Accentuating The In-Car GPS Voice

The other day Kish and I were driving, listening to some classical music and using the car’s GPS feature to direct us to a place we were visiting for the first time. That combination of activities didn’t work out very well.

Why? Even though the classical music was being played at low volume, the monotone female GPS “exit in one mile, then right turn” voice couldn’t be heard distinctly with a Beethoven piano concerto in the background. So, we were left with the option of turning off the music and driving in silence because we never quite know when the GPS voice will speak (an intolerable choice for me) or not hearing the directions, which doesn’t exactly use the GPS function to its maximum potential.

I suppose you could design the GPS speaking function to cut off the music automatically whenever a message is being delivered, but that seems a bit presumptuous. I think the better solution is to offer a range of accent options so that the GPS voice can be heard above the music — accents that are so different and distinctive that the driver immediately sits up, takes notice, and gets the message.

I think a strong hillbilly accent would do the trick, if you could get used to the concept of taking directions from Cletus the slack-jawed yokel. Maybe an over-the-top Cockney accent, with a few “guv’nors” thrown in, would work, too.

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Unhappily Housebound At Springtime

IMG_0422There’s a reason why the phrase “spring fever” exists.

It’s because people desperately want to get outside after a long, cold winter. They want to smell the faint fragrance of spring flowers wafting on the warming air. They want to shed their overcoats and feel the sun on their faces. They want to walk on springy green grass, see flowering trees bloom, and listen carefully for the return of songbirds and ducks that had flown south for the winter.

That’s why it especially sucks to be laid up and crutch-dependent when spring rolls around. Today the temperature in Columbus actually reached the upper 50s. I look outside the window of my study and feel like the boy in the bubble. The pins in my toes cannot be removed fast enough!

Getting The Dear Leader’s Haircut

There are conflicting reports from North Korea about whether men have been ordered to get a haircut that matches the styling of the Dear Leader, Kim Jong-Un. Some websites are reporting the story as the truth; others are saying it’s a hoax.

Either way, the story is getting a lot of play — primarily because the Dear Leader’s haircut is so distinctive. The hair on the sides of the head, around and above the ears, is shaved down to the bare scalp. Then, some kind of industrial lubricant is liberally applied to the hairs on top of the head to give them a deep sheen and allow them to be combed straight back and parted in the middle. The awkward result looks something like a wet plastic mat covering part of a cue ball. It’s a look you’d expect to see in a prison or a mental institution.

The “required haircut” story has legs because it’s plausible — North Korea’s conduct is so unpredictable that people will believe just about any news story emanating from that country — and because it’s outlandish even by North Korean standards. Could Kim Jong-Un actually be so besotted with the state-created cult of personality about him that he thinks his haircut looks good? Would a country that starves and enslaves its people go so far as to dictate an item of personal choice like a haircut, and force its unfortunate citizens to get an unflattering one at that?

We’re lucky we live in a free country where our leaders don’t insist that we adopt their hairstyles. I’ve now lived through the terms of 11 different Presidents, which would mean a lot of hairstyle changes — especially since I’ve stuck to pretty much the same style for the past 30 years or so. And some of our presidential coiffures weren’t exactly trend-setting, either. I wouldn’t have wanted to adopt the Ronald Reagan Brylcreem pompadour or the Richard Nixon straight comb back — although either of those would be preferable to Kim Jong-Un’s institutional trim job.

Dope And Hope

The politics of marijuana are changing.

As exhibit number one, consider Michelle Malkin, a reliably conservative political commentator. Yesterday she wrote about her visit to a marijuana shop in Colorado — not to rip the legalization movement, as you might expect, but rather to describe the positive impact marijuana use has had for her mother-in-law, who is dealing with cancer and has experienced problems with loss of appetite. By using the legal marijuana in Colorado, her mother-in-law’s food intake has improved, leading to hope that she will get stronger and weather the ravages of cancer treatment. And, as a bottom line, Malkin notes that the operators of the shops carefully run neat businesses, pay taxes, employ people, and provide goods and services that people like her mother-in-law want and need.

A number of states have changed their marijuana laws in recent years, but Colorado appears to be the focus of attention. In states like Ohio, where there doesn’t seem to be an significant movement toward either approval of medical marijuana or decriminalization on a state level, I expect that legislators are taking a hard look at the Colorado experience. Are significant additional tax revenues are being produced? Is there any appreciable effect on crime? Are people like Michelle Malkin’s mother-in-law benefiting? Is the legal sale of marijuana having any impact on tourism? The answers to those questions will tell us whether states like Ohio, which tends to be a follower rather than an innovator, may change its marijuana policies.

The Science Of Bad Dancing

From the teenage years forward, every modern male is bedeviled by the same nagging question: how do I dance without looking like a spastic imbecile?

John Travolta may be the only man alive who is truly confident in his dancing abilities. Most other guys are worried that their attempt at a cool dancing persona in reality mirrors the humiliating leg-kicking, arm-jerking efforts of Elaine on Seinfeld. And, if you’ve seen your average guy on the dance floor, you know that those worries are painfully well-founded.

Fortunately, science now offers an answer. Researchers have studied how women respond to dance floor moves, using neutral, genderless depictions of dancing figures in an attempt to take personal looks out of the equation. The results are surprising. It turns out that women like large movements of the head, neck and torso, as well as quick movements that involve bending the right knee. Putting all of the moves together looks something like the funky chicken — except that there is no apparent relation between arm movements and perceived dancing ability.

What about the study tell us about bad dancers? Click on the link above, and then click on the short video that women uniformly found to represent bad dancing — then tell me if you haven’t seen the precisely the same pathetic, shuffling, inane moves on the part of 99.9 percent of the men who give dancing a shot. And guys . . . take a good look, and then vow never again to trip the light fantastic unless it’s at one of your kids’ weddings. You’ll be doing yourself a favor.

When A School Makes A Bald-Faced Mistake

Delaney Clements is an 11-year-old girl in Colorado who is fighting neuroblastoma, a type of cancer that targets children. The treatment for her condition includes chemotherapy, which has caused her hair to fall out.

The pre-teenage years being what they are, a bald kid might feel awkward and self-conscious — but fortunately Delaney has a friend named Kamryn Renfro. Kamryn wanted to show support for her friend, so in a selfless gesture she cut off her own hair. Kamryn thought it was the right thing to do, and Delaney loved the gesture.

But Kamryn’s school had a different reaction. The Caprock Academy has a dress code that bans shaved heads, so the school wouldn’t allow Kamryn to attend classes on Monday.

Kamryn’s Mom wasn’t happy and posted a message about the school’s decision on Facebook. Delaney’s Mom did, too. And that provoked a firestorm of controversy with the Caprock Academy at its epicenter, one that overwhelmed the school’s website and telephone system. The school let Kamryn attend classes yesterday, and last night the school’s board of trustees voted 3-1 to waive the dress code in exceptional circumstances, such as when a child shaves her head to show solidarity for a friend who is dealing with cancer. (Amazing, isn’t it, that one of the trustees actually voted against such a waiver?)

There’s nothing wrong with reasonable dress codes. I imagine the original motivation for the bald head ban was concern about skinhead high school boys intimidating other students. Obviously, however, a young girl’s simple act of kindness is so far removed from that scenario — or any situation that might raise issues about safety, uniformity, and distractions, which are the stated reasons for the existence of the Caprock Academy dress code — that her ability to go back to school with a shining dome should never have been questioned. Any dress code policy that is so rigid that it produces a contrary result should be modified to give administrators appropriate discretion — or else the school eventually will end up wearing the dunce cap in the corner of the classroom.

Kamryn Renfro did a very nice thing — the kind of act that would make any parents proud of their child. It’s unfortunate that she had to miss a day of school because of her show of support for her friend, but as a result this student taught her school a valuable lesson about reasonableness and flexibility. Kamryn’s gesture may end up being more significant than she ever imagined.

Winterfell In Columbus

IMG_5983The vernal equinox occurred on March 20, which means the Sun has passed the celestial equator, periods of daylight are now longer than periods of darkness, and spring has officially arrived. Who cares about that, though, when you can look out the window of your study and see — as the photo above shows — snow pelting down and a few inches accumulating on a lawn that should be pushing up green shoots of new grass instead?

I feel like I should be one of the Starks of Winterfell, wrapped snugly in smelly furs, intoning grimly that “winter is coming” and warning of the perils of the White Walkers. This year in Columbus, winter has come . . . and stayed, and stayed, and stayed. It’s the Winter Without End. All we’re missing are a few direwolves and an 800-foot-high wall in the backyard.

Recently one of my friends mentioned that he had a picture on his cell phone of his kids playing in the snow that fell in October. Winter started about then, and it’s still here!

If I had the money, I’d buy every empty condo property in south Florida I could find. After this brutal midwestern winter, I think we’re going to see a fresh exodus of snowbirds who’ve had it up to here with snow and cold and ice and will pay through their frostbitten noses for a chance to feel the sun’s warmth.