Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 - The Year in Review


Introduction

It is of course only in retrospect that we can decide what were the most important news stories of the year.  Isn’t it therefore somewhat uncanny how, if we look back now, we can see that albertnet covered all the most newsworthy happenings, even though I only blog four times a month?  How is it that my posts line up so perfectly with everybody’s “biggest news of 2014” lists?  Man.

Of course it’s not enough just to digest the news—we also need to learn some lesson from it, and take some action in our own lives.  Exactly what this lesson and these actions should be aren’t always easy to determine, so I’ve distilled them into handy slogans for you, one per month.  So, read on to distill all of 2014 into twelve easy steps to improving yourself and the world.

Note:  this will probably be my last-ever “year in review” post because this is a royal pain in the ass and I’ve finally had it.  Dang.  At least my youngest daughter supplied this groovy poster:


January:  Just lie

I know, “just lie” seems like an improbable slogan for how to be better in 2015.  But if you just take a moment to recall the big news from January—I’m talking of course about the Great Velveeta Shortage that was predicted (by Kraft) but that never actually came to pass.  In case you don’t remember this one, Kraft warned consumers that demand for Velveeta could exceed supply during the NFL playoffs.  And just in case consumers suspected this was just an attempt to drum up sales (e.g., “while supplies last!”), a Kraft spokeswoman explicitly said, “This is not a marketing/advertising campaign.”

No, albertnet didn’t report directly on the make-believe Velveeta shortage, preferring to tackle the larger issue of lying in general.  With my post Santa Denial, & How Lance Armstrong Taught Me to Lie, I described how my own ability to lie improved over the years as I watched one of dishonesty’s master craftsmen, Lance Armstrong, steadfastly deny his doping.  Kraft should really hire Lance as a consultant before their next big hoax.

Wait, you might be thinking.  Should I really take away the lesson “just lie” from these stories?  Well, yes, if you’re trying to sell food that isn’t really food, or victory that isn’t really victory.  Just make sure you come clean later, like Lance did, to teach everybody to be more skeptical.  Velveeta shortage, indeed!

February:   Learn from your mistakes!

In February, I posted a decidedly didactic essay, in which I urged my fellow cyclists not to ride in the rain and cold.  I decried the notion that riding in the rain makes you a badass, by contrasting the petty suffering  of cyclists to that of 19th-century sailors who manned the deck in all kinds of rain and snow, beating their hands against the frozen sails to ward off frostbite.

I was alluding, of course, to another badass sailor, that being Jorge Salvador Alvarenga, the fisherman from El Salvador who spent over a year adrift in the ocean catching birds and drinking turtle blood.   Alvarenga has since vowed to stay away from the ocean, which makes all kinds of sense.  You, too, should learn a lesson.  Not to stay away from the sea, necessarily, but to learn from your mistakes, or—better yet—learn things the easy way.  (Hint:  you can do this by continuing to read about my hard-learned lessons via this blog.)

March:  Bitcoin – The Emperor’s New Money!

In March, I took a moment to explain bitcoin to the masses, which essentially meant explaining why it’s such an absurd, doomed financial instrument.  Not surprisingly, my perspective was immediately validated when, days later, it was reported that the bankrupt bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox found 200,000 bitcoins, which had previously gone missing, in an old wallet.  (“Old wallet” in this context means an old digital wallet that was thought to be empty.)  What does it mean to find an electronic representation of a made-up currency lying around in an electronic representation of a wallet?  It means you’re living in a fantasy world.

Incidentally, the value of those 200,000 bitcoins was reported as being worth $116 million at the time.  Well, that was back in March.  Those same 200,000 bitcoins are now worth only $63.6 million.  (And if you’re reading this long after December 31, 2014, I predict you’ll find it’s dropped even more.)

April:  Don’t fluff that aptitude test!

Normally, when I use the phrase “sample intelligence test” or “genius quiz,” I’m referring not to an actual written exam but to an opportunity life presents to test our mental mettle.  (And if I’m honest, I usually use these phrases to mock one of my children—for example, when one of them is struggling to operate a can opener and I say, “Don’t think of it as a can opener, but as a sample intelligence test”—just to keep the pressure on and take her down a notch.)

As you will recall, not one but two pressing news stories involved such life tests, and how a person dramatically failed.  First, of course, was the airline passenger who mistook the cockpit for the lavatory, terrifying the pilots and getting himself arrested.  And then there was the homeless guy who broke into a motel room to spend the night, not noticing that it was actually a museum exhibit:  the room where Martin Luther King was assassinated. 

Earlier that very month, I blogged about one of those rare non-life-initiated, written aptitude tests, which began with a questionnaire about my race that sent my mind reeling, and a Scantron form with unnumbered boxes snaking in every direction across the page, putting me almost into a panic even before I read the first question.  What does this have to do, exactly, with the airline passenger and the homeless guy?  I’ll let you figure that out.  Think of it as a little genius quiz.

May:  The umpire strikes back!

Microsoft Word’s imbecilic grammar checker has flagged “umpire” above and suggests I “correct” it to “empire.”  I guess they assume their software is a tool for merely regurgitating other people’s content.  Sweet.

I didn’t mean “empire.”  I meant “umpire,” dammit.  I’m talking about umpires striking back after being attacked.  I’m sure I don’t need to remind you of the big news in May, about the unruly baseball fan in South Korea climbing a fence and putting the umpire in a headlock.  Well, they sure showed him … dude got a lifetime ban from that stadium and narrowly avoided a $48 fine!

I got my own comeuppance in May after attacking a group of self-appointed arbiters of cycling culture, the so-called Velominati.  Of all my 283 posts to date, none has received so many negative comments.  The Velominati also trashed me in their own pages.  (Do I mind?  Actually, no.  In keeping with the old adage “there’s no such thing as bad publicity,” my blog has enjoyed increased traffic ever since that fracas.  And, I hasten to add, I stand by all my criticism of those silly Velominati rules.)

June:  Dads are people too!

June brought the earth-shattering news of a study finding men are actually more sensitive than women.  (I’m not, of course; I’m often called a “heartless, unfeeling iceberg,” though mostly by myself.) 

As if in response to the aforementioned article, a day later I posted an essay, What Are Fathers For?, that showcases the sensitivity of the modern man—not just to things like Father’s Day cards, but to touchy issues, like whether fathers serve any real purpose, and to what extent our helpfulness and solicitousness actually cause us to lose our children’s respect.  Colud it be, I wondered, that we should just get out of the way?  I guess I could handle that, and just hang out at the Hotsy-Totsy Club with my degenerate friends.

[Okay, we’re halfway home.  Yeah, I know this post is long, but chances are good that, like me, you neglected the 24-hour news cycle all year, so you’re really getting off easy.  (I hope you know I’m missing out on watching “Dr. Who” with my teenager right now.)]

July:   Spelling counts!

Once again, my blog and the greater news media converged this month.  Almost the same day I blogged about how nobody in Hawaii seems able to spell, back on the mainland a baseball team committed a serious spelling error itself, dishonoring its star player 15,000 times in one fell swoop.  I’m referring, of course, to the Colorado Rockies celebrating their shortstop, Troy Tulowitzki, and specifically his league-topping batting average, by making a whole slew of commemorative t-shirts with “Tulowizki” printed on them.  (In case you missed it, they spelled his name wrong.)

There’s nothing very funny about that, which makes it even worse than some of the Hawaiian spellings.  Our favorites were “Bubba’s Buger” and the salubrious “Acai Bowel” (both of which were items on menus). 

August:  Talk to the hand (not the handheld)

In August I decided to review a taqueria in Hawaii, but didn’t have a laptop on me.  No problem, since I had a smartphone … right?  Well, I never got very good at typing on the touch-screen (maybe my fingers are too stubby), so I used the voice recognition feature.  This yielded some amusing errors and a couple of new turns of phrase I rather liked (e.g., “when it folded in 2007 it was a great opera”).  Of course, this is all harmless fun when you’re just talking about burritos.  When the same technology is applied to a ton and a half of steel that can do 80 mph, that’s another matter, and here my blog prefigured the really big news in August, which was the scathing report J.D. Power gave of the current state of the art in automotive voice recognition.  For example, you might clearly ask your car to turn on the AC, only to have it search for nearby pizza places.

September:  Rats are people, too!

It’s funny how we think of rodents.  Mice are cute and all, but rats—with their big fat hairless tails—are almost universally reviled.  Birds, meanwhile, poop on us and get away scot-free.  (Who hasn’t been pooped on by a bird?  And who has been pooped on by a rat?)  In fact, many of us—such as my own daughter—make a special effort to feed birds in our own backyards.  I’m not aware of any castigation of birders, until their actions breed rats, as was famously described here in the sordid tale of a crazy bird lady attracting rats to a community garden.

Of course my finger was right on the pulse of this growing societal ill, as I demonstrated with my September post  I Don’t Smell a Rat which chronicled the shockingly bold rat who took up residence in my backyard, shamelessly stuffing himself on the expensive seeds we’d earmarked for local birds.  This rat caused family strife by seeming to ignore my cat, who in turn seemed to ignore the rat.  What was I to do, other than berate the cat?  Poison seemed too harsh (for either of the little mammals).  So I did nothing, which worked out fine because opportunity ushered in Misha’s finest hour—her apotheosis from old, lazy layabout to fierce, fearless, brilliant slayer of vermin!  Yeah, that’s right, she got medieval on that rat’s heinie, despite it being just about the hugest rat I’ve ever seen!  Go Misha!

October:  Subject sweets to serious science studies!

For decades I’ve subscribed to the “glycogen window” idea, that being that simple carbs consumed right after intense exercise will greatly enhance recovery.  I only ever had empirical evidence of this principle, until my daughter stepped up and tested it, rigorously, for her school science project.  If you somehow missed this post, click here and see if you don’t find her methodology, execution, and conclusion to be utterly compelling.

Ah, if only the professionals were so thorough!  This same month, a study by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) rebuffed the long-held and universally accepted premise (far more mainstream than the glycogen window theory) that consuming carbs is beneficial during endurance exercise.  That’s right, they denied the benefit of taking in calories during hours-long efforts.  Critics proposed that the EFSA’s finding was due to evidence not being presented properly or some such nonsense.  The more accurate conclusion, obviously, is that all the funding for that study should rightfully go to my daughter.  Sheesh.

November:   If you can understand it, it ain’t “Andrei Rublev”

I’ve long believed that the acid test for intellectual cred is being able to watch, and understand, the Russian movie “Andrei Rublev,” and until last month, I didn’t think I could actually do it.  After all, I’d tried before, but crashed and burned.  What a triumph, then, to actually prevail, and glean enough to blog about it (here).  It’s a good thing this viewing triumph bolstered my confidence, because as all educated people know, the biggest news worldwide in November somehow never got translated into English.  

If you’re one of those who missed out, don’t worry … it’s not your fault.  I’m referring of course to the business with the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius, “Russia piece of evidence awakening spirituality,” which was covered only in Indonesian.  I wouldn’t have bothered painstakingly translating the article, except that it mentioned that the works of Andrei Rublev adorn the walls of this cathedral.  I guess once you’ve made it through the movie, your intellect is forever improved, to the point that an article in English hardly seems challenging enough to bother with.

December:  Just say “no” to shopping

I will confess that my blog lagged behind world news a bit in December.  I was so busy celebrating the lack of public interest in Black Friday, and the suggestion that Americans are actually finding better things to do than shop, that I missed the bigger story about retailers wanting to open on Thanksgiving Day itself, just to extend the consumer frenzy even further.  Fortunately, there’s a backlash to this development.  In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need a backlash, and wouldn’t need consumers to pledge not to shop on this holiday, but of course a perfect world wouldn’t give bloggers like me as much to make fun of.

In closing

At a loss for new year’s resolutions?  Well, you could do worse than to turn my 12 month-by-month slogans into action next year.  And if that seems like too much work, resolve to get all your news from albertnet next year.  That’ll save you a lot of effort, since world news and this blog are pretty much saying the same thing anyway…

Happy new year!

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