Sunday, July 27, 2008

Which Student Is More Deserving?

On Saturday, the Washington Post ran an article on page B1 about a student who has been expelled from Thomas Jefferson High School for for Science and Technology. The reason, the Post breathlessly reported, was the student's 2.8 GPA.

The student, Matt, (I won't include his last name here) is the son of a Fairfax, VA, electrical engineer and an accountant. He and his family were reportedly "puzzled" in spite of the fact that Matt was placed in an intervention program last August for his mediocre grades and failed to pull them up. Of particular interest is that his science and math grades were a B and a C, respectively -- at a math/science magnets school. Furthermore, his GPA was lifted by his three dubious A's: in physical education, driver's ed, and photojournalism. Matt's local high school is likely the right place for a student of his academic caliber. And yet his parents have taken his case to the Washington Post.

Matt's situation stands in stark contrast to that of Cedric Jennings, also the subject of a feature in the Post on Saturday, page C1. Cedric was raised by a single mom, and his dad spent Cedric's childhood in jail on drug charges. In spite of incredible adversity, Cedric graduated from DC's embattled Ballou Senior High, went on to graduate from Brown University, and later earned two master's degrees. Cedric is now a social worker and is considering going for a PhD.

Cedric has made so much out of so little.

And Matt has made so little out of so much.

This Is What's Wrong With Business Communication Today

It's been a rough few weeks at work, with a major project taking over many of our lives. I don't even know how many dinners I ate at the office. Too many. But we should be out of the woods at this point, and I hope to avoid similar efforts in the future.

I do have one observation from this whole experience, related to poor business communication.

In a meeting earlier this week, one participant suddenly started handing out chocolate bars. In the disarray that followed as everyone reached for the candy, another guy stated, only partially tongue-in-cheek: "I didn't know you'd be implementing a food distribution program."

This would be otherwise known -- to normal people -- as "handing out snacks."

Friday, July 4, 2008

Where I'll be until July 14th

We'll be in Emerald Isle, NC, for a long overdue week of vacation. Happy Independence Day, and I'll see you when we get back!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Googling for Symptoms

Yeah, we've all done it. Pop your symptoms in the Google search bar and see what turns up. Typically I will mistakenly conclude that I have cancer. Then the symptoms will subside and I'll forget about it, long before a doctor gets involved.

But I have a message for the person who stumbled upon my blog today via the Google search "lower back, intestinal, and taint pain" -- that is one unfortunate combination. I'm so sorry. You should probably go to the doctor.

Incidentally, I don't know whether to laugh or cry that my post about an acquaintance's terrible inflammation is the first result under a Google search for "taint rash."

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Perils of the Search-Replace Function

I saw this post on Mary Ann Akers' "Behind the Scenes" blog on, and wanted to share it with my small cadre of faithful readers. It reminds me of a time a friend accepted an alternate proper name spelling suggested by spellcheck, causing her to send an email to dozens of high-level managers that referred to a colleague as Ms. Jerk. Only this one is much more appalling:

The American Family Association obviously didn't foresee the problems that might arise with its strict policy to always replace the word "gay" with "homosexual" on the Web site of its Christian news outlet, OneNewsNow. The group's automated system for changing the forbidden word wound up publishing a story about a world-class sprinter named "Tyson Homosexual" who qualified this week for the Beijing Olympics.

The problem: Tyson's real last name is Gay. Therefore, OneNewsNow's reliable software changed the Associated Press story about Tyson Gay's amazing Olympic qualifying trial to read this way:

Tyson Homosexual was a blur in blue, sprinting 100 meters faster than anyone ever has.

His time of 9.68 seconds at the U.S. Olympic trials Sunday doesn't count as a world record, because it was run with the help of a too-strong tailwind. Here's what does matter: Homosexual qualified for his first Summer Games team and served notice he's certainly someone to watch in Beijing.

"It means a lot to me," the 25-year-old Homosexual said. "I'm glad my body could do it, because now I know I have it in me."

More on Mary Ann's blog. Even more is available (including a play-by-play of the AFA's bumbling attempts to fix the problem) on the gay rights site that caught the mistake,

My final thought, now that I've stopped giggling, is this: the word gay has several uses. It is obviously a first and last name. It is a place name -- Gay Head, Massachusetts, comes to mind. It is the name of a historically significant WWII airplane, the Enola Gay. I'm sure there are plenty more. It boggles my mind that the the AFA site approved an automated process that wipes out a word from the english language, replacing it wholesale with a word that only sometimes works as a synonym.

You really just can't replace human reasoning with an automated process.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

When Your Herbal Medicine Tastes Like Ass

I mentioned in an earlier post that I was going to try an herbal treatment suggested by my acupuncturist. After discussing the treatment with her, I received my herbal "prescription" in the mail -- there were two types of herbs, one for the first half of my cycle and one for the second. Each daily dose came in a plastic vacuum package, which I warmed in a bowl of hot water before cutting into the pack and pouring it into a mug.

The first batch of herbs didn't taste great, but it was drinkable. There was a somewhat pleasant aftertaste that was slightly reminiscent of anise or licorice.

The second batch of herbs has been hateful. Just hateful. I can barely choke down each dose, and the aftertaste must be what sewer water tastes like. Actually, the most accurate way of describing it is to say it tastes old and gray and rotten.

Tonight is the first night I've finished the dosage, versus pouring some of it down the drain in disgust. I succeeded this time by trying not to smell the concoction, gulping it quickly down (it's about six gulps), and by eating a square of dark chocolate as a chaser. So that technique is my tip to you, should you find yourself drinking gray-tasting herbal medicine.

I'm not sure if this stuff will help. I do think it can't hurt. My acupuncturist also recommended a lot of seemingly random diet changes that don't have any basis in Western science. This is all part of "traditional Chinese medicine" (TCM). The thing is, the reason I believe in acupuncture is that there are Western studies that show the benefits. The other TCM stuff, including the diet, not so much. The studies I could find discounted it. And I can't say I'm surprised -- what diet that allows cooked spinach but bans raw spinach could possibly be based on science? So I have tried to improve my diet, but haven't really stuck to the TCM diet suggestions.

In the meantime, I continue to be happy to be off the Western fertility meds. I'm not sure I'll go back.