Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Another shocking revelation

You'll recall (like dirt, you will) that we discovered earlier this month that "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" and the "Alphabet Song" are (amazing!) the same melody.

Now, this update: Reports out of the Sesame Street camp indicate the chain of coincidence goes farther than previously indicated. An amorphous character named Telly, runner-up to Zoe in the Most Annoying Sesame Street Muppet contest reports: Not only do "Twinkle et al" and "The Alphabet Song" share the same melody, but they share it with "Baa Baa Black Sheep", too. Telly makes this monumental leap in the "Kids' Favorite Songs" DVD that's currently in our hot rotation.

"Baa Baa Black Sheep", incidentally, is noteworthy for being probably the only song that actually features dialogue between the songwriter and a sheep. Also, it raises the question of what the little boy who lives down the lane is going to do with a bag full of wool. Trade it for a Playstation game, probably.

In any case, we're currently on the lookout for any other songs sharing the same melody. Rumor has it that the original demo of Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb" used the same tune, but we haven't seen the proof yet.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The nighttime coughing, sneezing, aching, stuffy head blog

There's plenty of material circulating around the home office of 19 Minutes World Media Headquarters this evening - the only question will be whether the writing staff can stay upright long enough to get through the narrative.

There's a cold circulating around the house - not an especially awful one, unless you're a 14-month old with no way of communicating that you have a sore throat, except to a) melt down on a semi-regular basis, and b) wait until mom and dad have the same cold and find out what a lot of fun the sore throat component is. (Of course, by then, you're mostly done with the sore throat, but mom and dad's suffering is a nice payback for their ineffectual parenting of the past couple days.)

The cold found its way here via a mom-and-baby group that my wife and Sylvi attend - more specifically, via a baby with a free-flowing nose and a mom in denial that there was anything wrong with her child. She attributed the green river descending from her son's nasal passages to "teething", which I'm sure medical researchers will be fascinated by, since that means there's now conclusive proof that teething is both contagious, and more prevalent in adults than previously believed.

Flagstaff has its fair share of people committed to nothing but holistic remedies for their ailments. Our feeling here in the 19 Minutes HQ is that if you think it works for you, that's terrific - just don't get on our collective case about loading up with Aleve Cold and Sinus, or Nyquil, or root beer-flavored cough drops, or hot and sour soup. "Oh, you're just treating the symptoms," these people invariably say to me. "My method [echinacea, dandelion oil, canneloni, franks-and-beans, whatever] shortens the duration of the cold." I have news for these people - without the symptoms, I don't case how long the cold sticks around. I'm not keeping statistics here. The cold is the symptoms. If I could get rid of the runny nose, the sneezing, the sore throat, and the headache, I might still have a cold, but I wouldn't care.

As I hinted, Sylvi was none-too-happy with her first cold of the season, which meant that I was up trouble shooting ("Do you want Cheerios? Are you thirsty? Do you want to listen to a reading of 'Don Quixote' on the BBC?") at 3:30 am. This gave me an excellent opportunity to get the latest on Hurricane Katrina, and how it was affecting cable TV reporters wearing ponchos.

The world will likely be a better place when the trend of TV reporters being buffeted by gale force winds is reeled in from its current out-of-control state. It'll probably take one of these guys getting clocked by an errant stop sign, but that'll be a small price to pay.

It is unquestionably a good thing that Hurricane Katrina has dissipated after unleashing its carnage on the Gulf Coast. Aside from the fact that it'll spare the region more flooding and wind damage, it also means we're no longer subjected to the tiny radar graphic the cable news industry inflicted on the screen as long as their coverage lasted.

In case you missed it, the networks generally threw this little radar picture up on of the lower corners of the screen, right above the scrolling headlines that also let us know that the Cubs had traded Todd Hollandsworth for a couple of minor leaguers. It featured an infinitely repeating scroll of the hurricane's progress as it moved toward the coast. The only problem was that unless you were watching on a 65-inch high definition TV, it was impossible to see the map the radar was superimposed on. And even if you could see the map, the little picture-in-picture insert gave no indication as about the length of time the scroll represented, nor anything about how fast the storm was moving, or how strong its winds were. My cynical suspicion was that the networks thought the radar picture of the hurricane was so vivid (all the oranges and reds!), so well-defined (look at the eye on that storm!), so cool, that it would be a misuse of technology not to have it on the screen at all times.

And finally, we note the departure of the Miss America pageant from its long-time Atlantic City home. The move coincides with its departure from network TV to the CMT cable network. The widespread theory is that the country music channel will move the pageant -- er, scholarship contest -- to someplace like Nashville (the 19 Minutes staff is looking forward to the lasso-twirling competition), but frankly we're pulling for someplace further south. We're thinking the contestants would look especially stunning in rain ponchos, standing in front of swaying palm trees on the coast.

[For whatever it's worth, the American Red Cross has a website set up to help Hurricane Katrina victims. Though this category does not necessarily include damaged TV satellite trucks.]

Monday, August 29, 2005

Wherever you shower, there you are

Careful readers of this feature have probably already figured out that I'm a geography geek. A map geek, really. That would explain why I would decide to learn my state capitals from the information on the sides of chocolate milk cartons in 4th or 5th grade. Though my school changed milk suppliers halfway through my 5th grade year, and to this day, I still get Charleston, West Virginia confused with Charles Town, West Virginia. I think Charleston's the capital. Maybe it's Wheeling.

My affinity for maps was apparently well-known enough that I hauled in three world atlases for my bar mitzvah back in 1982. One of them is a somewhat inscrutable British publication called "The Library Atlas", whose index conveniently directs you to places around the globe by giving their latitude and longitude, rather than - say - the page number. So naturally I still have that one on my shelf, 23 years later. (Hey, the country borders may have changed, but save for plate techtonics, the latitude and longitude are still pretty much the same.)

My senior year of college (okay, one of my senior years of college), I kept a Rand McNally Road Atlas in the bathroom of my apartment. Unlike "The Library Atlas", I no longer own that particular volume.

And that's why the latest addition to my current bathroom was so exciting - a Map of the World Shower Curtain, courtesy of the Target Corporation. (Well, not so much "courtesy of", as "courtesy of paying Target $9.99.")

Aside from the fact that it helps me achieve the lifelong ambition of having a scale in my bathroom that's measured in miles instead of pounds, it's a perfect fit, since it manages to exceed "The Library Atlas" in terms of weirdness.

I had hoped for a refresher on state capitals since my chocolate milk days, but this shower curtain includes only one city in the 48 contiguous U.S. states - Washington, D.C. On the bright side, the shower curtain allows me to catch up on my knowledge of Random Cities in British Columbia, as it features not only Vancouver, but Bear Lake, Prince George, and of course Kamloops. I can also brush up on my Cities That Sound Similar to Kamloops, But Are In Australia, such as Kalgoorlie. Of course, the map leaves out Melbourne, but that's a small price to pay ($9.99).

And while I'm picking up the bottle of shampoo, I can also study all of South Africa's capitals, including my favorite, the judicial capital, Bloemfontein. (Alas, the map is not detailed enough to include the Jubileum Building, which we learn from the city website was "Constructed in the 1920s as a venue for reading and refreshments for young people.")

Other highlights of this terrific shower curtain include Cities that Sound Like Brands of Bottled Water or Vodka (Vaasa, Finland), Cities Previously Known Only to Players of the Board Game "Risk" (Petropavlosk-Kamchatskij, Siberia), and Cities Where Wiley Post and Will Rogers Died (Barrow, Alaska).

Frankly, the only real drawback to this shower curtain is that I most frequently encounter it before I've fully awakened in the morning, which means map details occasionally worm their way into my psyche without my realizing it (Me: "Want to go get coffee?" My coworker: "Sure, where?" Me: "Turkmenistan.").

But in all, I highly recommend it for anyone you know who is both a map geek and takes showers. Also, it's more waterproof than the road atlas.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Telephone press conferences and other delights

A busy day in Public Radioland as the 19 Minutes staff was tasked to cover a press conference held by the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, at which they sounded the alarm about proposed changes to the way parks are managed - concerns that air pollution would increase, and that enhanced motor vehicle access would further detract from the "natural quiet" the Park Service is supposed to protect. Pretty meaty story, even though the Park Service has, in part, diffused it by noting that the draft has already been discarded.

Here at 19 Minutes World Media Headquarters, we had two major complaints in covering this telephone news conference:

One was that the documents they were purporting to leak today were actually leaked yesterday to the New York Times and Los Angeles Times, which left the rest of us looking for a good second-day angle.

But even more annoyingly, we were requested to dial into it a few minutes early, which subjected us to five minutes of Muzak, which today consisted of a medley of "hits" from Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. This means that for the 19 Minutes staff, the legacy of today's news conference is having the song "Rise" stuck in our head for the next 18 hours.

Thanks a lot, CNSPR. Talk about ruining the natural quiet...

Thursday, August 25, 2005

3-1-9. . .4-5-8. . .6-2-7. . .

Either I've been reading the area code directory again, or that damn Sudoku craze has penetrated my psyche.

Alas, with several competing deadlines here in Public Radioland, both blogging and Sudoku are being backburnered today.

But for amusement, here's a picture of 14-month old Sylvi:

The shades are to keep away the Baby Paparazzi, which obviously didn't work.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

What You Probably Didn't Expect, Though You Imagined There Might Be Weird Stuff Like This

First, I'm going to temporarily drop the third-person narrative style usually found in this space - partly, because it makes for clunky syntax (though that usually doesn't stop me), and second, because it sounds ridiculous to refer to my daughter as "the offspring of the 19 Minutes staff". So there.

So like many American parents, hardly a week goes by when there's not cause to check the ubiquitous "What to Expect" series of books. During my wife's pregnancy, "What to Expect When You're Expecting" was the benchmark resource we'd consult to figure out things like: when my wife would want to eat anything besides KFC mashed potatoes, how long we should wait between noticable in utero kicks before getting worried, how goofy I should feel when I read a bedtime story to my wife's belly, etc.

Then, over the first year of Sylvi's life, we spent plenty of time with "What to Expect the First Year" (duh). Mainly, this involved the sections about spitting up.

And since June, we've graduated to "What to Expect: The Toddler Years", though since Sylvi's still pretty petite, I have a habit of sneaking a look back at the "First Year" book, as though it really should have been titled "What to Expect While Your Child's Still Less Than 20 Pounds". Again, I've folded the corner down on the first page of the spitting up section.

But increasingly, I'm finding the majority of the issues my wife and I encounter are not actually in these books. [Note to jaded, experienced parents: Yeah, yeah. Shut up.] So as a public service to new and expectant parents out there, and teenagers who are acting smug about the lame parenting going on in their lives, I'm presenting the following addendum to the "What to Expect" series. We'll call it: "What You Probably Didn't Expect, Though You Imagined There Might Be Weird Stuff Like This":

* * * * *

Problem: Child eats 7,000 pieces of watermelon, then pretends she doesn't want any more, though it turns out she'll continue to eat the watermelon, as long as you feed it to her.

You'll probably: Sigh heavily, mutter to yourself, then proceed to feed her the watermelon.

Real solution: Pretend you're feeding it to her, then put it in her hand and have her pretend to feed it to you. After you've handed the same sticky piece of watermelon back and forth about six times, she'll have forgotten what the initial game was and will start feeding herself again. I call it the "Duck Season-Wabbit Season, Duck Season-Wabbit Season, Wabbit Season-Duck Season" approach.

* * * * *

Problem: It's a rainy afternoon, so playing at the park is ruled out. So you take your 14-month old daughter to the mall, figuring there's lots of room to run around, particularly on a Tuesday afternoon. It turns out, of the 70 stores at the local mall, the only one she's interested in is Victoria's Secret. And no matter where you set her down in the mall, some bizarre, lingerie-related radar goes off in her little head, guiding her invariably back to Victoria's Secret, where she sets about removing all the wireless bras from a drawer and deposits them on the floor. (It's hard to believe this one didn't make the "What to Expect" series.)

You'll probably: Sigh heavily, pick up your daughter, put the bras back in the drawer, and extricate the now-flailing toddler from the store, relocating her to the toy store next-door as a distraction.

Real solution: Sigh heavily, consider that you wouldn't have termed this a "problem" back in your college days, and be glad that you have another 14 or 15 years before you have to think of new excuses to keep your daughter out of Victoria's Secret.

* * * * *

Problem: A little further along at the mall, your young, peace-loving daughter insists on walking into the knife shop.

You'll probably: Pick up your wriggling daughter and relocate her out of the knife shop, sheepishly smiling at the store clerk and saying something like, "We're trying to keep her away from knives until she's at least 18 months, ha ha..."

Real solution: Actually, this probably wasn't a bad solution.

* * * * *

Problem: After several weeks of annoying inconsistent sleeping habits, your 14-month old daughter starts consistently sleeping for 13 or 14 hours a night.

You'll probably: Take her temperature, check on her every 15 minutes after 7:00 a.m., and wonder whether you should wake her up so that she's not eating breakfast at 11:30 am.

Real solution: Repeat to yourself: This is not a problem. This is not a problem.

* * * * *

Problem: Your daughter wants to read the book "Hippos" 23 times in a row, despite the fact that it has no plot, and ends with the seemingly random line "Hippos can weigh over two tons!"

You'll probably: Read "Hippos" 23 times in a row. Then have a strange dream that you have nostrils on top of your head so that you can breathe while you're in the water.

Real solution: Page through "Hippos", but add your own lines, about the Diamondbacks' lousy relief pitching ("Hippos think they need to stop leaving the ball over the plate with an 0-2 count..."), Pat Robertson's idiotic comments about Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez ("Hippos think federally sanctioned assassinations set a dangerous precedent..."), or the constantly changing lineup on the TV Land network ("Hippos wish they would bring "Get Smart" back one of these days instead of foisting "Sanford and Son" reruns on us..."). Do this now, because before long, your daughter will actually be able to read and will say something like, "It doesn't say that, Daddy. Besides, Hippos like "Sanford and Son"."

* * * * *

Problem: Daughter ate grilled cheese yesterday. And the day before yesterday. And the day before that. Daughter refuses grilled cheese today.

You'll probably: Find something else for her to eat. (Probably watermelon.)

Real solution: Find something else for her to eat. And then eat the grilled cheese yourself. You'll never find time to eat, what with reading "Hippos" 23 times.

* * * * *

Follow these real world solutions, and in no time, your child will grow into a well-adjusted teenager who won't be distracted from Victoria's Secret by a toy store. No, it'll take a cell phone store for that.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Paris Hilton ate my Funyuns, leading to a traffic jam

Here at 19 Minutes World Media Headquarters, we continue to keep you apprised of new developments in driving research; specifically, research into techniques that make you a more attentive, stress-free driver.

(Notice I say "make you". As long as there are Arizonans on the road, it's unlikely I'll ever become a stress-free driver.)

You'll recall that earlier this month, we featured cutting-edge British research into what songs help keep drivers awake ("They Can't Take That Away From Me", by Frank Sinatra), and which songs put them to sleep (Elgar's "Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1", anything by Percy Faith).

Today, the PR industry checked in with its own research about how Americans can be better drivers, especially over Labor Day weekend. And thanks to a survey commissioned by AIG auto insurance, we have definitive proof that most Americans don't believe their driving-related stress would be abated by having Pamela Anderson, George Clooney, or Paris Hilton in the car with them. (Really.)

Instead, the survey finds that a majority of respondents would rather have their spouse along for the ride, though in the case of women, the responses were nearly split evenly between spouses and best friends (which the survey believed to be mutually exclusive categories).

Someone named Elise Martin with AIG cut to the chase:

"Almost one quarter of adults feel stressed when holiday traffic cuts into weekend plans. We found that good music, good company and scouting out the course ahead of time, can ease traffic jam tensions and help everyone enjoy the ride."
Here at 19 Minutes HQ, we're only sorry we couldn't have been along for the ride with the pollster:

POLLSTER: Hello, I'm taking a survey about driving and stress.

RANDOM MAN ON THE STREET: Well, make it fast. I'm trying to beat the traffic home today.

POLLSTER: Okay, first question... If you were stuck in traffic, would you rather have your wife or George Clooney in the car with you?

MAN: Um.

POLLSTER: Or Paris Hilton. You could have Paris Hilton in the car with you.

MAN: Would my wife be in the car, too?
Unfortunately, the information that reached the 19 Minutes inbox only mentioned Paris Hilton, Pamela Anderson, and George Clooney, so there's no telling whether Americans would simply have preferred to ride with other celebrities, such as Jamie Farr, Sarah McLachlan, Russell Means, or Chamique Holdsclaw, or whether they're afraid celebrities in general would eat too many Funyuns.

Regardless, based on the research of scholars on both sides of the Atlantic, it's safe to say you should avoid the Pamela Anderson rendition of "Pomp and Circumstance" when you're stuck on the Tappan Zee Bridge this Labor Day.

Barreling into investigative reporting

Joel Achenbach's column in Sunday's Washington Post about how his blog has essentially taken over his psyche is a rollicking bit of good-humored reading, and is also keenly insightful as to how the 19 Minutes staff is feeling these days. In a good way.

Though occasionally, we feel a little guilty of betraying the legacy of Edward R. Murrow, as the New York Times accused "60 Minutes" in the wake of its decision to edit a story about Big Tobacco. We feel a little bad that we aren't ferreting out corruption on a daily basis, or exposing the racism, or sexism, or xenophobia that pervades our every day life, and guilty that even many of our listeners in Public Radioland are most impressed, when they stop by the radio station, not by the slew of awards in the foyer, but by the picture of Terry Gross in the lobby.

Then, we turn on the Food Network. And we realize that, whatever shortcomings our wing of the media might have when it comes to investigative reporting, at least we're not filling time with a behind-the-scenes exposé about half-pint milk containers -- and how they're filled. Somehow, the Food Network and host Marc Summers managed to go deep undercover and find out that [pause for sarcastic effect] milk is transported in trucks to a dairy plant, where it is [pause for even more sarcastic effect] poured into small milk cartons, and (get this) the expiration date is then sprayed on the package in tiny lettering. Unfortunately, the program never confronts the problem of getting those damn milk cartons open.

On a side note, the 19 Minutes management will concede a neurotic attachment to half-pint milk cartons, recalling that I learned all my state capitals from a series of chocolate milk containers in 4th and 5th grade, simultaneously learning about Pierre, South Dakota, while trying to get unsuspecting classmates to pass their milk through their noses.

Finally, it won't make our airwaves, but the 19 Minutes staff would appreciate some investigative reporting on what the heck the local public works department is doing to the main street we use to commute to and from work. It's one of the major arteries through downtown, and it's been ripped up for the better part of a month now with no clear explanation, leading us to wonder if it's just an effort to keep the city's supply of backhoes from rusting during monsoon season.

I've thought for a long time that any road construction project that's due to last for more than a week should be required to be accompanied by a sign explaining what the heck is going on. Long ago, several of us had a theory that the State of Maryland had no storage facilities for its orange traffic barrel supply, and thus, was forced to store them on interstate highways around the state, under the supervision of the Maryland Department of Random Barrel Placement.

More recently, the State of Arizona has gone one step further, and is now actively pretending it's doing road work. There's a stretch of Interstate 17 between Flagstaff and Phoenix that really didn't respond well to the heavy rain and ice it received over the winter. For nine miles around Cordes Junction, Arizona, the highway has deteriorated into a state of asphalt psoriasis. Over the past seven months, motorists have learned to drive partly in the shoulder or partly in the adjacent lane to avoid the rough spots, as the Arizona Department of Transportation has gone through several stages - the signs that say "ROUGH ROAD AHEAD", then the signs that say "REDUCE SPEED: ROUGH ROAD AHEAD", until recently, when they added a sign reading "REDUCE SPEED: ROAD WORK AHEAD". Of course, the only active work being performed is by the elements, which consist of daytime temperatures over 100 and nighttime lows in the 50s.

Fines are doubled if you strike and kill a thermometer.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Dijon Master and his trusty sidekick, Mustard Plaster

So maybe the 19 Minutes staff is more demanding than most when it comes to copy editing. And perhaps it's unfair to pick on the D'Amico and Sons Deli at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport when it's possible neither D'Amico nor his sons started life in the United States. More likely, that was the case for the guy at HMS Host, the company behind the probably apocryphal D'Amico and Sons. Regardless, we were shocked (shocked!) to read the ingredient label on the Black Forest Ham Baguette purchased in a mad dash (or at least a lazy amble) through MSP last week:

"Ham, Italian Baguette, Provolone Cheese, Field Greens, Tomato, Dijon Mastered." [my emphasis]
Those French really know their sandwiches, especially when it gets down to post-production. C'est dommage.

But of course the HMS Host people aren't the only ones to attract the ire of the 19 Minutes crack copy editing squad in recent days. (Mais non!) (I'll quit the cheeseball French bit now.) Here at the home office, we're always entertained by a Baby Gund animal belonging to our daughter - it's a little monkey in a baseball uniform (referred to as 'the baseball monkey', as in: "Sylvi! Where's your baseball monkey? There he is!!!"). When you squeeze it, it plays "Take Me Out to the Ballgame", or at least a rendition that features a special bonus verse that ends one note too soon, as in:
"...For it's One! Two! Three strikes you're out at the old... ball..."
This, perhaps, should not have been too surprising, since the baseball monkey came with a helpful tag that explained "I'm a Musical!". (As for what musical, one could only guess that it's probably "Damn Yank..." or perhaps "The Music...", or even "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream...")

More recently, we were irked at an ad for Suave skin care products, featuring the trademarked slogan, "How beautiful is that." Forget for a moment that it's a rhetorical question - but at least remember that it's a question, for &%$#@! sakes! Again, perhaps we shouldn't be entirely surprised, since Suave's entry website is titled "Choose your County". (Amazingly, Coconino County, Arizona, was not an available choice.)

And finally, we're just altogether baffled by the ad on page 25 of this month's National Geographic Traveler, in which the Audiovox people invite you to
"Sell the XR9 XM plug-and-play receiver with all the Xtras.",
which seems like an odd suggestion, since we were under the impression that Audiovox was trying to sell it.

But we're strongly considering XM, anyway, since it'd allow us to avoid any more unnecessary ads.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

The 19 Minutes Syndicate

For those of you who are so inclined, 19 Minutes Past the Hour is now "syndicated", via something called "Feed Burner". Aside from entitling me to a little orange box with the letters "XML", I'm not 100% certain what this achieves, but my blog-savvy friends (of whom I have none) assure me that this is de rigeur and will instantly yield hundreds of calls and e-mails demanding my opinions of things from the people who run cable talk shows. Do with this information as you will.

Regardless, "syndicating" would sound cooler if I drew a comic strip.

I get press releases, Vol. 21: But what if you like rigatoni?

Somewhere in America there's a child who's just started say, 8th grade. He or she is already dreading this year's math homework. "But Noah/Neveah/Other-Trendy-Name," his or her parents reply, "there are lots of fun things you can do with math when you get older. For example, you could work for a PR firm, and figure out how Americans eat their pasta."

"That sounds really boring," the child replies.

"Come on Hunter/Trigger/Chasten/Other-Word-That-Shouldn't-Be-A-Name, put away the Xbox, and go do your algebra."

* * * * *

Somewhere in America, this scene actually played out (minus the Xbox) a good 15 years ago, because the 19 Minutes staff has already received an exciting press release detailing how Americans eat their pasta - just in time for Labor Day:

New survey reveals whether Americans twirl or cut their pasta
Yes, Harris Interactive, no doubt using their most experienced pollsters, has unearthed valuable data about Americans preferences when it comes to eating Italian food.

ORLANDO, Fla. – August 18, 2005 – There’s a whole lot of twirling going on – with pasta that is. According to a recent survey commissioned by Olive Garden and conducted by Harris Interactive®, 77 percent of U.S. adult pasta eaters, twirl, rather than cut, long noodle pasta, and 58 percent of Americans use their plate, rather than a spoon, to twirl it.
The survey also found that more than 50 percent of respondents are eating pasta at least once a week and most frequently as a family meal (41 percent). From among a selection of 20 pastas, spaghetti is America’s favorite and tomato, or marinara, the preferred sauce. First and second runners up included lasagna and fettuccine for pasta preference and Alfredo and Bolognese, came in second and third respectively for favorite sauce.
And, with all this twirling going on, almost two-thirds of Americans (63 percent) say they end up with a little sauce on themselves or their clothing, while enjoying their pasta.
As usual with these releases, there are some gaps. For starters, there are no photos attached, so the 19 Minutes staff is having a hard time envisioning how the plates are being used to twirl the aforementioned pasta, rather than the spoons. Perhaps people are putting one end of the spaghetti on their spoons and then spinning the plate like a lazy susan. Perhaps these people also move books across their faces, because moving their eyes is too much trouble.

Secondly, we don't learn about the other occasions (besides the "family meal") when Americans are eating pasta, but we should probably assume they're times like "at the ice rink", "while they're directing airplanes across the tarmac", and "on the Space Shuttle".

There are also footnotes, which we're not sure how to include in this posting, but they do allow us to learn that the two-thirds of Americans who spill sauce was actually a composite of people who responded "sometimes", "often", and "always", but that the data was also incomplete, since some of the respondents spilled bolognese on their survey forms, rendering them unreadable.

The survey was (surprise) conducted on behalf of Olive Garden restaurants, a chain which earned the distinction of "Best Italian Restaurant" in several reader polls in the local newspaper here in 19 Minutesland. This led us to concerns not so much about Olive Garden (which, truth be told, makes a pretty good salad), but about the people who take part in these reader polls. (If Cedar Rapids, Iowa is "the kind of place where people dress up to go to Red Lobster" (as someone desribed to us before we moved to Iowa) then Flagstaff, Arizona is "the kind of place where people consider Olive Garden to be a little slice of Tuscany".)

America, in general, would be "the kind of place where people respond to surveys about pasta eating."

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Back from the midwest and onto the blogosphere

Well, that was a dandy little interlude that had the 19 Minutes staff basically traveling non-stop since Sunday morning. We had a laptop along for the ride, but our vintage Macintosh Powerbook (or the vintage communications software) was having nothing to do with the connection at our hotel. That kept us from making several keen observations about the journey... until now. (Oh, good.)

First keen observation: If I was sitting in a desk chair much of the day, punctuated by occasional trips down the hall to the newsroom, out to lunch, over to Parking Services, I could generally get through the day without being too exhausted. But when my day includes sitting on an airplane reading a book, following by walking through the airport, then sitting on a van reading a book, somehow I'm exhausted beyond the point of rational thought. On the upside, I'm halfway through the book.

Second keen observation: You know you're in a Wisconsin airport when right next to your gate is... a beer garden. Furthermore, you know it's an airport in Wisconsin because they're selling brats... for $4.50. Or about the same cost as a six-pack of Johnsonville brats at an Arizona grocery store.

Keen observation #3: Sitting on the banks of Lake Mendota. Eating a terrific ice cream cone from Babcock Hall. Reading a (different) book. Suddenly, six or seven tall, athletic-looking women materialize a few feet away. It turns out they're members of the University of Wiscosnin women's volleyball team. They're handing out free tickets to any of their home games this year. This experience leaves us with mixed feelings - positive, in that the players on the 10th-ranked team in the country are willing to spend their free time trying to drum up publicity for their sport; and depressing, in that the players on the 10th-ranked team in the country have to give out free tickets for people to show up at their games. The 19 Minutes staff took a pair.

Another keen observation: You know you're in the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport when a woman with a polished British accent informs: "You're nearing the end of the moving walkway." I'm not sure why they have such a person, though perhaps it was to keep from sounding too provincial with an announcement like: "Ohh... the moving sidewalk's about to end. That's for darn sure. Okay then."

Fifth keen observation: Also at the MSP airport, a barbeque stand exists called "Austin Blues BBQ." This is a savvy bit of marketing, since most travelers passing through will associate the stand with the barbeque-intensive city of Austin, Texas. Minnesotans and the Minnesota-wise will recognize the Hormel logo on the menu and realize the city referred to in the restaurant name is actually the less-barbeque-intensive community of Austin, Minnesota, about 2 hours south of Minneapolis, and the home of Hormel Foods.

And a final keen observation: You know you're back at Phoenix Sky Harbor airport when your shampoo is near the boiling point as it comes in off the tarmac.

Back tomorrow with exciting news from the pasta eating industry.

It's 19 minutes past the hour.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Life at the Center of Business

The 19 Minutes staff is in Phoenix this evening, hoteling it before an early flight out of Sky Harbor International tomorrow. (Should "hoteling" have two l's in it? Should I never use that word again?)

Anyway, I'm typing this from the "business center" at the Phoenix Airport Radisson. Arguably, I've never really had the need to use something called a "business center", a name which conjures up images of those air travelers I always sit next to who are reading motivational business books and barking orders about the Peterson File into their cell phone until the exact second the flight attendant tells them to shut off electronic devices. I always sort of envision a "business center" as the kind of place where these men or women can rent an overhead projector at the last minute when their computers crash, rendering their PowerPoint presentation about the '06 Financials (or the Strategic Plan) inoperative. The only real way a business center would be of any use in my business would be if it had a fully fuctioning interview studio available.

Here at the Airport Radisson, the business center serves neither the overhead projector renters nor the traveling radio reporters among us. What it is, basically, is a large walk-in closet with two computers. The power-tie clad people working on the Peterson file have been replaced by one slightly-lame blogger and a woman in a t-shirt and sweatpants checking her e-mail.

Adding to the atmosphere is the overly loud Muzak emanating from the lobby, which is inexplicably tuned to the all-'80s channel. And nothing says "business center" like "Living on a Prayer" by Bon Jovi (which came on the heels of "She-Bop", by Cyndi Lauper and "Material Girl" by Madonna).

[An update on the Muzak: We're now enjoying "Tempted", by Squeeze, which is an improvement over Bon Jovi et al, anyway.]

Fortnuately, the Airport Radisson is located within easy walking distance of all the major regional attractions, which in this case includes exactly one Waffle House, which if nothing else made my dinner plans easy to arrange.

I have no idea whether this particular Waffle House is emblematic of the chain as a whole, but this may have been the most soporific restaurant in the history of gastronomy. It was the kind of place where I ordered a waffle and scrambled eggs, and then worried that I sounded too enthusiastic, so I made sure to mumble my request for orange juice. The characters in the George Washington book I'm reading are more alive than the atmosphere in the Waffle House.

[Another update on the Muzak: Nick Lowe - "Cruel to be Kind", which the 19 Minutes staff seems to recall it owns on 45 rpm vinyl. Thanks to the Phoenix Airport Radisson for helping us feel old.]

So we were looking for a way to end this (and shift back into the first person plural), when the Muzak again obliged, cranking out Kool and the Gang's seminal dance hit, "Celebration". This has us scratching our head over a lyric that's always puzzled us: "We gon' celebrate your party tonight." You'd think Kool and the Gang could find plenty of occasions to celebrate - countless birthdays, anniversaries, Stanley Cups, harness racing wins, potty training successes - without resorting to celebrating someone else's party.

But then, once you've celebrated someone else's party, nothing's better to cap it off than dinner at the Waffle House.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

More news to put you to sleep, from the Baby-C World Service

Apparently, Britain is a hotbed of research into music's ability to put people to sleep. Recently, the 19 Minutes staff spotlighted the work of a University of Sheffield researcher, who compiled a list of songs and musical genres especially suited to keeping drivers awake or putting them to sleep.

We're pleased to report that there's more work from the British Isles to check out. The 19 Minutes staff caught a report on the BBC World Service's Science in Action the other night on a concert and discussion in London for babies and their parents. The concert, presumably, was for the babies and the subsequent discussion for the parents. (Though here at the home office, we regularly experience the opposite - listening to say, a CD by the Gear Daddies, and then getting a prolongued and entirely unintelligible lecture from our 14-month old daughter. Most recently, she's taken to adding throaty sounds that give the effect of an extremely small person speaking Yiddish.)

The report - or at least the sources in the report - made the perfectly reasonable contention that different songs and styles of music have divergent effects on the mood of a baby. There weren't a lot of concrete examples, but the "natural sound" (the radio term for what listeners refer to as "those background noises") in the piece included a classical rendition of "Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star", giving us an epiphany when we realized "Twinkle et al" and the Alphabet Song are the same melody. (Amazing!)

We would have immediately employed the Alphabet Song in an effort to get Sylvi to sleep when we got home except for two key reasons:

First, the reason we were driving the car in the first place was in an effort to get Sylvi to fall asleep, and 2) She had already fallen asleep, thanks to the BBC story on music and babies.

* * * * *
On another note (har!), the 19 Minutes staff is heading out for a couple of days to the Land of Many Bratwursts, which may or may not put a dent in our ability to blog. At the very least, subsequent posts may come with a side of sauerkraut.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Shod(dy) for success

The 19 Minutes staff recently had occasion to shop for dress shoes. This was something of an unusual situation, since the last time I bought dress shoes was something like 10 years ago, and that was only because I was en route to a wedding and inadvertently left my dress shoes behind. And at that point, I had a Wardrobe Look in mind, and that Wardrobe Look included the pair of shoes I had forgotten, so I found another pair that looked exactly the same.

A decade later, my feet haven't grown at all. And since (except for a 9-month stint in the actual business world) I wear dress shoes an average of five times a year, I still have the same couple of pairs of essentially identical black loafers.

But in conjunction with a back-to-school sale at the local mall, my wife thought that perhaps my dress footwear could use some updating.

And so I found myself in the shoe section of the JC Penney, looking bewildered as Gretchen held up each subsequent pair of shoes, asking whether I liked one pair better than the others. As someone who wears either sneakers or hiking boots to work nearly every day, all the dress shoes look the same. Sure, some of them have laces and some of them don't (um, loafers, right?). And some of them are brown and some of them are black. Some of them are probably white, too, but as I'm neither a junior high school principal nor a pimp, the white dress shoes are pretty easy to disregard. But basically, they all attempt to look dressy without necessitating the wearing of a tuxedo.

But I dutifully attempted to decide which shoes were my style and which weren't, using the distasteful memories of over-dressed high school classmates as a guide. With only loafers in my dress shoe drawer (Yeah, like I have a "dress shoe drawer". Forgive my figurative blogging.) for the past 15 years or so, I was honestly surprised that the laces on men's dress shoes weren't merely decorative, but actually required tying. Gretchen suggested that if I wanted decorative laces, I should borrow our 14-month old's shoes.

My other handicap is a lack of familiarity with any of the brand names. At least when I'm shopping for boots, names like "Merrell" and "Sorrel" bring an image to mind - an image of shoes too expensive for the 19 Minutes budget, but an image nonetheless. But with dress shoes, you could make up a brand called "Repugnants" and I would look at them with the same bewildered look I'd give to a pair of Clarks, or a coati at the National Zoo. In fact, I almost bought the coati at JC Penney.

In the end, I wound up with a pair of brown(!) vaguely saddle-like dress shoes, that - with my normal use - should serve me find for say, the next 45 years. Especially since I can now rotate them with my two other pairs.

At least I didn't encounter my usual problem in the shoe department, which I generally have when shopping for sneakers - that is, discovering the pair of cross-trainers I want are actually women's shoes. I'm pretty sure this pair of shoes I ended up with are from the men's department. I think.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Asleep at the wheel, if you're a backseat driver

Our recent posting on the research of one Nicola Dibben into what music is best suited to keeping drivers awake and alert got us thinking about the opposite situation.

Not that putting drivers to sleep is an especially attractive concept, but at the 19 Minutes Home Office, we've had not a few instances in the past month where we've tried to get our 14-month old to fall asleep, and the car has been the most sure-fire method.

A recent vacation to Maine proved to be a particularly thorny one for getting Sylvi to sleep. We were staying in a diminutive one-room cabin for a week, and she was completely opposed to drifting off in her Pack-n-Play, as long as her parents were in the same room. (Why we didn't think of just leaving the cabin for a while is another good question.) So the most reliable way to get her to sleep was to pop her into the car seat, fire up the engine, and play the classical music soundtrack (really) to the Baby Genius "Trip to the San Diego Zoo".

But after a few sessions of this, Sylvi has apparently developed a kind of immunity to the CD, and in light of Dibben's research that indicates some classical music might actually be effective to keep people awake, we're looking for some new ideas.

A similar sleeping problem cropped up this morning, and was successfully conquered by listening to NPR's Morning Edition. But we're a little queasy at the notion of using our own radio station as a sedative for small children. And the suggestions of the previously-noted report (Edward Elgar's "Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1", "Firestarter" by Prodigy, and "Kim", by Eminem) seem dubious for a 14-month old.

So with that in mind, the comment line is open.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Back to you, Peter

The passing of Peter Jennings last night will no doubt trigger an outpouring of obituaries and editorials heralding the official end of the Network News Era, placing Jennings's death in the context of the recent retirements of fellow network anchormen Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw. Of course, that era probably ended some time ago. The real era the Jennings' death is helping to usher out is the Era of Self-Taught Journalists.

Jennings left high school after his sophomore year to work in radio news in Ottawa. Brokaw got his start in broadcasting at a radio station in Yankton, South Dakota. Dan Rather's first reporting job was for the Houston Chronicle and its affiliated radio station. They all cut their teeth in an era when there were no established rules for how you become an anchorman. Jennings's first stint as ABC's national nightly news anchor came when he was 26 years old, essentially because ABC figured, "Why not?". All three of them have covered everything.

Those kinds of backgrounds are still out there. CBS's Bob Schieffer started as a print reporter in Texas. CNN's Christiane Amanpour began her career at a radio station in Providence, Rhode Island.

Here at 19 Minutes World Media Headquarters, I can point to a start as news director for a tiny station in Decorah, Iowa. (I can also admit to a little chutzpah in lumping myself in with Jennings, Rather, et al.) After bombing out of my first college, a friend sent me a consoling note, telling me "the world can use another Peter Jennings". She was right, but I still got my act together and finished college.

But increasingly, we're living in the kind of place where people want to be on TV, so they get a degree in Radio-TV, and then - amazingly - they end up on TV. We run into them at news stories and they're chatting with each other about clothing allowances and their next jobs. They're ending up on the Society Page of the local newspaper. Brian Williams' biography on notes that GQ Magazine called him "the most interesting man in television today". We'll cut Williams a little slack for also having worked in a market as small as Pittsburg, Kansas. But it seems unlikely that Peter Jennings would have needed to trumpet a GQ quote. The talk show shouters started out as congressmen, judges, and, um, talk show hosts -- anything but a journalism background.

My only encounter with Peter Jennings came in the media room at a debate before the 1988 New Hampshire primaries. I was covering it for the newspaper at the college at which I would later bomb out. Jennings came in to the room wearing, if I recall correctly, a ski vest, flannel shirt, jeans, and Hush Puppies shoes. He had just returned from the Winter Olympics in Calgary and was sharing his impressions with anyone who would listen, which in this case was a know-nothing college newspaper reporter.

I don't remember any of his stories of Calgary, but that he would do such a thing left its own impression.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Off-the-gridiron, continued/audio alert

The previously mentioned trip to Arizona Cardinals training camp yielded a four-minute piece on the possibly good team this year for NPR's Only A Game. Tragically, the sounds of 6'4", 306 lb. Russell Davis burping into the microphone, and head coach Dennis Green giving the weather forecast for Prescott, Arizona, were both left on the cutting room floor. But there was plenty that made it on the air, and should you have any interest, you can listen here. The story's about 8 minutes into the show.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Jammin' on the interstate with Pachelbel

Just in case you haven't kept up with your back issues of the Eastern Daily Press, the Norfolk (UK) paper is reporting that new research indicates singing in the car may lead to safer driving. The study concludes that some songs help drivers become calmer and more relaxed behind the wheel. Nicola Dibben, the music psychologist who conducted the study, noted that music appeared to be more effective than talk radio (disappointing, but not surprising to any of us here in Public Radioland), conversation, or silence. Dibben's research also indicated that easy listening, classical, or indie/rock music were the most effective styles of music for encouraging safe driving.

The study suggests three songs as especially safe for driving: "They Can't Take That Away From Me", by Frank Sinatra, "Don't Cha Wanna Ride", by Joss Stone, and "Canon in D" by Johann Pachelbel. Especially hazardous for drivers are Edward Elgar's "Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1", "Firestarter" by Prodigy, and "Kim", by Eminem.

In the Daily Press article, Dibben hypothesizes that songs with repetitive, easy-to-memorize lyrics appear to be the most useful in calming drivers (though apparently not quite as repetitive as "Pomp and Circumstance"). Dibben does not say whether drivers should make up their own lyrics to "Canon in D", or whether loud singing with the windows down also helps keep other drivers at a safe distance.

But the 19 Minutes staff, which confesses to putting more than a few drivers to sleep while pulling a radio shift or two, has some additional suggestions for music that could encourage safe driving habits:

Yodeling. You might exacerbate any cracks in your windshield, and you might not have a voice when you reach your destination, but to my knowledge, no one has ever fallen asleep while yodeling. And if you can drive with an alpenhorn, so much the better.

"Land of 1,000 Dances", by Cannibal and the Headhunters. It doesn't get much more repetitive than "Na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na".

The theme from "The Andy Griffith Show". It'll be stuck in your brain for the next week, but you'll get there safely.

"Tubular Bells", by Mike Oldfield. If thoughts of "The Exorcist" aren't enough to keep you awake, you need treatment for narcolepsy.

"We Got the Beat", by the Go-Gos. If you're a guy, you'll feel pretty dorky singing this at the top of your lungs, but not as dorky as you'll feel if you drive into the side of a parking garage.

And finally:

An audio test-tone. A sound that'll put even the most veteran singing voices to the test.

The 19 Minutes staff, however, plans to stick with its alpenhorn. But we're open to suggestions.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Getting in touch with my inner 13-year old girl

Time magazine this week has devoted something like 16 pages to what it's like being 13-years old in 2005. The articles should have come to the conclusion that it's probably just as lousy being 13 today as it was in 1982 (when the 19 Minutes staff was 13), or whenever the authors were 13. But as the media has accomplished with the Baby Boomer, Generation X, Generation Y, and the "Greatest Generation", we now learn that today's 13-year olds are dealing with their own unique issues. Bullying by IM, for example.

The article doesn't mention whether today's 13-year olds manage to give and receive wedgies over instant messaging, nor whether they sneak cigarettes in a virtual breezeway, but I suppose we can all agree that the 7th and 8th graders of 2005 are all marvelously different beyond the comprehension of anyone from previous and future generations.

But the most interesting sidebar to the Time story is the "Gotta Have It" section, in which we learn what material possessions are de rigeur for the Bar and Bat Mitzvah-aged among us. And in the case of the 19 Minutes staff, it turns out that we haven't progressed all that much in the past 23 years - at least when it comes to our eating habits.

We learn that, among girls:

Coke is so ... everywhere. Dr Pepper is the alternative fizz.
Here in Public Radioland, we were just discussing whether it was possible to build a pneumatic tube to deliver Dr Pepper from the vending machines next door directly to the studios. To distinguish ourselves from today's 13-year olds, we may just have to revert to Moxie, an outstanding beverage in its own right (though a colleague has described it as a poor man's Dr Pepper), but one that's next to impossible to come up with in Arizona.

For boys, the gotta-haves include Snickers Doritos, Snapple, and Ben & Jerry's ice cream, which could just as easily have all been included in a story about "Seinfeld" ten years ago.

But just when the 19 Minutes staff started worrying about getting wedgies ourselves, we also learned the boys are into trucker-style baseball caps and something called "Axe" body spray. And that allows smug outside observers such as ourselves to feel pleasantly superior, as we throw our empty bags of Doritos in the trash and go looking for another pint of Chunky Monkey.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Reporting from off the gridiron

You won't normally catch the 19 Minutes staff saying a lot of positive things about football. (That'd be American football, for the plethora of international readers out there.) The game itself is all right, if a little too reminiscent of gladitorial spectactles. But the culture surrounding football is difficult for us to stomach - the overinflated hype every weekend, the 180 consecutive televised hours of the NFL draft, the unintelligible commericals for IBM network servers. And don't even get us started on the inherent contridictions of a sport that celebrates the "guy experience" (scantily-clad cheerleaders, large amounts of beer, attempts to maim your opponent), but which, at its core, features large muscular guys in extremely form-fitting nylon uniforms basically hugging and grabbing each other.

So we're not huge football fans here in the 19 Minutes World Media Headquarters.

That said, Tuesday took us to Prescott, Arizona, where the Arizona Cardinals football team has recently begun its preseason training camp. [Interesting side note: 19 Minutes HQ has been located for the past 6 1/2 years on the campus of Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, about a block from where the Cardinals have traditionally trained. We'd never done a story about the Cards -- until this year, when a virus outbreak caused the team to move its camp 100 miles away.]

Football training camps are actually pretty good places to do public radio stories. Gladitorial spectactle or not, the sounds of shoulder pads smacking into each other, coaches shouting, whistles blowing, and footballs being punted are all vivid and easily illustrative of the sport. And if you're especially lucky, such as was our experience at a New Orleans Saints camp in La Crosse, Wisconsin in 1995, you'll witness a wide receiver drop a pass and then use your microphone to express his frustration via a stream of epithets way too graphic for a family blog.

But the other, more surprising, element that makes football training camps good places to do feature stories is -- the players. They're actually good interviews. Well, sometimes they launch into the football version of the sports cliché primer Kevin Costner delivered in the baseball movie "Bull Durham" ("You gotta play 'em one game at a time..." etc.), but the point is, they talk to reporters. And often, they seem to treat them with some degree of respect - to the degree that they sometimes even think about their answers.

This is in contrast to many baseball players, who basically sit in front of their clubhouse lockers, glowering at any reporter who deigns to approach.

[Hockey players tend to be as approachable football players, but my Finnish is a bit rusty, which makes some of the interviews pretty brief. I'd share my impressions of interviewing basketball players, except that my arms aren't long enough to get the microphone anywhere near their mouths.]

But considering their occupation often involves attempting to submerge their opponents in the sod, it seems improbable that these guys would be happy to chat with reporters as they leave the field. Our theory here in 19 Minutesland is that after three hours of being slammed to the ground, yelled at by coaches with buzz haircuts, and sweating beyond the comprehension of normal humans, it's actually a pleasant change to chat with reporters, most of whom are unlikely to try to tackle them. (The exception being potty-mouthed TV host Jim Rome, who got into a much-ballyhooed donnybrook with quarterback Jim Everett. Regardless, at the aforementioned Saints training camp, Jim Everett granted me a very friendly interview. It was conducted with him standing about two inches from me, which accentuated the fact that he was at least a foot taller, and forced me to hold the microphone essentially straight above my head. People took pictures. Also, this was a great excuse to use the term 'much-ballyhooed donnybrook'.)

Anyway, football players, as they leave the field, tend to have a humble attitude when it comes to dealing with the media. That's in contrast to baseball players, who have just spent the previous couple of hours at spring training practicing bunts, shagging fly balls in the pleasant spring air, and joking with their teammates around the batting cage. Certainly, as we can all agree, a stressful situation that calls for being as rude to reporters as possible.

So Cardinals training camp was an altogether pleasant experience. Though one wonders what the interviews will be like during the season if the Cards play like they have for the past 20 years.

Monday, August 01, 2005

I get press releases, Vol. 20: Don Rather would be so proud

The news department here in Public Radioland did particularly well this awards season, having swept the regional contest held by the Radio-TV News Directors Association and winning a national award, as well. A publication calling itself the "Radio and Television Business Report" hopes we'll capitalize on our success:

Congratulations on winning the Edgar R. Murrow National Award!

For as little as $150 you can give your staff the recognition, praise, and appreciation they deserve by broadcasting it to the radio or television industry in RBR/TVBR's print publication or morning e-paper.
As the news director here, it would definitely be great to let everyone know we won this award, especially people like Don Rather, Brad Williams, Wolf Blintzes, Bill Woodward and Kevin Bernstein, and even Opera Winfield.

Marching into the school year

We're back from Maine. Lots of lobster. Lots of ice cream. Plenty of mosquito bites. Plenty of getting the daughter to sleep by putting her in the car seat and running the engine for two hours. But we'll get back to that this week. In the meantime, here's this month's column from Northern Arizona's Mountain Living Magazine, just in case you can't find a copy at your local Barnes & Noble:

Our 13-month old daughter is still on the small side. Okay, she’s pretty small. Okay, on the continuum of child sizes, where children are compared to boats, if a normal-sized child is a cabin cruiser, then a small child is a rowboat. Sylvi’s closer to one of those remote controlled yachts that you see in the ponds in Central Park. (And I’m really looking forward to the day the “children-as-boats” metaphor catches on.)

She’s growing, but if she takes after me, it’s going to be a long, slow, climb. So she might need some help. And for growing longer arms, nothing works better than taking up a musical instrument. I started playing the alto saxophone in fourth grade, and at the time, it probably registered at 1/3 of my body weight. The saxophone served a dual purpose – not only did it stretch my arms as I dragged it along the sidewalk, but it kept me anchored to the earth in the event of a stiff breeze.

But playing an instrument also provides children with a wealth of other opportunities. For example, if your child takes up piano, he or she will have the opportunity to complain, years later, that they never learned how to throw a curve ball or drive a stick shift, because they were always busy practicing “Für Elise.”

Once they reach high school, they’ll have the chance to join the marching band (unless, of course, they took up piano). Marching bands provide an unparalleled opportunity to wear the ugliest clothes in human history. My own high school marching band experience lasted well into my freshman year, and our uniforms were frightening even by marching band standards. We sported green polyester pants, bright yellow jackets with enormous gold buttons, and green, velvety cowboy hats with feathers on the side, giving us the effect of a whole squad of Elton Johns playing the theme from “Hogan’s Heroes”. (Go Cavaliers!)

We also lacked the benefit of the band camps you see every summer practicing on the NAU campus, where hundreds of kids shake their sousaphones in precision lines before a conductor poised on a ladder. Our marching band featured a robust collection of around 16 musicians, meaning our formations were limited pretty much to spelling out the letter “I”. This would have been more useful if I had gone to high school in, say, Indianapolis or Iowa City. It made less sense at John F. Kennedy High School in Wheaton, Maryland. We did, once, go so far as to form a big “J”, as though people referred to our school as “John” High School.

Your children can also join the jazz band in high school, affording you the opportunity to spend your weekends trying to find black clothes for them to wear at concerts. My marching band conductor also led the jazz band that first year, and his goal was to make the concerts as short as possible. This led to moments like at our Holiday Concert, when we finished our “last” song, before the applause had finished – before we had even stood to take our bows – he was back on the microphone, saying, “For our first encore…”.

But he left after that year, and was replaced by a much cooler conductor, who made jazz band one of the highlights of the rest of high school. This leads to the final opportunity playing music will provide your children – the opportunity, years later, to regret having given it up.