Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Helio Castroneves: awesome dancer - also won some car races

I don't pretend to like or even understand the phenomenon that is Dancing with the Stars, but the success of the program is undeniable. The show is constantly rated as the most watched on television, catapulting several C-list stars into B-list material. I also will not deny that I have seen a significant portion of this season's kicking and spinning as Becky has been swept up in this phenomenon. Even her grandmother was livid when Mario Lopez was denied the title several months back.

Some general observations watching last night's mega epic 120 minute show that took 30 seconds to announce the winner.

-Helio Castroneves ended up winning the competition, wearing a banana jump suit and sequins. My personal favorite moment of the program was an interview with Helio's sister who asked him if he was going to be ok wearing sequins. He said yes to which his sister then explained what they were. He then groaned.

-Helio also happens to have won racing's most prestigious car race, the Indianapolis 500, twice. With the momentum of Dancing with the Stars, I wonder how many people will remember him for his auto racing achievements or for his quick feet. Does anyone remember Emmitt Smith the all time great running back? Dancer?

-My second favorite moment of the show came after the announcement of Helio's victory, someone handed him a half gallon of milk. It was lost on Becky and probably millions of viewers, but the traditional chugging of milk accompanies a successful Indianapolis 500 win. I was hoping he was going to drink some, making a huge mess over everyone, but it was not to be.

-Dancing's favorite word? Steeeeeeeeeetch. As mentioned earlier, the show was 2 hours long with the only meaningful moment occurring in the final moments with a simple reading of the winner's name. The other contestants were asked no fewer than 2,492 times, "What does it mean to have participated in the competition?" and the final two were asked "What would it mean to win?" in some variety 282 times. I understand the effort and talent involved here, but people we are talking about dancing once a week.

-My favorite competitor was eliminated in week three, which was crap. Former picks Jerry Springer and Jon Ratzenberger did better than Wayne Newton this year. How do you not vote for Wayne Newton. The man is a legend and showed up on Price is Right the other day.

-Boxer Floyd Mayweather was also eliminated early on despite a vertical leap that would make Superman jealous. He could not, however, perform a final dance because of "intense" training for an upcoming boxing match. If he can't skip around the floor for 90 seconds, I don't like his chances in this future contest. I'm putting 50 bucks on the other guy.

-I generally enjoy awkward moments, particularly ones that are televised live, but when soap actor Cameron Mathison removed his shirt at the request of the female co-host, the tension between children appropriate television and the co-host who just had a baby with her husband in the audience was even a little too weird for me.

-I looked up how to spell judge Carrie Ann Inaba's name because everything after Carrie sounds like a garbled mess every broadcast. While looking this up I learned that she speaks fluent Japanese and was a 80s Japanese pop singer. Less interesting will be her new flop program in the Spring.

Photo from

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

AP Story Writing

Despite my degree in communication, I excelled in oral versions of my area of expertise and not the written word. However, I consider myself an amateur writer and rabid reader, which in turn caused me to scratch my head this morning. While reading about Cedric Benson's season-ending (and WhoWantsToSexMbaye crippling) injury, the lead started one place and the story went another.

Exhibit A!
The headline:
Benson to have season-ending leg surgery

Exhibit B!
The lead:
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Cedric Benson's season is over.

Exhibit C!
The closing paragraph:
In just his second NFL season, Hester broke a club record he shared with Gale Sayers for kick return touchdowns (eight) with his ninth and 10th (six on punts, four on kickoffs). Those numbers don't include a missed field goal he returned 108 yards last season against the Giants or his return of the Super Bowl's opening kickoff for a TD against the Colts.

What have I learned? Devin Hester is the new starting running back for the Chicago Bears.

Photo from

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Immaculate Deflection

Jon Clayton has dubbed the kick the immaculate deflection, and I'm willing to run with that being I love Jon Clayton and all. If this were a playoff contest and not some irrelevant game between two middling AFC Central opponents, this would be legendary. I'm doing my best to jam the sequence and the kick into everyone's mind forever. Hey, we Cleveland fans don't have much to cheer about so a one and a gazillion field goal is worth a blog post.

The most bizarre part of the sequence was, as it happened live, CBS Minnesota kept the camera in the studio. Most likely this was a result of some contractual situation where CBS could only air one game in the market (Minnesota-Oakland having just wrapped up), but the result was one of the most bizarre 5 minutes of NFL studio coverage ever. James Brown, Bill Cowher, and Boomer Eiason basically watched the game live, tripping over one another to yell what just happened while viewers watched these guys stare off camera. After the play ended, CBS could air the highlight and viewers would see what the studio hosts interrupted one another in an attempt to describe. I'm inviting CBS cameras to film me watching the Browns next week, and I will give non-stop coverage.

Credit should be give to two people. Bill Cowher was the first in the studio to suggest the field goal was indeed good. After a replay, he adamantly defended Cleveland's honor saying the game was not over. Most impressive however was Becky upon seeing it just once at real time speed and putting up Christmas garland, argued that the ball hit the support beam. She had it pegged before anyone on the broadcast and providing Christmas cheer to boot. Where was I? Balled up on the floor crying. I take my losses like a man.

Photos from Yahoo Sports and ESPN

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Spend money here.

As a retailer myself, I tend to pay closer attention than the average shopper when visiting area merchants. I see displays, prices, and traffic flow patterns that the normal Saturday afternoon shopper tends to disregard as insignificant. These shoppers find varying aspects of the shopping experience important, but I think we can all agree that the (dreaded?) interaction with the sales staffer offers the most unique aspect of the trip. I invite you to accompany me back in time and relive these three recent shopping experiences.

Trip #1: Best Buy

Perhaps the greatest non-drug store retailer ever, just opened up a brand new store directly across the street from the old townhouse. Having watched the bulldozers clear the forest, the cement trucks lay the foundation, and the lights go on, I was eager to step foot in the new Best Buy. This past Friday it had its grand opening at 10am, and I was inside by 10:05am.

Clearly, the sales team had been instructed to be on their best behavior. Every blue shirt was smiling and happy. The whole team wanted to introduce themselves with a handshake and name presentation. I could care less about Dave in computers, and I took to his inviting me over for dinner as unnecessary (didn't really happen). I was grabbed by no fewer than 5 employees, which while fine and dandy in the customer service department also facilitated the spread of millions of germs after each hand touchage.

Having finally broken away from the pack, I settled into the CD section browsing titles, delightfully finding that the new Goo Goo Dolls greatest hits album includes a reworked version of "Name." Out of nowhere, another blue shirt spots me, and before I knew it, I was making the acquaintance of Christina.

Christina looked incredibly timid. Perhaps it was my physically intimidating presence or perhaps her first 15 minutes of work ever were a little overwhelming. I foolishly felt pity for Christina as she tried some irrelevant small talk. 10 minutes later, I knew that she was a student at St. Thomas, had trained for 5 weeks at other stores for this position, and had a six year old sister (this time, all of this is true). Furthermore, she was so nervous for the opening that she told her boss that she likened it to a first date with butterflies in her stomach. I can't say that I've ever equating Walgreens to dating, but to each their own.

Regardless, I did feel as if I should do my best to be a "good customer" to keep her at ease as after a couple steps backwards, realized I shouldn't just give Christina the brush. She took the opportunity to turn the conversation toward cell phones. I told her that I hated cell phones with a passion and that I only carried one for necessity's sake. Christina promptly counter balanced the universe by professing her undying love for the cell phone, using it to find McDonalds when hungry and wishing she could use it for blow drying her hair if it were only possible. If only.

Before I knew it I was seeing if I qualified for a free cell phone upgrade. I didn't need one or want one, but checking to see if I could get one seemed to be the best conclusion to the whole interaction as Christina could type me through the system as her first ever customer, and the ensuing natural closure would provide me an escape route. Naturally, I did not qualify for the upgrade for a variety of reasons not the least of which being that Verizon and I are mortal enemies who will day fight to the death. Christina, while disappointed, was not thwarted. Those five weeks of training kicked in, and she asked if she could call me when I became available for the upgrade. However, she asked this in such a leading way where the question might as well have been, "Do you think starving, malnourished babies should be saved from the jaws of anguishing, painful death?" To which, I profoundly answered, "Sure."

Christina thanked me for my time, no doubt with the self esteem boost that came with roping in her first ever customer. She assured me that she would call me when it was cell phone upgrade time. When my phone rings with a mysterious number in November 2008, I will once again converse with Christina, and we shall chat about who knows what.

Trip #2: Coach

Becky and I decided to eat at The Macaroni Grill at a local mall. I happen to like this arrangement as there is always a wait, and the mall provides obvious distraction during this down time. Becky loves it because it's an excuse to walk through the world's most over-priced collection of handbags with gaudy "C" logos all over them.

As such, we walked down the stairs and into the Coach store. Coach tends to have about a 2:1 ratio of employees to people actually shopping in the store. I'm fairly confident that the moment someone crosses the threshold into the store, the eight of them play rock, paper, scissors to see who gets to make contact.

Today's winner was Marissa. Marissa kindly inquired if there was anything she could help us find. Becky dropping as much of a hint for me as Marissa, replied, "We're just browsing for ideas."

Marissa offered this gem, "Oh! I know! There's like a million things in here to shop for!"

With a giggle, Marissa vanished, as did 100 of my brain cells. Er, like a million brain cells.

An unidentified employee approached Becky and I approximately 90 seconds later (the maximum amount of time one can shop in Coach without employee interaction) on the other side of the store. Again, Becky declined assistance. This time, the employee decided to interact with me (it must be my always friendly demeanor) when she said, "Well, if there's anything I can do, just let me know. And fortunately, we do have very comfortable sofas!" To which she vaguely pointed at a seating arrangement before prancing back to the desk.

Indeed, I'm sure there are comfortable sofas, but being a well versed shopping companion, know that my opinion is critical on a slew of items that will never be purchased but need confirmation of their cuteness. Sitting down merely delays the process, potentially costing us our place in the Macaroni Grill line. Affirming the aforementioned cuteness of no fewer than six Coach items, we concluded our visit and were sent off with a wave and a good night from Marissa, the unidentified Coach employee, and the legion waiting to serve us behind the desk.

Trip #3: Macaroni Grill

Here we meet Garry, yes spelled with two R's. I know this because he did my favorite thing at any restaurant (outside of bringing the food) when he did that thing where the Macaroni Grill wait staff write their names upside down. Tremendous talent. I couldn't do it and am always fascinated how they manage to do this while carrying six hot plates on a tray with their other hand. I increase my tip for such marvels.

Now Garry I really liked. Why you ask? What sets him apart from Christina and Marissa? Simply: I have no stories. The man efficiently brought us our food and check without pointless conversation. It, much like the name writing, was fantastic. I like Garry.

Photo from Customers Rock!

Monday, November 12, 2007

What should you know about on-line schooling?

1. Classes are short and intense. The University of Phoenix runs with one class at a time, lasting for six weeks. As such, the one class requires a tremendous amount of work to be completed in a short amount of time. The good news is that when your professor smells like a turd and your classmates display the aptitude of an ape, you are but five short weeks away from a start over.

2. Participation is paramount. Participation and attendance run hand-in-hand. While you are never required to be on-line at a specific time, you will be required to post a set number of significant message four different days of the week. This participation does not include team related exercises (more later), questions you may have for the professor, or general conversation. My last class required a minimum of two posts of 200 or more words four days a week, in addition to answers for professor-posted discussion questions, which came three times per week. At minimum, your participation for this class required 2,200 words per week in message board posts.

3. There is writing and more writing and more writing and more writing and you get the damn point. There are no tests or quizzes. The sole manner in which professors evaluate your comprehension of class information comes through essays and research papers. You will have a paper due every week, usually on Monday, which is the end of the University of Phoenix school week. The formula I have experienced thus far involves wimpy papers due on weeks 1 and 4, group papers due weeks 2 and 5, and lengthy research papers due 3 and 6. The wimpy papers average around four pages, the team papers amount to 15 pages long, and the individual papers range from 15-25. Nothing is particularly difficult, but your fingers will simply tire from pressing buttons.

4. The professors are in the same time crunched boat that the students are. The class, generally comprised of about 20 students, have a variety of reasons for enrolling at the University of Phoenix, but most share a common full-time work schedule. As such, the flexible hours of an on-line university appeal to them, all of which may sound like common sense. What I did not realize heading into this experience is that the professors share the same hectic crazy schedules, as they too are full-time employees in the real world. These are not professors sitting in a classroom teaching University of Phoenix classes full-time, but rather professionals doing this on the side. Pros and cons certainly abound here with the obvious negative that some professors, similar to students, do not spend the appropriate amount of time and effort on the class for the full six weeks.

5. The counselors rock. To date, I have been more impressed with the counselors than any other facet of the University of Phoenix . I have an enrollment counselor, an academic advisor, and a financial guru. Tara and Heather – we are totally on a first name basis – call just check in and make sure all is going well from time to time. When I was considering dropping a class (more on that later) they showed immediate concern and returned phone calls at the drop of a hat. They have been supportive and full of information throughout my experience.

6. Group work accounts for a disproportionate of time and stress. Yes, there is group work. To give an example of a recent group assignment, individuals were asked to research two real world companies and then compare and contrast their plight to the one in the fictitious scenario the professor presents. The team submits these individual writings and then draws conclusions and compiles a unified paper. The problem occurs when not all team members submit their portions on time (regularly), misinterpret the assignment (occasionally), or have an at home crisis preventing them from writing (far too often). Someone has to be in charge of bringing all the individual parts together (generally me), and everyone proofreads and edits (again usually just me). Trying to get anywhere from 2 to 7 other people on board with the same schedule and effort causes me to scream frequently at my laptop.

7, The writing abilities vary. Tremendously. A sample submission in a group paper that was submitted to the team as a final version:

Atlanta Falcons, home of many fans in the state of Georgia hoping to see their franchise team achieve to a world title. In May of 2007, a scandal rose from the grave from a player that would endanger the team and it’s publicity. Michael Vick, a well talented quarterback that many youth idols followed in his footsteps. After the agitations brought against him about dog fighting and pleaded guilty for his crimes, Atlanta Falcons suffered major amount of millions from it’s product and tickets. NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue encourage many fans to stay loyal to their home team, including Falcons team owner Arthur Blank insisted fans not to betray the team because of one player.

This horseshit caused me to immediately contact my professor and counselors to inquire as to how to drop a class. My mother says that her grade-school special needs students write better than this. To date, this group paper is the worst document I have ever turned in with my name attached. This says nothing of the individual who had never written a research paper and consequently did not know how to cite within a paper. Or the other individual in the group who cited himself as a source, complete with a place in the references page. Brilliant.

8. Message board experience helps. I suggest visiting the Valpo sports message board before joining the University of Phoenix . This experience will better prepare you for message threads, crazy tangents, and the inexplicable world of emoticons. I once received 17 smiley faces in a 30 page paper, which translated to a 96%. With the classroom reminiscent of the old Valpo Voy Board, I was well prepared for the mayhem that ensued.

9. APA guidelines. All my life, I have written using MLA rules. The University of Phoenix believes in APA guidelines, which does make for easier reference pages at the end of your research papers. However, it took me close to two months to get used to typing with only one space after the period. Now, I don’t know that I could ever go back.

10. Dust off AOL Instant Messenger, you are going to need it. While in college, AOL Instant Messenger was a must have. After graduating, I rarely use the device as I have neither the time to use it nor the drive to keep up with people (sorry everyone, e-mails are simply more timely). However, when writing lengthy papers, brief distractions are a must, and AOL IM provides them in wondrous form. People I haven’t talked to in years remain on the list, and I now can call Brad Spata’s cell phone should I have the urge. Also, writing guest pieces for blogs can help break up monotony, which is all fine and good unless the paper is due the next day, which just so happens to be a 10 hour work day. Crap, I have to go finish my gap analysis for the fictional Riordan Manufacturing company, which has a deficient HR department and donut hungry CFO.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Honest mistake: All Iowa looks the same to me too

Which way, Barack?

Cedar Rapids, Des Moines, whatever. Could you really tell the difference between the two?

One person who cannot is the pilot flying Barack Obama all over the place.

Ends up that Obama was supposed to be in Cedar Rapids, Iowa for some hoopla of some sort, but the plane landed 100 miles away in Des Moines, Iowa. I don't know how this happens. It's not like they made a wrong turn on Cloud Dr. and veered onto the one-way, traffic plagued Starry St. I get the feeling that should Obama win the Presidency, there's one individual on his campaign staff who should not get promoted to Air Force One pilot.

While this oops is fun enough, the reaction of those in Cedar Rapids eagerly awaiting the belated guest of honor was worthy of note.

"While waiting, the crowd took to dancing and chanting."

Hey, hang with the Obama crowd and it's a damn good time. A little chicken dance mixed in with Daryl Strawberry-esque taunting of competitor Hillllllllllllllllllllllary is one way to spend an evening in Iowa.

Photo from The Moderate Voice

Sunday, November 4, 2007

He may save the world from robot cars, but don't be bringing that shit in here

A delightfully fun story emerging from the Chicago land area has Shia LaBeouf arrested after appearing intoxicated during a late night stop inside a Walgreens drug store.

The arrest occurred at 2:30am Sunday morning and centered around his anger over his coupons from the previous week expiring; thereby rendering his 39 cent coupon for Mandarin Oranges useless and requiring a full payment of 99 cents. Understandably, the utter disappointment caused him to drink and get into it with the overnight crew who restrained him using overstock crutches and subduing him with Tylenol PM. The Drew-equivalent (overworked, tired, frustrated 20 something in a gray smock) called police who noticed a resilient LaBeouf reaching for his whip - a prop from LaBeouf's upcoming Indiana Jones film. He donned a hat from the clearance bin and began running up and down aisle 8 uttering profanities and speaking in pig Latin. The photo clerk distracted LaBeouf with the flash of a disposable camera before the Drew-equivalent threw his box cutter at the aisle marker above aisle 8, causing it to crash down on the Transformers' star's head. As the police rushed in, the assistant manager could be heard yelling a slew of famous, butchered movie lines such as "Yippee-ki-yay, make my day, hasta la vista, baby!"

Well, now you know what I fantasize about when working overnight shifts to set the Christmas aisle.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Important! 4 Christmas rules to follow.

Work. I do a lot of it, and I write about it rarely. This stems from not wanting to relive it and keeping Wolfden V a happy place.

With that said, it's time I give four ground rules for the dates of October 31st-November 3rd. Maybe I'm feisty from consecutive 3am-2pm shifts (and going back tonight at 10pm for an undetermined amount of time) or maybe I feel an urge to speak the truth. Regardless, these are actual, frequently repeated examples that occur during this time of the year. Over four years, I think it's time to hammer home some points.

1.) Thou shall not return Halloween costumes after Halloween.

Last year, I had a woman attempt to return a used costume two weeks after the holiday. This year, it was only one day after, but c'mon. I am probably the easiest guy to take a return to in my entire company, but this is one where I will not budge.

2.) After Halloween concludes, Walgreens is under no obligation to continue to stock Halloween candy.

I sort this one under common sense too, but I have had customer after customer disgustedly march out of the seasonal aisle after seeing all red and green and no orange and black. Sure, there are clearance deals to be had after the holiday, and I'm glad that these people help clean out inventory. However, there seems to be a moral expectation that we have clearance candy for a set number of days after Halloween. From a business standpoint, customers must see that these 50 and 75% off sales are no longer profitable or beneficial to the company.

Actual conversation on November 1st:

Customer: "This is all you have left?"

Me: "Yep, it is."

Customer: "I can't believe it."

Me: "You should have seen it in here last night before trick-or-treating, it was crazy."


Me: "No, I meant that we had large sales the day of Halloween."

Customer (dejected): "Oh, I thought you'd have more. (With attitude) I guess not."

3.) Any derivation of "You are setting Christmas merchandise earlier than last year" is not true.

Unless you have one of those new, space-aged stores of which I'm told there are only four in the nation, Walgreens most likely only has one seasonal aisle. This aisle is used for Halloween merchandise each year and does not contain Christmas merchandise until after October 31st has concluded. With Halloween being a ridiculously profitable holiday, it makes no sense for us to fill it with Christmas merchandise prior to then. And we don't.

Perhaps a fun conversation starter with employees setting the aisle post-Halloween, customers enjoy blaming those of us setting the aisle for being "the retailers making it earlier and earlier every year." I would be happy to tip every one off that next year, on November 2nd, we will set the Christmas aisle again, and it will be the exact same time we did it this year and the year before.

4.) If thyself shops thy Christmas aisle, thou shall share in the blame.

Immediately after a customer disgustedly converses with this "earlier" setting of our Christmas items, customers absolutely have to see what it is that I am removing from a freshly opened box and placing on the shelf. This stuff sells here and now. If you are going to criticize retailers for setting the merchandise as you perceive to be too early of a date, it is hypocritical to rush off to the check out counter with a basket full of Christmas lights and red and green M+Ms.

I feel better and will set down from the podium. Thank you for your time.

Photo from Kansas State Collegian