Pompeii

Even if I don’t actually drive anywhere, I like to sit in the front seat of my car and listen to the radio – mostly because the bass in my car stereo is awesome for a system that still has a cassette slot. When I first got the car, it had six months remaining of Sirius satellite radio subscription, and that was incredible.  Between Sirius and the CDs that I had, I didn’t listen to FM radio until January. Once I finally got around to listening to the radio, I discovered that UMBC is just outside of the listening area of my normal channels. So I made one of the best choices of my recent life and I started to listen to. Not only am I addicted to “Elliot in the Morning”, but I love the selection of music they play: Green Day, Foo Fighters, Pearl Jam, Cage the Elephant, Zeppelin, Linkin Park… seriously, people, do yourselves a favor and listen sometime.

Until now, I’ve kind of been ignoring radio music (except for 106.9 The Eagle, a classic rock station that plays the same six songs a hundred times a day) because most songs on “popular” stations make me lose my faith in humanity. But today, as I was driving to the public library, I found myself singing along and embarrassingly dancing to “Pompeii” by Bastille – a song that every radio station in the world has played once an hour since the start of the year and it’s still on the iTunes best-setting singles list. I flipped to a pop station – Key 103, the favorite station of tween One Direction fangirls all across Frederick County – and found the same exact song.

At first, I was mortified, because I never thought I’d be so in love with a song that plays on a station like Key 103. But as I went to go add it to my wish list on iTunes, I realized that I was being kind of ridiculous. So what if I like a song that plays on Key 103? If I automatically trash every song that plays on a station I don’t like, I’ll miss out on all kinds of good music.

I have lots of friends out there that are like me: music “elitists”, afraid to admit that popular music is popular because it’s good.  Not every song on the charts is worth its weight in musical gold but it’s also not fair to judge music by its fan base.  This goes back to my argument about country music. Don’t let your preconceived notions of a type of music keep you from listening to it. Music has the power to manipulate emotion in ways we can’t really explain – I don’t understand more than five words in “Pompeii” but its energy has the power to pick me up on a bad afternoon. That’s what music is, to me: a way of expressing emotion. People just interpret it differently. Katy Perry, the devil woman of the music, makes my ears bleed while millions of people find her music “empowering”. Meanwhile, many of my friends won’t listen to LMFAO because they find their music tacky and annoying while it makes me smile (wiggle wiggle wiggle wiggle wiggle yeah, ladies and gentlemen).

Music is something too powerful and too important to judge based on your friends’ opinions. Listen to a new radio station every once in a while. Maybe you’ll stumble on something that you like; maybe you’ll have the displeasure of hearing Katy Perry whine through your speakers; maybe your preconceived notions will be correct. Open up, and don’t be afraid to dance in the car – I don’t want to be the only one making a fool of myself on the highways.

Word Count: 621

The Death of the Opinion

Update from yesterday: I finished that paper in two hours. In fact, I turned it in at 11:30, which was six hours early. It turns out that I had a lot more done than I thought I did.

I had a bad taste in my mouth the entire time I was working on it. The assigned topic was “whether or not children under the age of five should be able to use touch-screen technology”. I finally realized why I had such a hard time with that stupid thing: I didn’t believe a single word I was writing.

See, with topics like the one we were assigned, there isn’t a whole lot of balanced research. Every credible source I found in my first few hours of research said one of two things. According to apparently every educated person and his mother, children should either A) never be allowed to sit in front of a screen (which, by the way, is impossible given our own addiction to screens) or B) only be allowed to use technology of any kind under strict supervision. Essentially, every source I found bashed technology. It was brutal.

I’m not going to get into what I believe about the subject, partially because my views are hard to explain and mostly because I’m sick of thinking about it. The point I want to make is that it took me hours to find a source that said something other than “technology is the enemy”. Hours! Surely there is some inkling of scientific evidence in support of the opposition; otherwise we wouldn’t be so hooked to the things ourselves. It has to be out there, so why is it so stinking hard to find?

I don’t want to sound like a conspiracy theorist here, but I think that free speech isn’t quite free, and it’s our own fault. When there’s an overwhelmingly popular opinion, people are afraid to speak out against it. I love playing devil’s advocate because it helps me to think from multiple perspectives and I think I’m a more educated person for it. Therefore, I often find myself speaking up for the less-popular viewpoint. Therefore, I know from experience that when you’re alone in a corner, you’re a lot more afraid to speak up simply because there’s this overwhelming pressure that comes from the majority to agree with them. And so no opinion but the majority is expressed and we accept that as the only conclusion.

A simple yet touchy example is the implied political indifference in public education. Again, I’m not trying to sound like a crazy person and I’m certainly not trying to undermine the authority of my teachers, but as I was growing up I noticed that most of my teachers tended to favor the left, politically speaking. I happen to lean a little more to the right – and I’m not a gun-waving Klan member or anything, as many of my classmates perceived Republicans to be. But whenever I would state a political belief of mine that clashed with the liberal platform, I was looked at kind of funny. Students in the public school system today aren’t really given freedom of political opinion. Technically, you can believe whatever the hell you want – but to have strong opinions of any kind (especially, God forbid, conservative opinions) is frowned upon and even mocked.

That’s why so many kids my age are wishy-washy about their political beliefs: they didn’t have a chance to speak about their opinions in a free environment where people care about diversity of thought and well-balanced debate. Now that my generation is old enough to vote, that’s going to be a problem at the polls. Democrat, Republican, or Green-Party-Hippie, I’d rather that someone have a strong opinion of some kind than just shrug and say “I don’t care about politics”. Yes you do! There is something on this earth that you care about, and I’m willing to bet that you’re just scared to say it. Have an opinion, dammit!

Imagine how much more intelligent our citizens will be once they learn to speak up, no matter what their opinions are. Yes, there are crazy people out there that have opinions that are, well, crazy (I’m thinking, for example, about that one guy from Carroll County who wants to secede from the rest of the state – you’ll hear more about him from me later). Crazy or not, all opinions are created equal. Factual arguments are another story, but nobody in this country should be afraid to speak their mind or think outside of the box.

 Word Count:760

Procrastination: Round One

 

I have a five page research paper due in less than twenty-four hours, and I’m only halfway done. I’ve got two midterm-sized tests next week. I’ve got thousands of dollars in student debt. I’m supposed to have read a six-hundred page novel about King Arthur by next Thursday. I’ve only got four more hours to write, edit, and post this little project.

 

So what did I do this afternoon? I watched Animal House.

 

I had reasons when I put the DVD in my laptop: I’d had a crappy morning and I needed to relax. Besides, I knew the film would give me something to write about for my blog. Two hours later, I’d half-drafted a couple of posts, but nothing I was content with publishing. Not for Animal House. I can use them for future posts, but in terms of output for today, I’ve pretty much been wasting my time.

 

Procrastination is the little devil on the shoulder of every college student. Why do we give into him so easily? We’re here paying out the rear end for an education, after all. And when we finally knock Procrastination for a loop, his little cousin named Writer’s Block is waiting to sub in for him. I love to write, but all day I’ve been having trouble putting words on the page of any quality, let alone respectable work.

 

To clear my head earlier today, I took a little walk around my building. I don’t often get the chance to visit other floors, and I wanted to look at the decorations that the RAs had put up in halls other than my own. With thirteen floors spread between three wings, that took a good half-hour. I even discovered floors that I didn’t even know existed! That’s one point for procrastination: even though I wasn’t extremely productive, I learned something new.

 

While I’m thinking about it, does anyone know what the heck this thing is? It’s on the doors of one of the first-floor halls, where the theme is Pac-Man and old NAMCO games. But I have no freaking clue who this is and Google isn’t helping me. Anybody?

 

What is this

 

Where was I? Right. Procrastination. See, this is an endless cycle. I went on a walk today and instead of actually working when I got back, I spent twenty minutes searching Google for the name of some stupid video game character. Not my finest hour.

 

If I had to pull a lesson out of this day, kids, it’s that procrastinating isn’t just bad for your work ethic and the quality of work that you produce. It’s bad for your self-esteem. I keep looking at that list at the top of this post and I can’t help but feel like garbage about what I did today. I may not have felt bad roaming the halls or watching John Belushi crush beer cans with his skull, but now that I have to get started on that paper, I know I did the wrong thing by not getting started sooner.

 

To be fair, I’ve been trying to write this darn paper for two weeks and I’ve had no luck with it. See my earlier point about not being able to put anything down on the monkey-fighting page…

 

Paying attention? That right there is what procrastination does, and it’s the dirtiest trick in the book. It justifies everything you’ve done to put this thing off, but in the long run it’s not going to do any good when I have to spend all night writing about babies and iPads (lesson number two from this post: you will write some pointless papers in college).

My teachers weren’t kidding when they warned me against procrastination. Stop reading this and get back to work, people. Trust me, you’ll feel better for it.

 

But seriously. If anyone knows who that little guy in the picture is…

 

 

 

Word Count: 644

 

TJ

A sad piece of news hit our community today: TJ Burdette, a former Lancer, died late last night in an accident on Buffalo Road.

I wasn’t great friends with TJ, but I’ve sort of known him my entire life. I knew of him through middle school, and I finally got to formally meet him in Miss Porter’s tenth grade English. When I think of the term “class clown”, I immediately think of TJ – in a good way. He was always awake and he always had something funny to say. Though Miss Porter wasn’t a huge fan of him (he would call her “Porter” and I don’t think she liked that), I had a lot of respect for TJ. In a way, we sort of rallied behind him as a class. When TJ was in the room, you knew it; he was filled with this hard-to-explain energy. He was a bright kid, even if he didn’t want to admit it. He typically wore blue jeans, a baseball cap, a tee shirt, and in the winter, a canvas-colored coat. I always thought he was kind of cute, and I wasn’t the only one. Again, we were never close friends, but I remember that he generally liked everyone, and he was well-liked in return.

More so than face-to-face interactions, I knew TJ through the stories I’d hear in lunchrooms and classrooms all throughout public school. From what I could gather, he was a typical fun-loving country boy. From his closer friends, I always heard that he was an extremely loyal kid that would do anything for his friends and family. He cared for people in the deepest way. He knew his way around an engine and I know I’ve heard more than a handful of stories about his hunting skill. Even as a kid, I saw him show animals at the Frederick Fair. He was definitely an athlete, too; I remember watching him play baseball, and though I can’t find any evidence of it I swear he played football and hockey too.

Over the last few hours, I’ve been checking Facebook as people wake up and react to the bad news. The FNP posted an article early this morning about it, and it’s been shared by at least a dozen of my friends. People have been posting their memories of TJ all morning, with number of notes on his wall growing by the minute. There’s a memorial page already up and running, and for any of you that knew him in any capacity, I’d recommend a visit. I’m willing to bet that most if not all members of my class have some memory or another of TJ. I can’t help but smile as I think about our brief acquaintanceship, for lack of better way to put it.

This loss is a deeply saddening and extremely unfortunate one. It’s the kind of loss that makes me sick to the stomach; I can’t even imagine what his family and close friends are going through. It’s surreal to see a classmate of mine described as an “18 year old man” in the paper as they announce his death. I was just thinking about him the other day while I was writing that post about country music. He fit perfectly into those songs: a party-loving, sweet, down-to-Earth, loyal country boy.

This is going to remain a shock for a while, but in the meantime I’d like to ask everyone to keep the Burdettes and the community in general in your prayers. You left too soon, TJ; you’ll be missed and remembered more than you could even imagine. Rest easy up there.

 

Word Count: 604

Ready for Rio

I’m embarrassed by how little of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games I watched. I caught an event here and there, most often on the internet after the fact. But in the past I was religious about watching the Games. Beijing was my first “real” games, and I sat in front of the television like my life depended on it; Vancouver got me hooked on speed skating thanks to Olympic hero Apollo Ohno; and London was a 24/7 ordeal with Twitter, Facebook and every other social media outlet buzzing about it around the clock. But Sochi seemed different. I don’t know. Maybe it was because it’s my first Olympics in college, where I don’t have constant access to live TV. Maybe it was because it was the winter games and – let’s be honest – they’re just less popular (the only time I’ve watched ice skating of any kind was in Blades of Glory).

Looking back on Sochi, the first thing that comes to my mind was the buzz about the living conditions in the Olympic Village – especially that popular shot of the two-toilet restrooms and that rumor about the wolf in the hotel. Everybody said that Sochi wasn’t prepared to host the Games, but before the opening ceremonies I gave them the benefit of the doubt. Then, of course, the internet happened, and the most popular news story from the multi-national mega-competition was about some guy busting through a wall to escape the bathroom.

The second thing that comes to mind – bearing in mind that I didn’t get a whole lot of live tube time – is hockey. I love the winter Olympics because they remind me of how much fun it is to watch that sport. In a pattern I feel like I’ve seen before, it was a mixed bag of emotions. The US Men’s victory over Russia was a glimmer of hope and patriotism, and it was the first time during the Games that I heard even a whisper about Sochi on campus (I’m starting to think that UMBC, or at least the parts I frequent, just kind of ignore major sporting events). Then the trifecta of shameful losses hit our shores: an extremely late and surprising loss against Canadian Women, an ego-crippling shutout against the Canadian Men, and finally an embarrassingly steep loss against Finland which lost us a medal. Oh, hockey. Maybe I should finally start watching NHL games…

An event that I didn’t even hear about until a few days ago was a silver medal in Skeleton, the scariest and honestly most badass of Winter Olympic Sports, by American Noelle Pikus-Pace. That was one inspiring celebration to watch. She exploded when she crossed the finish line, jumping halfway to the sky and screaming for joy. She leapt into the stands and stayed with her family for the rest of the competition; later interviews revealed that she was so overloaded with emotion that she wasn’t even aware that she’d launcher herself into the stands until she was there.

Speed skating wasn’t quite the same rush this year as it was in 2010. Ohno has retired, but younger skater J.R. Celski (of whom I’m a huge fan) was still on the ice, and he did well. Not Ohno well, but well. Shani Davis, a hard-hitter at Salt Lake in 2002 and a favorite for gold this year, didn’t even make it to the podium. After his defeat there was a big stink about the skaters’ Under Armor uniforms, saying that they slowed the skaters down. I bet anything that if we’d done well, nobody would be praising Under Armor. I don’t even have words for how irritated about that short-lived media scandal. Read the reports yourself and feel your brain cells die in the process.

Sochi just wasn’t as exciting or as satisfying as Games in the past. We didn’t have a Michael Phelps, Apollo Ohno, or Gabby Douglas. There was no spectacle during the opening or closing ceremonies like the drummers of Beijing or the “interesting” decade-by-decade showcase of London (to be fair, the failure to light the fifth Olympic ring made waves,  and the closing ceremonies  humorously honored the incident during the silver-shiny-fish act). There’s no reason to say that Sochi was a failure; eighty-eight Olympic Committees came together and continued a great athletic tradition. But looking back at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, all I really want to say is that I’m ready for Rio. 

Word Count: 739

I obviously have a very limited and biased opinion of what was important, and most of what I just said could be gathered by watching a three-minute highlight reel. What did you guys think of the 2014 Games?

Plastic Frets

The introduction of Guitar Hero in 2005 gave millions of bums like me a chance to pretend we were skilled, crowd-pleasing rock stars. The multi-colored buttons on the plastic guitar neck were easy to navigate, and I don’t know about you guys, but when I would slide my hand down to the orange button – fret, to the more musically inclined – I felt some sense of accomplishment. Little old me was sliding and jamming like a real guitar player! To be fair, this was the mid-2000s, my middle school days during which I shouldn’t have been taken seriously. But I’m willing to bet that I wasn’t the only one that felt a sense of euphoria after nailing the solo in “Welcome to the Jungle”. After all, Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock (the orange-boxed Christmas present we all hoped to see under the tree in 2007) sold over eight million copies in only nine months. People didn’t just buy the game because Slash was on the cover, but because it was popular and fun.

But we couldn’t explain why it was fun. Those that actually had guitars in hand were entertained, but anyone else that happened to be in the room was completely excluded – and had to suffer through the annoying click of the frets and the often-obnoxious sound effects from the game itself. The players went into unbreakable trances; I was a pretty regular video game player, but I didn’t stare at any screen quite like a Guitar Hero screen. To this day, my neighbor goes into this odd, hypnotic state in which he rocks back and forth while he plays. Guitar Hero is advertised as a party game, and to come extent it is, as long as the players are extremely patient.

I had this theory that anyone that played guitar in real life was automatically a master at Guitar Hero. I also thought that playing with a toy would turn someone into a better guitar player in reality. If only that were true. I know a lot of guitar players – some better than others – and for the most part they all love what they do. Many of them are currently taking lessons, have in the past, or teach younger musicians. Some learn guitar to sharpen their theory and music-writing skills. Some just diddle around in their basements. The music industry has always been kind to guitar players in terms of available material, boosting the interest and confidence of even the youngest, least-talented players.

But I’ll tell you one thing: they didn’t learn on plastic frets. The game was designed to tutor anyone, but idiot kids like me actually believed that it was. I’m not trying to write a negative, down-with-computers commentary. I’m not trying to discredit genuine simulators. I am trying to say that kids have a hard time distinguishing between real skill and Guitar Hero skill. Remember that Flappy Bird game that everyone on Earth played for all of three days? It entirely consumed social media and our everyday conversation for a brief period. Our children noticed. That’s a dangerous trend to start. I don’t want my future kids to judge themselves on their Flappy Bird scores. I’m sure this has been a problem before – I wasn’t around for the era of Pac-Man, but I’m willing to bet that had a similar effect – but this is the first time we’re facing this problem under the influence of Facebook and other world-shrinking social media.

Don’t get me wrong: watching my friends sweat while playing “Through the Fire and Flames” was and will continue to be hilarious. I’m just saying we need to watch how seriously we take these simulator games. I’d rather my kid squawk and curse his way through a real jam session than do the same thing on plastic frets.

 

Word Count: 634

The Train

When I was in middle school, I had this insane dream that I was going to be an engineer – my dumb adolescent mind thought that it would be fun to play with robots for the rest of my life because that’s clearly what engineers do. So in the eighth grade, when FCPS allows students to take two electives, I took Problem Solving, a woodshop-type class that my teachers tried to push on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) students. We focused on basic design techniques and use of basic machinery, applying what we learned to projects with magnets, Styrofoam, paper, and finally actual wood. Our final assignment was to make a safe child’s toy using the materials at our disposal. My good friend Tommy and I made this toy train:photo (1)

This wasn’t a horribly complicated toy. The front piece of the train connected to the caboose via a dowel rod. The top of each car was removable, so that a child could switch them, making mixed-color cars. It rolled pretty well, considering. The edges were sanded down so that no child would hurt himself. The paint job was nowhere near perfect, and it was obvious that the toy was built by thirteen year old kids. But as far as I remember, we got a good grade on it. I gave Tommy the train to take home, and I put it out of my memory. I quickly, thankfully, moved out of my engineer phase.

Toward the end of my time in high school, I remembered the train. I was sorry that I’d given it up. I wasn’t sure why I was so attached to the stupid thing; it was a school project, it had passed, and it wasn’t extraordinary by any measure. But I missed it. I wanted to see it again. I wanted to prove to myself that it actually existed, and that I wasn’t just making up the existence of this toy.

I went to Tommy’s house for a party about six weeks ago, and towards the end of the night the half-dozen of us that were left sat in a circle and reminisced about the past. I remembered Problem Solving and started to rant on about it like a loon. Tommy ran upstairs to his bedroom and returned with a surprise: our dumpy, wonderful little train.

I’m a musician, just like my parents and many of my good friends. But aside from recordings, there’s no real evidence that anything was actually created when I played. So having a physical thing that can be touched, handled, and held was surreal. I can’t overstate the importance of having something physical that you can point to and say “hey, you see this? That came from my two hands.” It’s an incredible source of memories and pride. Humans are meant to create. In this world that is turning toward space-saving technology and the digitization of everything under the sun, physical records are disappearing.

There’s no real definition of what’s appropriate to hold on to; it’s a personal decision. Photographs. Doodles. Trophies. Medals. Uniforms. Printed-out pages of a piece of writing. Ceramics. A piece of confetti from that record-breaking basketball game. Whatever. Just keep some physical proof of accomplishments and important moments of your life. It will do wonders for your self-esteem. And in the years to come, it will be a fantastic reminder of how far you’ve come and the good that has come of your skills.

After playing with it like a giddy child, I took a picture of the train and left it in Tommy’s hands. I trust him with it – still, I warned him that if it’s ever harmed, there will be hell to pay. It may not be the perfect toy, an example of fine woodworking, or particularly useful in any way, but that train means the world to me.

Word Count: 642