Salvation Army Strategies

So, here in Ithaca, we live in an apartment building that fronts a pedestrian-only street known as “The Commons.” The Commons is lined with little shops on both sides, and is graced with classic 70s-modernist landscape architecture down its center. (Is this a good thing? Well, it depends on whether or not you like classic 70s-modernism.)

Now, it is Christmas-time, and being Christmas-time, there is a volunteer representing the Salvation Army ringing a bell, soliciting donations from the many pedestrians passing through the Commons who are no doubt engrossed in their holiday shopping endeavors. The location of the bell-ringer is described in the following sketch:

I’ve had a theory ever since the bell-ringer appeared on the Commons this season (around Thanksgiving, I think). My theory is that his/her placement is all wrong. There needs to be a bell-ringer collecting donations on both sides of the street, rather than only in the middle. You see, everyone walks down the sides (because classic 70s-modernist landscape architecture prevents them from walking down the middle – see sketch above) of the street; therefore they rarely pass the bell-ringer of their own accord. And, you know people: they don’t like to go out of their way for very many things. Pedestrians behave just like water – they take the path of least resistance. People who would ordinarily happily drop a buck in the SA bucket tend not to because they subconsciously are thinking, “Hey, that’s too far out of my way. I’ll just pop by tomorrow instead.”

Anyway, that’s my theory. And I think it holds water because I’ve not seen one person deposit money in this particular donation station (I walk the Commons three or four times a day). But today I noticed something a bit peculiar. Today, there was a bell-ringer operating at the very same location as all the past bell-ringers; but this bell-ringer was equipped with more than your standard-issue ring-a-ding bell. He had a bell that you could actually play a tune on! And he was indeed playing a tune. Now, get this: in the time it takes me to walk past the bell-ringer (about 60 seconds), I saw no less than four different people stop and put money in his pot. I even heard one of them say, “Wow, it’s nice to hear one of you guys actually playing something.”

Just goes to show ya – a little love for what you do goes a long way.

Once again, an old truism returns to guide me: “Don’t ever assume anything.”

In 1994, on a flight back to the United States from Brussels, I remember watching the in-flight movie “The Hudsucker Proxy” by the Cohen Brothers. It’s a great film. In it, there is a particular scene in the newsroom of the newspaper for which Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character is a reporter. In this particular newsroom, a character is manually assembling a crossword puzzle on a large magnetic board. At the time, I remember thinking to myself, “Boy, those were the days – back when people actually put crossword puzzles together. I’ll bet that’s all done by computer now.”

That was my assumption, and ever since then I’ve just gone on assuming that crosswords are produced largely with the assistance of a computer program. Not so. No, no, no, not at all. You see, today I had an interesting conversation with a middle-aged shopkeeper down the street who, while I was browsing in the store, was in the process of creating a crossword puzzle – by hand, on piece of blank paper. He’d even drawn the grid himself, in pencil. No graph paper for this guy. No technological assistance of any kind. I said to him, “Isn’t that mostly done on a computer these days?”

“Oh, no,” he said. “At least not if you want the crossword to be interesting. You know, I’ve sold three puzzles to the New York Times already!”

Strangely enough, this little discovery (and the correction of my misguided assumption) really made my day.

Yes. For a long time, I've referred to Opensewer as "the enema of the information age." And day by day it's becoming more apparent that, indeed, the information age needs a good cleansing.
Video games played an important part in my development as a child (I’m a real textbook case, I know). So this article, while not directly applicable to the market segment of which I was a part, was particularly interesting to me. In fact, I found Signum as a whole quite well-written and interesting. Do take a look. (Via Megan via Backup Brain.)
Here's what I did yesterday. Take a look - it's a nice lunch break diversion.
As Rosie and I sit here and work on our various tasks (I, studying; she, earning some money), we are deeply engrossed in some good music. I am reminded that music, at its best, can invoke a state of higher being. I remember a Moby concert two months ago – an event so intense, so emotional, so sincere that it was almost transformative. I remember a “weekend with the guys” last year where spontaneous drumming (on cans, buckets and such things) ended up lasting for hours and generated a true emotional connection among us. It was the only meaningful thing that happened that weekend. I remember the band I was in during my undergraduate years. We weren’t much, but what we did, we did pretty well. Seven (!) of us: Four acoustic guitarists, one electric, one bass and me on drums. The guitarists all sang and harmonized quite well – we were a sort of folk/rock thing. I’ve been out of that world for so long. But what a feeling it was …
Aside from the fact that I just took a final exam and my right hand is about to fall off (from writing), today was a pretty good day. Nothing particularly special, but I was reminded of some of the reasons why (because there are several reasons why not) Cornell is a pretty interesting place.

Reason number one: Cornell has a bell tower, there are real chimes in it, and people play them, by hand, every day. We're not just talking about two-chimes-means-it's-two-o'clock here, either. These are songs, and they are long and complicated. Today, I was walking across campus to the tune of "Walking in A Winter Wonderland," briskly broadcast from McGraw Tower through the gently falling snow. I have so far attended two Institutions of Higher Learning that had artificial chimes which were pre-recorded; the only feeling you would experience when they would play is "Wow, I go to a school that can't afford real chimes." And then sometimes the speakers would crackle, reminding you again that it was a recording, and man, then you really felt lame. Real chimes are, without question, neato.

Reason number two: On the bus I rode home today there were eight seats (it was a small bus). The seats were all full, for a total of sixteen people, not including the driver. Here's the part I like: I counted conversations in six languages: Russian (I think), Hindi, German, Korean, Chinese (the loudest), and English. Love it.

Problems in The Shower

As many of you already know, I have scale problems from time to time. I get so overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude and complexity of everything, and my place within it, that I am driven to mindless rambling and vast consumption of Life™ cereal.

So today, I was in the shower, thinking. (I know this is rumored to be one of only two places men usually think, but I assure you, I have a mental life outside the bathroom.) I was thinking about the fact that when I lived in Europe, I only took showers about once per week. Having lived in America my entire life and now long re-adjusted to its particulars, I take a shower nearly every day. So I was thinking, “Man, what a luxury. I mean really – that’s a lot of water!”

I thought of the water I used, and then the water used by all of the showers in my building, then all of the water used by all of the showers in the entire region, then the state, then the country… I stopped at the country because we take more showers than anybody else. Like I said, scale problems. But think about it: taking a shower really is a luxury – there are many other ways to maintain your hygiene. We have so many things ‘round here that we take for granted, which are truly luxuries in many parts of the world. I know this sounds like a typical “I’m feelin’ guilty today for being an American speech” that everyone is so sick of hearing, but oh well. If it bothers you then go away. I’m having scale problems and I don’t want to be disturbed.

Today, in Ithaca, it's so cold that you just gotta keep walkin'. Wait for the bus? No way, walk on home - your blood's gonna freeze, child! Talk to a friend? Forget it! Keep on a walkin'. Keep walkin' till you get inside and don't stop till ya get there. Man it's cold.
In the 1950s, over 15 million homes were built in the United States. Most of them were in the suburbs. This is their story.
Observation No. 6

You cannot be sincere and hip at the same time. Being sincere prevents you from being aloof. If you're not aloof you cannot be detached from everything in that oh-so-fashionably-careless kind of way. If you can't be detached - if things matter to you - you can't be hip.

A bit of circular reasoning, I know, but hey, it works for me.

Today, in Ithaca, it is very sunny and it is snowing in that storybook-Christmas sort of way. It's so beautiful - one couldn't ask for more perfect snow. It is the way snow should be all the time. Yes, yes... so much beauty to be seen in the world.