Tuesday, April 29, 2008

But I'm A Good Sport About It

I don't "do" sports. By that I mean that I don't attend, watch, listen to, or read about high school, college, or professional sports, whether it be football, basketball, baseball, hockey, golf, toenail clipping, whatever.

If people bother to consider it at all they often come to the conclusion that I must either be gay or a world-class nerd. They seem surprised to find that I am happily married, have a child, don't particularly care for science fiction, don't attend renaissance festivals, and don't have a collection of Star Wars action figures. Not that any of these characteristics necessarily ensures heterosexuality or geekiness, but the absence of them has no bearing on my feelings about sports, either.

When I first moved to North Carolina in 1984, it became apparent pretty quickly that everyone there assumed first of all that you were a college basketball fan and furthermore that you were either an NC State or a UNC fan. They would smile derisively at those lower life forms who were Duke University fans, and gaze pityingly on those barely-on-the-food-chain Wake Forest fans. On many mornings, someone would attempt to engage me in conversation on last night's game. When I would tell them that I was not a basketball fan, they would look at me as if I had just announced that I didn't have lungs. I tried to sidestep the derision at one point by stating that I was from SEC country, which was big on football, and not from the basketball stronghold of the ACC. I got a different response from that, much like I had said that I was from one of the smaller moons of Neptune.

There are a lot of reasons, I suppose, that I don't go in for sports; I find many of the team names as well as many of the players (and fans) offensive, I don't appreciate my tax dollars going to subsidize a big, new stadium and all that goes with it, they often preempt a TV show I really wanted to see, and I hate getting caught in the traffic jams around game time. The biggest reason, however, is this:

I don't care.

That's right, I have a "Y" chromosome and I don't care. Aside from the above annoyances, sports simply has no effect whatsoever on my life. I have a real life that rarely includes fantasy. Those same sports fans who scoff at such things as renaissance fair(e)s and the Society for Creative Anachronism don't give a second thought to saying "We won!" when their total contribution to the game was to open the bag of pork rinds and a can of beer during each commercial.

Oh, I know the games. I know the rules of baseball. I know the differences between the rules for college football and professional football. I know why it's called "The World Series" even though it only includes North American teams (a piece of trivia which, by the way, is more interesting to me than any of the actual events will ever be).

I just don't care.

So why do I constantly have to explain myself? Someone will ask me about "that game" over the weekend and when I explain that I'm not a fan, they feel compelled to tell me all about it anyway. If anyone were to ask, "Did you eat Brussels sprouts over the weekend?", and I said, "No, I don't like Brussels sprouts", they certainly wouldn't want to know why, nor would they insist on rabbiting on about how much they enjoyed the Brussels sprouts. And they wouldn't automatically make assumptions regarding my lifestyle.

Dave Barry once did an entire article in which he developed a hypothetical situation where he was a huge fan of Amtrak. He knew all the conductors' names and their on-time records and how much baggage was lost on each route for the past 40 years. When his favorite conductor was found in the engine compartment passed out drunk and wearing a bunny suit, he went into a deep blue funk for a month. In that situation, he said, people would consider getting him "special help", but people who know this sort of information about sports are called "aficionados" or, at worst, "rabid fans". Right. Aficionados are mere fanciers of a subject, and anything else that's found to be rabid is destroyed.

So when all you sports fans out there go into work in the morning and try to start up a conversation with someone about "the big game", if the person you're talking with says that they don't care for that particular sport, that particular team, or that particular game, give your situational awareness a boost and just shut up.


Friday, April 25, 2008

Things I Have Learned While Driving in Virginia

I have lived in Virginia for over 7 years at this point. Although I'd been driving for many years before coming here, it is apparent to me now that there are certain rules of the road of which I had previously been unaware. With that in mind, I've put together a couple of lists:

Things I've Learned While Driving in Virginia:

  1. It is of paramount importance that I arrive at the next turn or exit ramp before the car or cars in front of me, even if that means I have to swing out, exceed the speed limit by 30 MPH, and cut off the car(s) that I pass. This may shave up to 6 seconds off my daily commute. If someone blows a horn at me, I will be astonished and/or angry at the rudeness.
  2. I do not need to press on my accelerator and maintain speed while driving up a hill. It doesn't matter if this means that my cruise control is smarter than I am.
  3. When coming to a red light on a multi-lane road, if there is a car in my lane and no car in another lane, I must change lanes to get into the empty one, even if I have no intention of going faster than the car that was in front of me. If you ain't the lead dog, the view is always the same.
  4. If I am in the left lane and need to turn right, I do not need to change lanes until I'm 20 feet away from my intersection. At this point I can either speed up (see 1) or slam on my brakes and disrupt traffic until there's an opening in the right lane. Anything else would require planning ahead.
  5. The painting of stop lines at intersections is a waste of my taxpayer dollars.
  6. Ditto the erection of "No Turn On Red" signs.
  7. When I stop at a red traffic signal, the earth ceases to spin on its axis, time comes to a standstill, and therefore it's OK for me to do anything I want to do, as long as I'm not paying attention to the traffic signal any more. If, by some miracle, it should ever become green again, some considerate motorist behind me will blow his or her horn as a favor to me.
  8. I must come nearly to a complete stop before turning right.
  9. When I merge onto the freeway, I must get into the farthest left lane as quickly as possible, whether I'm planning on passing any of the traffic or not. I must stay in this lane until I'm ready to exit. See 1.
  10. While maneuvering through a parking lot, there are sometimes arrows painted on the lane and the cars on either side of me are parked at an angle. These facts convey no information whatsoever. I will never understand why some people look only one direction when backing their car out of a parking space under these circumstances, and again may have the opportunity to practice my surprise and/or anger response.
  11. "Right turn on red after stop" means "right turn on red after slowing down enough to determine that I might not die if I don't stop."

I haven't driven nearly as much in Maryland or DC, but I have learned a couple of things while driving there, as well.

Things I've Learned While Driving in Maryland:

  1. "Merge" means I should run up to the end of the on-ramp as quickly as possible. I then bluff my way in, even if I have to drive on the shoulder for half a mile or so. Either that, or I come to a complete stop and wait for an opening in traffic.
  2. The lines in a parking lot are merely suggestions for where I should put my car.

And finally,

The One Thing I've Learned While Driving in DC:

  1. I can park anywhere I want for as long as I want: Beside other parked cars, next to fire hydrants, in front of driveways, in bus or taxi lanes, or even diagonally across a busy intersection, as long as I turn on my emergency flashers. This tells everyone (including the police) that I am on a very important mission and simply don't have time to find a legal parking space. I am therefore immune from traffic tickets and the ire of other motorists.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Which Way is Up?

I work in an office building. There are three levels of parking deck in my building, labeled P1, P2 and P3, with P1 being the highest level and P3 being down in the bowels of... well... "in the bowels" is probably descriptive enough, if you think about it.

In the elevator lobbies of this building, beside each elevator door, there is a white light indicating that the arriving elevator is going "up" above a red light indicating that the elevator is going "down". Furthermore, there is a little bell that dings once if the elevator is going up an twice if the elevator is going down.

That's three clues that people waiting for an elevator get when it arrives: the top or bottom light, the color of the light, and the audible signal. Even if one is color blind and deaf, one should still be able to figure out which way the elevator is going.

Despite this abundance of information, approximately once a week the elevator stops on a floor and some awareness-impaired person will hold the doors open, stand in the middle of the doorway inconveniencing an elevator full of people, and in wild-eyed fashion look back and forth between the people in the elevator and the lights beside the door while saying, "Which way is this elevator going? Going up? I want to go up. Is this elevator going up? Up? Fred, which way is this elevator going?" No doubt these are the same people who wait until they're at the counter at Ben & Jerry's before they look up at the menu board and say, "Ummmmmm....". The odd thing is that no matter which way the elevator is going and which way they want to go, they inevitably get on the elevator anyway, usually with a shrug, a sheepish grin, and some comment along the lines of, "Well I guess I'll just take a ride."

Apparently these people have a lot of time to kill, and they assume that everyone else does, too.

A fish about to bite a hook has a higher situational awareness quotient than these people.

A while back, I was heading down to my car on P1. The elevator stopped on the way down and two of America's finest were standing there. I could tell immediately that they were America's finest by the haircuts and the look of utter condescending disdain they gave me. The uniforms were a clue, too. They held the door open until the alarm began to sound while they were processing the incredibly complex concept of the direction of the elevator. Since in the long run it didn't matter, they eventually decided that they'd ride this elevator even if it was going to some other dimension. After they got on, they stared at the buttons on the control panel as if they were the operating controls of the space shuttle, and made the quantum leap to the next phase of their lives.

"Where did I park? Am I on P1? P2? I think I'm on P2. Pretty sure I parked on P2. Usually I'm on P1 but I think I had to go to P2 today. Yeah, P2".

One of them pressed P2. I felt very fortunate that the elevator didn't have a self-destruct button.

So, okay, we rode the elevators down to the parking decks, and the two gentlemen got off the elevator.

With me.

On P1.

I suppose you can imagine the conversation at this point. "Where's my car? Where are we? Is this P2? My car's on P2. Wait... this is P1! Let's just take the stairs."

Given the effort that it took the two of them just to get out of the building, I shudder to think what happened after that.

If you're driving around northern Virginia and you see two hungry, bearded, uniformed gentleman driving a car while looking wildly about for their final destination, please be kind. They're fated to wander the earth and never arrive.

Please just don't direct them back to my building.

Monday, April 21, 2008


This is about a gas station experience. It has nothing to do with high gas prices. There's more than enough being written about that right now. It has to do with situational awareness.

So I pull in to the gas station/convenience store. This is a large place with probably 12 pumps. I get out of my car and I hear a female voice, very loudly, saying, "EXCUSE ME!". Not knowing the intended audience, I wonder if perhaps they're bringing back "Designing Women" and they're auditioning for the role of Suzanne Sugarbaker. Such is not the case.

I see a woman holding a gas nozzle at another one of the pumps. This woman is rather matronly ("plus-sized" is how her personal ad would describe her; "fat" is how her blind date would describe her to their mutual friend the next morning), and is dressed in her Sunday best, including hat. She is waving the gas nozzle around above her head and is shouting to every person that she sees going into the convenience store.


There are multiple iterations of this. It's not as if she's actually giving one person a chance to accomplish this favor for her before she shouts the same request to the next person going in the store.

Now, despite what I've written so far, there actually are times when I try to give people some benefit of the doubt. Maybe my situational awareness is not quite up to par on any given day. So why doesn't she walk the 15 feet into the convenience store herself? Maybe she has ambulatory issues. Maybe there's a small child in the car and she doesn't want to leave it alone. Why doesn't she push the little red "Assistance" button that's mounted above a speaker on the column a couple of feet from her? Maybe she just doesn't know it's there. Perhaps she doesn't pump her own gas enough to realize that this is an option.

What finally convinced me that this was a situational awareness event, however, was the fact that the nozzle that she was holding in her hand, waving around with ever-increasing abandon and frustration, was completely covered by a large, plastic, neon-orange sock that said OUT OF ORDER on it.

SAQ: Too low to measure.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Green, Green, The Light is Green

I have driven in many states across this great land of ours. There are certain characteristics among drivers that seem fairly unique for each geographical location. Atlantans drive very fast. It's amazing to me that you rarely read about 40-car pileups in that area. People in Raleigh, North Carolina have a tendency to pull up to a stop sign at 60 miles per hour and then slam on their brakes, leading those passing in front of them to wonder if they're actually going to stop or not. Bostonians will actually scrape the fenders of their cars to merge into a turn lane during rush hour, and those in the turn lane will allow it to happen before they'll let the person in. (A former manager of mine, on business trips to Boston, would wave his car rental agreement at someone trying to cut him off and yell, "I don't care!'; it always worked.) Vermonters seem to all drive 5 miles per hour below the speed limit, but it really doesn't take long to adopt the same sort of laid-back attitude they have and enjoy the scenery.

I now live in northern Virginia. Drivers here have a set of habits that, as far as I know, are unlike those anywhere else in the country. I was going to mention all of these, but the length of the post would become prohibitive so I'm going to focus on just one of these today. Virginia drivers, when you pull up to a red light and stop, please take note:

  1. The light is not going to stay red forever, it will eventually turn back to green.
  2. Technically, even though you're stopped and your foot is on the brake, you are still operating a vehicle.
  3. When the light does eventually turn green again, you should take your foot off the brake and press the accelerator.

Something comes over Virginia drivers when they stop at a red light. They seem to go to a happy place that they are loath to leave. Needless to say, this merits an SAQ rating of "low". Contrary to what these people seem to think, the time spent stopped at a red light is not a good time to peruse a map, dial a phone, apply makeup, rummage through a briefcase, floss, eat a hamburger, or finish up that Tolstoy novel that they started in the bathroom this morning.

On multiple-lane highways, there seems to be some belief among these drivers that they'll know when the light has changed because the vehicle next to them will start moving and they'll notice it. Here's a thought for you folks: You may not be the only one thinking that way. I drive home every day on a 4-lane road with many traffic lights. On more occasions than I can recall, I've been in a situation where both drivers at the light are deep in some meditative state and have no idea when the light changes. Horns honk, and the drivers are inevitably surprised to find that the light is green. I have to wonder if these same people are surprised every morning when the sun comes up.

It's difficult to drive very far in this area without coming across a parking lot or a low-traffic side street. Please, if you have a nail-filing emergency, you need to clean that splotch off your glasses that's been there since you got in the car but you somehow just noticed, your hair has just got to be combed right now, you feel a seizure coming on, somebody on the sidewalk waves something shiny, whatever, pull over to take care of it.

Drivers with a higher SAQ will appreciate you for it.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Situational Awareness Quotient

I find that I tend to get irritated at people on a pretty regular basis. When I think about it, I don't really believe that most people are jerks, are stupid, or do the things they do with the express intent of making my day a little less enjoyable. The problem, I believe, is that people are simply not aware.

With this in mind, I'd like to introduce the concept of the "Situational Awareness Quotient" (SAQ). This term is probably new to most readers. While I wish I could claim to have invented it, the origins of the SAQ go way back to a fairly popular Usenet News group many, many years ago. If you're reading this and you don't remember Usenet News, ask your grandparents about alt.computers, or rec.camping.nudist, or whatever they may have been into before you were born.

The SAQ is a vague, fairly subjective measure of a person's ability to get along in a world surrounded by other people without causing those other people to want to slam them up against a wall and point out that there's a line of folks at the vending machine while they've been feeding the same torn, faded, stained dollar bill into it for the past 10 minutes.

So one wouldn't want to try to be accurate in these ratings. It's more on the level of a gut feeling than anything that could be accurately placed on a 1-to-100 scale. Generally, the ratings for a person's SAQ will range somewhere between "nonexistent" and "extremely high".

Let's try a couple of examples: Herbert is in the grocery store. He manages to stop in the middle of an aisle and leave his shopping cart diagonally across it in such a way that traffic in both directions is completely blocked. Herbert then proceeds to compare the price, ingredients, nutritional information, city of origin, customer service phone number, and expiration date on every single can of kidney beans on the shelf. Traffic backs up in both directions. Someone may move Herbert's cart to get by. Someone may say "excuse me". If Herbert does not respond, then he has an SAQ that is somewhere very near to "nonexistent". If Herbert should look up and move his cart, then his SAQ goes up a notch. If he moves his cart and apologizes while doing so, then he moves up another notch. However at this point there's no way that Herbert can hope to raise his SAQ anywhere much above "pretty low". The only way that Herbert could have accomplished this would have been to understand that he's in a grocery store and that he should move his cart to the side, out of the way, if he wants to read kidney beans.

As you can see, it is difficult, once established, to move up on the SAQ scale. It's actually quite easy, however, to move down. This leads us to our next example, and one with which we're all familiar. You're sitting in a nice restaurant and, suddenly, a small child in the room begins to make a sound as if it were undergoing an appendectomy without the benefit of anesthesia. If a parent immediately jumps up, picks up the child, and removes him/her from the restaurant until things have calmed down, then that parent's SAQ would have to be rated at "pretty darned high". The only thing that would prevent it from being "extremely high" at this point would be the argument that a small child shouldn't be taken to a nice restaurant in the first place. (Feel free to discuss this among yourselves.) In any event, every second that the parent sits there and does not remove the screaming child from the room lowers that parent's SAQ at least several notches. If the parent sits there and never does anything, then it doesn't take long for the SAQ to reach "nonexistent". Alternatively, even if the parent does leave immediately with the child and waits for it to calm down, every time they return and the child goes ballistic again then the parent's SAQ goes down another notch. In this case, the scale is logarithmic. If it happens twice, it's almost all right. If it happens the third time, then perhaps some other strategy is in order. By the fourth time, that parent's SAQ has bottomed out and there is no way they can hope to have the respect of others.

One of the more interesting things about folks with a low SAQ is that they simply can't see it in themselves. Like drug addiction, obesity, or a bad sense of style, it's much easier to see a low SAQ in others. If you've read this far and thought to yourself, "Wow, I'm glad none of that applies to me", then perhaps it's time for your friends to organize an intervention.

So that's the SAQ. Depending on how satisfying I find this whole blogging experience, I will over the next few weeks or months be publishing SAQ ratings on a variety of topics. It is both a blessing and a curse that there seems to be an endless supply of material out there which simply screams for an SAQ rating.

Thank you for reading my blog.

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