Totally Imperfect

Somebody, somewhere, somehow calculated the odds of completing a perfect NCAA tournament bracket at 1 in 9.2 quintillion.  A quintillion is a billion billion, or 1 followed by 18 zeroes.  Numerically represented, the odds of perfection are 1 in 9,200,000,000,000,000,000.

screen-shot-2018-03-16-at-11-51-24-pmThis year, again, no one is going to beat those overwhelming odds.  After the end of the first-round games in the 2018 NCAA tournament, no perfect brackets remain among the millions of brackets that were submitted in the five major NCAA tournament challenges sponsored by the likes of ESPN and CBS.  Virginia’s shocking loss to the University of Maryland Baltimore County — the first time in NCAA tournament history that a number 16 seed beat a number 1 seed — knocked out the few remaining perfect brackets.  Virginia’s loss probably caused a lot of people to toss their office pool brackets into the trash can, too.  (Two of my friends are diehard Virginia fans.  As a Cleveland sports fan, I can imagine the excruciating mental anguish they are experiencing right now and am deeply sympathetic.)

At the other end of the spectrum, one ESPN bracket challenge entrant managed to achieve a different kind of perfection — going 0-20 in the first 20 games.  Alas, his or her bid for reverse perfection went awry when Nevada beat Texas.

The NCAA tournament is a fun time for both serious and casual sports fans, and I think it’s a good thing for the country, too.  In a country as large and diverse as America, there aren’t many unifying events, but the NCAA tournament, and the submission of office pools and pick sheets, is one of them.  Just don’t expect perfection.


Erin Go Dog

Sure and begorrah, it’s not St. Patrick’s Day until tomorrow, but it is Friday night, and our lucky leprechaun Kasey felt like getting into the Irish spirit a little bit early.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all, and may the road rise to meet you tomorrow!

Our Two Years With Dr. Brazelton

Yesterday Kish passed along the New York Times obituary for Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, who died earlier this week at age 99.  Dr. Brazelton was a nationally recognized pediatrician, but he had a much more direct connection to our family.  He was the “baby doctor” who wrote the books that we read when preparing to become parents.  Those were the books that we consulted regularly as brand-new parents who were relentlessly scrutinizing Richard, our first-born, for every potential sign of illness, unhappiness,  developmental or behavioral problems, and every other thing nervous first-time parents worry incessantly about as they try to figure out the very basic question that lies at the core of the new parent’s consciousness:  is my child normal, and okay?

51izit41s7l-_ac_us218_Perhaps a day after Kish found out she was pregnant, approximately 50 books by Dr. T. Berry Brazelton appeared on the coffee table at our tiny apartment in suburban Alexandria, Virginia.  As is her wont, Kish had done her research, consulted her sources, and decided that Dr. T. Berry Brazelton was The Man when it came to providing us with guidance about how to deal with the new member of our family.  The physical presence of the books on the coffee table when I got home from work at night helped to drive home the point that, in a few short months, there would be a new member of the family in that little apartment, and we would be responsible for taking care of him or her.  Yikes!

Within days, the once-pristine books bore the physical signs of Kish’s careful attention. The pages sprouted highlighting and post-it notes and turned-down corners, and every night Dr. Brazelton’s books would be the subject of further examination and discussion aloud.  They were a kind of holy writ for new parents, and were treated accordingly.  It was obvious that Kish planned on trying to memorize everything Dr. Brazelton wrote, so that when the new member of the family, whom we had nicknamed “Junie,” emerged into the world, she would know exactly what to do at every instant.

My review of Dr. Brazelton’s books was a little less thorough.  I would read a bit and then shiver inwardly and wonder how in the world I was every going to remember every symptom that might indicate whether Junie had some kind of fatal childhood illness.  But as the months passed, and new maternity clothes were rolled out, and the Special Day drew nearer, and the books were digested bit by bit, I came to find Dr. Brazelton’s voice reassuring.  The underlying message seemed to be that new parents could do this, and that the infant that was going to appear in your midst was in fact a pretty tough cookie who wasn’t going to be irretrievably damaged by the first inept effort to pick him up or change his diaper or feed him solid food.  I remember going home the night Richard was born, while Kish was still in the hospital, and diving once more into the world of Dr. Brazelton for a final dose of common sense and encouragement before we finally brought our tiny baby home.

Once Richard arrived in our household, and was put under the new parent microscope, Dr. Brazelton’s books remained on the coffee table and were consulted anew, and repeatedly, as Richard’s every mannerism and cry and facial expression and rash was compared to the descriptions in the books.  And somehow the three of us made it through.  When we learned that Kish was pregnant with child number two, we’d come to realize that Dr. Brazelton had been right all along — we could muddle through, somehow, and our baby turned toddler was a pretty hardy survivor after all.  By the time Russell joined the Webner family, the Dr. Brazelton books had been moved from the coffee table to the bookshelves, to be consulted in the event of something we hadn’t seen before, but for the most part we were ready to fly solo, and were a lot more relaxed about it.

We spent about two years with Dr. Brazelton and his books as a constant companion.  He provided the encouragement and support we needed, at a time of tremendous vulnerability.  I’m guessing that we weren’t alone in that regard.  Thank you, Dr. Brazelton!

3 Reasons Why Clickbait Headlines Use Numbers

You can’t go on the internet without stumbling into “clickbait” — those annoying yet tantalizing articles that you aren’t looking for, but that are designed to entice you to click on a link and see, for example, how “unrecognizable” some ’80s TV star is now.

If you pay attention to clickbait (and of course you shouldn’t, but you can’t really help it, now can you?) you notice that there are definite patterns to it. The headlines for many of the clickbait pieces advertise something that is supposedly “shocking” or “jaw-dropping,” but a lot of them — say, 50 percent — also feature numbers.  As in “6 reasons why your retirement planning is doomed” or “7 signs revealing that your boss actually hates your guts.”  Today’s MSN website page, from which the above photo is taken, includes a bunch of sports-related clickbait, and numbers are prominent.

Obviously, the clickbait brigade thinks numbers are likely to lead to clicks.  Why?

The article “Why We Respond Emotionally to Numbers: 7 Ways to Use the Power of Numbers in Your Designs” — which itself has a clickbait-like title — argues that humans respond viscerally and subconsciously to numbers.  Even numbers, for example, are supposed to reflect feminine qualifies, while odd numbers are purportedly masculine.  Numbers also are associated with luck and with religion.  More basically, many games, especially those where you gamble, involve numbers.  Obviously, numbers must have a deep intuitive appeal for homo sapiens, even those who didn’t like math class.

In the case of clickbait, though, I think it is more than that.  People on the internet are typically in a hurry, and clickbait by definition is something that you’re not actually trying to find.  Numbers in the headlines signal clear limits on the amount of time you’re going to need to spend to check out that provocative clickbait.  Typically the number in the headline is below 10, encouraging you to think that even if the article is a colossal waste of time, at least you’ll figure that out quickly.  The fact that there are only 5 reasons to believe that the cast of Hogan’s Heroes was cursed might just tip the balance and cause you to move that mouse and cursor and click away.


Questioning Your Very Existence

Philosophers, from Aristotle and Plato, through to Kant, Descartes, and Leibniz, and down to the present day, have wrestled with crucial questions of being and existence.

Just imagine how profound the philosophical debates might have been if Aristotle, say, tried to use one of those automatic faucets in an airport restroom and found that, no matter how much hand waving and cursing he did, the photovoltaic cells would not register his presence and start the water flowing?

It gives rise to troubling existential issues. Can I be said to truly exist if the automatic faucet doesn’t acknowledge my being?

What’s Wrong With Our Airlines?

Every time you turn around, it seems like you are reading some disturbing new story about a poorly handled incident on an airline.  The latest is the story of a puppy that a United Airlines flight attendant forced into an overhead bin — where the puppy died.

united-airlinesThe incident happened on Monday, on a United Airlines flight from Houston to New York.  The dog was in an approved pet carrier device when a flight attendant required the dog’s owner to put the pet carrier into an overhead bin.  The flight attendant now says she didn’t realize the dog was in the pet carrier.  Another passenger on the plane, however, says the dog’s owner resisted and told the flight attendant that there was a live dog in the carrier, but the flight attendant insisted and the dog’s owner eventually complied.  When the pet carrier was retrieved at the end of the flight, the dog was dead — perhaps from lack of oxygen.

United Airlines has apologized, and a statement from a spokesperson said:  “This was a tragic accident that should never have occurred, as pets should never be placed in the overhead bin. We assume full responsibility for this tragedy and express our deepest condolences to the family and are committed to supporting them. We are thoroughly investigating what occurred to prevent this from ever happening again.”

In this instance, perhaps the flight attendant was at the end of a long shift and at the end of her rope, or perhaps she was confused about whether there was a live animal in the pet carrier.  (Of course, why else would somebody take a pet carrier on a plane as a carry-on item?)  Whatever the cause, the story is extremely troubling, because it’s another example of airlines treating passengers like cattle.  We’ve seen incidents where ticketed passengers have been forcibly removed from planes, including one instance that raised such a ruckus that United’s CEO sent an email out to me and other United passengers that spoke of passengers being “treated with the highest level of service and the deepest sense of dignity and respect” and that the airline intended to try to live up to “higher expectations.”  I guess that effort still has a ways to go.


Fountain Art

On the walk between my hotel and my meetings in Houston this week, there is one of these timed fountains. Maybe it’s because I live in fountain-deprived Columbus, but I find it to be fascinating and beautiful. Not in an overpowering, Las Vegas fountain performance to the sounds of Mannheim Steamroller kind of way, but rather for the simplicity of the arcs traced in the air by the controlled bursts of the water.

It makes me wish that Columbus were more like Rome, and that there were more fountains in the world. I’ll take a fountain over a rusting piece of generic abstract art on a corporate plaza any day.