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Hello and welcome to Off on a Tangent, my entire life in the form of a website. I'm Scott Bradford, and I've been building up my web home piece-by-piece since 1995. Pretty much everything there is to know about me is somewhere on this site, as well as my various artistic expressions (fiction, nonfiction, music, poetry, and more). Please feel free to leave some comments on a feature that catches your eye, or send me a message personally and let me know what you think!

life & news blog
posted July 17, 2004 at 10:42 PM

lots o' fun in Petersburg (life)

Petersburg was a ton of fun. I'd gone down that-a-way with the church group (about 13 of us) expecting to do some painting and playing with power-tools in the process of fixing up some old houses, but I was pleasantly surprised -- they needed me to work on the computers at the mission (with Melissa and one of the two Justins helping out at different times).

There are several systems in the office, as well as a classroom with maybe ten or twelve Windows 2000 PCs. They needed some regular maintenance (defragging, etc.) and stuff like that.

Then, I got to tackle a massive pile of donated computer equipment. Included were a ton of old corporate-style laser printers, five regular PCs, and an assortment of old Compaq Prolient Servers, monitors, cables, and so forth.

I got to spend the entire day (after the early maintenance work) plugging things in, playing with them, and making a professional determination of how useful or useless that particular item might be to the mission (or to anybody they might want to give the equipment to). Out of the eight or nine printers, four of them were usable (and those were in reasonably good shape). We replaced the office printer with a nice little black-and-white laser, and we installed a big corporate laser printer in the classroom (and configured all the computers to print on it over the network).

The five regular PCs were all in good shape, but they lacked an operating system (and I didn't bring my Windows install cds ... I had brought a hammer and work gloves). As best as I could tell without an OS, boot disks, or anything else, they all seemed fine. They'll probably end up going to needy students from Petersburg who cannot afford to buy a PC for college.

Two GIANT Prolient Servers didn't have power supplies, so I couldn't test them, and two normal-sized ones simply wouldn't boot (but have some useful parts).

I had a great time. I go down with the church groups to Petersburg because the Petersburg Urban Mission does a lot of good work in that town, which has a whopping 80% high school drop-out rate. The mission helps kids work toward GEDs, get into colleges, and trains them with work skills (including computer skills). In addition, the mission restores old homes that aren't in good shape to make them sellable. Increasing the number of owner-occupied dwellings in the community, they hope, should increase economic and social stability.

It's this home-restoration part that we usually end up working on -- hence why I brought a hammer and work gloves. I'll do whatever they ask me to do, but it was really great to be able to work on something that I actually feel competent at doing. I can swing a hammer, if that's what they need, but behind a keyboard I can really utilize my skills.

They all seemed very happy (especially about having new printers).

By the way, if you have any old computer equipment, let me know. I'll take your machines, get them working (if possible), and bring them on our next trip down to Petersburg Urban Ministries. They'll either use them as classroom computers, or distribute them to people who need a computer for college and cannot afford one.

Anyway ... I have to play bass guitar very early tomorrow morning, so goodnight all :-)

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life & news blog
posted July 16, 2004 at 2:57 PM

mid-September for endorsements, bassist in the praise band, and a busy weekend (life)

All right, I've realized that my original plan for when I'll do my political endorsements won't really work. I had wanted to wait until after the first Presidential debate to pick my candidates, but the first debate will only deal with domestic issues (says the Commission on Presidential Debates) and the third will deal with all the foreign policy.

So, I'm going to make my endorsements before any of the debates (since waiting until mid-October to do it is just too late). I don't know exactly when yet, but it'll probably be in August or September. Keep an eye out.

Somehow I ended up becoming the bassist for my church's praise band. That's all well and good, except the praise band plays at the early (8:30am) service. I went to the practice on Thursday and discovered that I was in way over my head, but I've started working on (and printing out) bass parts for all the songs planned for the next few months.

I started, of course, with the ones I'll have to play on Sunday. I had to get it out of the way today because this weekend is going to be extremely busy. I'll be able to expand to the rest of the songs next week.

Early tomorrow (like 6:something), Melissa and I will be meeting up with a number of other Community of Faith members and traipsing down to the Petersburg Urban Ministry in Petersburg, Virginia. We'll spend basically the entire day helping fix up old houses and whatever else the ministry needs our help with. Last time, I think I got home around 7:30 or so. It's a full day.

Then, after a short night's sleep, I'm off to play bass guitar at the early service. Oy. The long-and-short of all this is that you shouldn't expect much from me between now and late Sunday. I'll be busy.

music: "Rest Stop" by Matchbox Twenty.
mood: conscious.

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life & news blog
posted July 15, 2004 at 10:10 PM

A Day of Rest (mini-rant)

Virginia's legislature made a mistake, they say. Not too long ago, my state's government repealed a whole bunch of old, unnecessary laws. The problem was, they didn't mean to repeal one of them.

You see, one of the laws they repealed was a list of exemptions in the Virginia Day of Rest Law. The Day of Rest Law is an old one -- it dates back to the Jamestown colony -- which gave workers the right, if they wanted, to take Sundays off.

The law was amended later to give workers either Saturday or Sunday off, if they wanted, depending on which was their religious Sabbath.

By repealing all the exceptions, the Virginia legislature essentially reenacted the original law in full force. Embarrassed lawmakers scurried about, trying to figure ways to undo their horrible mistake.

But, nobody seems to be asking what I'm asking: what's the big deal? Legislators have 'set things right' now, they've fixed their error, but why shouldn't workers have the right to take their religious holy day off? My religion dictates that I am to rest on Sunday. The Jewish faith requires the same on Saturday. The Muslim holy day is Friday. I can't see how it's the end of the world if practitioners of these faiths are guaranteed the right to follow their traditions.

Nobody is required to take any day off. If I want to work on Sunday (and get the extra pay that would come with that), then nothing would stop me. But if I want to dedicate my Sundays to God, my employer should not be allowed to stand in my way.

I'm not saying that the original law was perfect (I don't know enough about it), but instead of dismissing its effective reenactment offhandedly as an error, Virginia's government should have honestly considered whether giving workers the right to celebrate their weekly holy day was really such a bad idea.

One legislator, Del. Mitchell Van Yahres (D-Charlottesville), had the guts to raise this question. "I can understand some of the panic caused by this mistake," he said. "But when an attorney alerted us to the problem, everyone jumped to the defense of business. I still havenít heard anyone speak up for the employees."

The "mistake" was fixed by a 79-1 vote in the House of Delegates. Van Yahres was the one dissenter.

music: "Marshall Mathers" by Eminem.
mood: increasingly tired.

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front page rant
posted July 15, 2004

Rooting for the Home Team?

I'm the kind of guy who watches the Super Bowl for the commercials. That said, I have correctly predicted the winners of the last four Super Bowls within the first ten minutes of the game.

I have a three-part system that always works.

First, I examine media reports about the yearly contest to determine which team is the 'underdog.' This team is more likely to win, because the media and so-called sports analysts have no reasonable clue what they are talking about. Being the underdog does not guarantee that a team will win, but it helps.

Second, I look at the teams' uniforms. The team with more attractive uniforms usually wins. Clashing colors and ugly logos hurt a team's chances.

Third, I consider a team's overarching attitude. You might call this the 'mojo' factor. A team like the Los Angeles Raiders is unlikely to ever win a Super Bowl until they quit looking so mean. The team with a more positive, energetic aura usually wins.

Whichever team has at least two of these three factors in their favor always wins. Try it yourself, you might be surprised how well it works. In fact, when you have a hard time deciding, you'll find that the game will be very close (it happened last year). But, of course, who remembers much about what happened during this past Super Bowl? We were all too busy blathering about Janet Jackson's boob.

Why, you may be asking, am I rambling on about how to pick Super Bowl winners? Well, I just want to illustrate just how little I know -- or care to know -- about professional team sports, and I would also like to tell you why you shouldn't care about them either.

In my experience, there are two kinds of avid sports fans. The first kind are the real fans -- their home-town team could be the worst in the league, and they'd still show up for every game (or, at least, watch it on television). They wear their Redskins jackets, for example, no matter how out-of-fashion the Redskins happen to be that season. They support their team not because the team is necessarily doing well, but because it's their team and it's in their metro area.

The second kind are fans of the sport rather than fans of the team. They were the people who were wearing Cowboys jackets -- even half a country away from Dallas -- when it was a cool thing to do a few years ago. They are the same people who have burned those Cowboys jackets recently, because the Cowboys apparently aren't cool anymore.

Now I can't fathom these second types of fans. What is so great about a bunch of overpaid athletes slamming into one another, hitting home runs, or making slam-dunks? Whooptie-frickin-doo. Not only is it 100% mindless entertainment to watch these people move spheres (or oblongs) around fields and courts, but the players get all whiney when they don't get enough millions of dollars to do it (Major League Baseball, anyone?). Talk about annoying! People who compulsively watch sports remind me of toddlers who watch the teletubbies just because they're colorful and bouncing.

So we can dismiss fan-type-2 right off the bat (get it?). It's fan-type-1 that actually has a legitimate (if misplaced) connection to the games that they watch. It's a matter of home-town pride and whatnot.

But this home-town pride is, indeed, misplaced -- professional sports players generally aren't even from the town, or even the region, that they play in. How many Washington Redskins are honestly from the Washington, DC metro area? How many of them were traded in or recruited from elsewhere? The Redskins are as much my 'home-town team' as the Backstreet Boys are my favorite band.

In this respect, college teams are actually better. The members of college sports teams are, at least, students at those schools. Even if they're majoring in interior design and getting a free B+ in every class, they do have to occasionally show up and experience to some level what college life is like. To some extent, I can understand being a fan of your college sports teams. I hate how college athletics distract from the relevant work of those institutions, but that's a Rant for another day.

When you write a story, your readers have to be able to empathize with your characters. They don't have to like them, but they have to be able to relate with them. Without that connection, a reader simply doesn't care what happens to the characters and they won't feel a need to finish your story. If you've ever put a novel away half-read or turned a movie off part-way through, this is probably why.

The characters that fill up professional sports are very difficult to relate with, and that is why I cannot bring myself to care about them or which teams win. The Washington Redskins are not Washingtonians. They didn't grow up in this area and they don't love this area. Their affinity is for the millions of dollars they make playing a game that I never liked so much in the first place.

The 2004 Olympics start in about a month in Athens, Greece. Once upon a time, the Olympics were the perfect counterweight to money- and ignorance-driven professional sports in the United States. "Professional athletes" weren't allowed to participate in the games. The participants were real people who had worked hard and earned their place as representatives of their home country. Judging in the subjective sports was taken seriously and decisions were made honorably.

But the Olympics are looking more and more like pro sports every cycle. They've become an advertising bonanza racked with controversy over bribery and corruption in the judging of subjective sports and in the city selection process. Professional athletes participate in many of the games (although there are still a lot of real people in there too, and I certainly don't intend to disparage those who really have worked hard for their time in the Olympic competition). But I'm not going to watch the Olympics this year because it's become pro sports for elitists.

So here's what needs to happen if any sports organization wants me to start paying attention to them.

In pro sports, teams should represent geographic regions. If I were to become a professional baseball player, I should have to play for the team I live closest to -- probably the Baltimore Orioles, in my case, unless DC gets a team. They need to get rid of trades and all that silliness. If they expect people like me to fall for the whole 'home-town pride' thing, then fill the home-town team with home-town players. Even more importantly, I don't want to hear millionaires whining about how their salaries aren't high enough. You hear me, MLB?

In college sports, eliminate people who can't honestly cut it as a student. Nobody should get into a college only because they're good at basketball or soccer. If their SAT scores and high school GPA aren't up to snuff, don't accept them, and -- more importantly -- don't give them free B+s if they do get in. Schools are about education, sports should be a distant secondary concern.

In the Olympics, heck, I'm half tempted to say we just get rid of them. The first of the modern Olympic games was held in 1892, so the whole thing is really a new tradition in the grand scheme of things anyway. But if the Olympics do stick around, we need to get rid of the professional athletes and -- most difficultly -- get rid of the subjectively judged sports. If the winner is a matter of opinion, the sport shouldn't be in the Olympics. Bribery and corruption can occur in any competition, but it's a lot easier in the subjective sports where a bribed judge can simply say, "Hey, it's my opinion that person x wasn't so great." (Nothing against you figure skaters and gymnasts out there, I respect what you do, it just shouldn't be in the Olympics.)

Until these things start happening, don't expect me to pay any attention to who beat who or what countries got the most gold medals. I'll keep watching the Super Bowl though (and using my highly scientific method to predict the winners), but if the ads are as bad next year as they were in the last, I might have to cut sports from my life entirely.

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