtfully provided coffee and donuts as well as a telescope for us to see the specials being advertised in the store window.

After about a half hour, I had moved 10 feet. People were walking out of the store crying tears of joy after securing an adapter or wireless keyboard or whatever else they were buying. As I dug into the third chapter of a novel I was reading, some woman with a broken MacBook walked up and offered to give me oral sex if she could have my place in line. Even the concept of a free orgasm was not enough for me to give up this hard-won space and I declined after considering the offer for a few minutes. You never want to be hasty.

Anyway, a person in front of me attempted to engage in a little conversation but, after he learned that I am typically a PC user with only the most fleeting familiarity with Mac products, he looked at me like I was a child molester and went back to reading his Wired magazine and eating a Snickers bar. I tried not to look anybody in the eye after that.

I finally made it to the store and was greeted by security guards who doubled as Secret Service agents on the weekend and wore earpieces that I assume communicated directly with NORAD. One of the sales reps took pity after he saw me wandering aimlessly in the aisles. I asked if Apple had any manuals to help me navigate through the Ipad and, when he recovered from his hysterical fit of laughter, he asked me if I knew how to get to Youtube. I carry a map in my car so I assumed I could figure it out later.

I will give him credit, though, he spent about 20 minutes with me, demonstrated how to turn the stupid thing on and then helped compile a list of all of the things I’d need for the trip.

Of course, none of them were available in the store but they could be ordered online and available in 4-6 weeks, about a month after I returned to the US.

I’m typing out this story on the plane. On my Dell laptop.

Blog Me A River – Top 10 Male Tearjerker’s of All time

Every once in a while, even an A**Hole Dad needs to get in touch with his feminine side and have a good cry.  No, this has nothing to do with the fact that I attended BlogHer 2011, a conference for women and men bloggers with apparently ambiguous tastes.  Anyway, here are the ten top movies to help those tear ducts start flowing:

 

#10. Jerry Maguire – We all need to forget every movie that Cuba Gooding, Jr., made after this seminal dude flick.   Honestly, if we had any clue that he was going to follow up this classic with Snow Dogs, The Radio, or Daddy Day Camp, they would not have had us at “hello”, “good bye” or “it’ll be $12 for that ticket.”  Still, we can’t deny this movie’s greatness even if Tom Cruise, the Grand Puba of Scientology and the most amazing set of teeth ever to be diagnosed as clinically insane, was the other star.  When Cuba’s Rod Tidwell finally gets his contract and, yes, they SHOW HIM THE MONEY!, we laughed, we cried, we hugged whoever was sitting in the next seat, whether or not we knew them.

As a postscript, when watching Jerry Maguire today, I can also occasionally feel a tear rolling down my cheek remembering Renee Zellwegger as a cute, fresh, pretty newcomer to the Hollywood scene rather than as the anorexic, greasy, facially misshaped, plastic surgery-addicted freak that she is now.

#9. Rocky I & II & Rocky Balboa – The Rocky series is not generally known as tear-jerking.  However, these three each had their moments.  When Rocky loses at the end of the first movie and still proclaims his love for Adrian, you can’t help but tear up for everybody’s favorite knee capper turned underdog turned Oscar winner.  In II, when Adrian wakes up from her coma and tells Rocky to “just win”, I jumped out of my seat, sprinted around the theater and made out with the usher.

In Rocky Balboa, after decades of worshiping the Italian Stallion, Apollo, Paulie and all other things Rocky, we cried when we finally realized (despite hoping against hope that he’d stop after Rocky III and IV and V) that Sylvester Stallone was just as narcissistic, self-aggrandizing and delirious as every other Hollywood piece of sh*t who runs their franchise into the garbage heap of history by producing four more sequels than there are decent scripts.  How sad when true talent gets obliterated by old age and decades of steroid use.

#8. Leaving Las Vegas – Nicolas Cage, the alky who drinks enough booze during this movie to kill a small farm animal, finally gets a chance to have sex with the smoking hot hooker who was the original Karate Kid’s girlfriend, Elisabeth Shue.  And while he’s inside her………………….he dies.  ‘Nuff said.

#7. Airport – C’mon, they can’t all be sad.   Airport stands alone as the single funniest movie of all time.  Before Airport, comedy flat out didn’t exist, unless you count the campfire farting scene from Blazing Saddles.  I can name 20 scenes from Airport off the top of my head that left me gasping for breath and my underwear sopping wet with urine.  I laughed until I cried and, at 12 years old, I only understood about 1/3 of the jokes.  But seriously, the old chick talking jive to the two brothers?  If you didn’t end up shedding a few at the movie, you certainly did months later when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences committed the greatest injustice in the history of movies by denying Leslie Nielsen an Oscar.  I’m still pissed.

#6. It’s A Wonderful Life – Can you believe there was a time before reality television?  Well, yes, it existed and, before cameras entered our real lives, television never made anybody cry.  Really, what’s sad about “The Brady Bunch” or “Cagney and Lacey”?  Being the enlightened renaissance man that I am, I always enjoyed a good cry so I’d wait for It’s A Wonderful Life during Christmas season so I could sputter and weep like a 3-year-old when the cash starts rolling in at the end.  Today, I still cry when I see the movie but only because somebody once stole a boatload of money from me and, since I had no friends, I had to pay it back out of my own pocket.  Feels a little different than the old days, I must say.

#5. The Crying Game – There are a lot of reasons to cry in a movie.  Before The Crying Game came out, though, I didn’t think one of them could be after you discover the blazing hot chick with the sexually casual attitude to match turns out to have a bigger dick than you do.

#4. The Champ – Look, we all hate Rick Schroeder.  He was the cutest child actor since Shirley Temple.  He continued getting movie and television roles even after he became an ugly albeit blond, blue-eyed adult.  And instead of letting his parents blow his money, the guy’s made $50M in real estate.  Trust me, I hate him more than you do because, when I was a kid, I had to go to clubs in Los Angeles and watch him and Todd Bridges hook up with every hot teenage girl in Southern California.  Nevertheless, he made The Champ before he became the most adored pre-pubescent since Donny Friggin’ Osmond.  So, when you’re bawling your eyes out as Angelina Jolie’s dad dies at the end, you don’t have to kick yourself, even if I still do.

#3. Mr. Holland’s Opus – It’s bad enough to know that, when we reach 50 and 60 and older, we’re going to be fat, ugly, wrinkled and know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that our lives have been wasted, useless and entirely unappreciated by everybody we’ve ever known.  We are further aware that our greatest dreams are going to be dashed like a Bangladeshi ferry on the rocks during a cyclone.  Finally, as dads, we intuitively understand that our kids will never fulfill our expectations and, very likely, will be unable to do so because of something that we screwed up.  But to have to watch it all happen on a screen in less than 120 minutes is too much for any human being to endure.

#2. Rudy – There are a lot of sad movies and a lot of sad scenes.  But, generally speaking, a movie has a sad part, and then 20 minutes where you can recover, then another sad part, then 20 minutes, and so on.  Rudy is like a goddamn conveyor belt of devastation.  Every time you think you can stop crying and let your spleen rest for a minute, you get smacked in the mouth with some new horrendous indignity for Rudy Ruettiger.  Too small to play HS football.  Smack.  Too dumb to get into college.  Wham.  Best friend dies.  Smash.  Too broke to rent a room.  Crush.  Doesn’t get into Notre Dame.  Pow.  Doesn’t get into Notre Dame. Pow.  Doesn’t get into Notre Dame.  Pow.  And on and on and on and on and on.

Enough! Enough! Enough!  Jesus Christ (no offense, Catholics) but how much snot can I blow out of my head before it collapses in on itself?

 

AND THE NO. 1 MALE TEAR JERKER MOVIE OF ALL TIME:

 

#1. Brian’s Song – If sad movies are the foothills, Brian’s Song is Mt. Fu*king Everest.  I heard half the production crew killed themselves after watching the dailies.  I could show this movie in a cemetery and 500 male corpses will start crying.  The amazing part about Brian’s Song is that it wasn’t even based on a book; it was based on a chapter of a book written by Gale Sayers.  Are you kidding me?  What’s the rest of the book about, Gale?  Tortured children in a leper colony who find themselves in the path of an asteroid that’s going to destroy the world?  When I finished watching Brian’s Song for the 80th time, I had spent my life savings on Kleenex and still sat in a pool of my own tears.  I wish somebody had told me that James Caan was going to spend the next 40 years sleeping with every Playboy Playmate who ever lived.  At least then I would have known that there was some hope left in the world.

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