Internet Defense League

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Wasted dollars

Sometime last month, I took the kids to the Motor Trend International Auto Show - Baltimore where we had a pretty good time. Not the best car show as there were no major releases happening there. However, Ford had a nifty display set up. They had a computerized electronic racing game there. And it broke as the prior to me got off. To make matters worse, the guy running it was not equipped to reset the system. He had to call a technician in. To essentially reboot a computer. Riiiight.

Anyway, as a part of the display, Ford had their Shift into $50 program running. The premise is that they get my email address, verify that it's accurate, and I take a printed sheet to my local Ford dealership to test drive a car. Following the test drive, the dealer would fill out information on my printed sheet and I would enter the info into a website in return for a $50 gift card.

Well, that's not such a bad deal. I can give them any one my email address (how about and never have to deal with the onslaught of craptastic messages. In return, they get me behind the wheel of one of their cars and try to seduce me into buying one. Now is not a bad time for us as our Mazda is nearly seven years old, about to flip 100,000 miles, and is showing its age -- ignore the sequestration as a deterrent.

Ford is relying on dealers to sell these cars. And this is where it all begins to break down. As soon as the salesman saw me come in with the printed sheet, he immediately brought the sheet to the manager, they filled it out and sent me on my way. I didn't have the opportunity to talk to anyone nor go for a test drive. Was I going to purchase a car today? No, but I might be in the market in three to six months. I now have no intent to go back to that dealer. I feel as if there is no interest in building a relationship with potential customers -- only with those that they are guaranteed to get a dollar from.

Is this my loss? Perhaps, since Ford has a lot of nice offerings out there. However, there are other Ford dealers within 20 miles of here. And there are other brands with just as good or better offerings. Oh well, such is life.

And that brings to a close this moment of preaching on my soapbox.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Building a competitive edge at what cost

I had the opportunity, as I did last year, to proctor Frederick County's Challenge 24 Math Competition. This is something I always enjoy as I love seeing kids using their brains to excel. This is the somewhat rare opportunity for kids to be cheered on for the their ability to think rather than for their physical speed, strength, or agility. It equalizes kids of different stature.

This is also a time for parents, instructors, and coaches to embrace a competitive spirit within their charges. However, this competitive spirit must be cultivated in a fashion that also teaches fairness and keeping within the spirit of the tournament.

Allegedly, it is in this vein that one of the competing schools failed. Perhaps the facts were relayed wrong, but three parents and a competing student corroborated the story and only one parent defended the school's modus operandi. It is because of the dissenting parent that I began this paragraph with allegedly.

To understand the issue, you must first understand what 24 is. The player(s) are shown a card similar to the one on the left. Based on the number displayed on that card, he or she must form 24 using addition, multiplication, subtraction, and division. In this case, one possible answer is 4 * 3 = 12; 12 * 2 = 24; 24 * 1 = 24.

Instead of the students learning to use their math facts, the students memorized the numbers on the cards along with the solution. The students were reaching to tap the cards before the cards hit the table -- before it is even possible that they could have seen all four of the numbers. This is not the intention of 24 or of the competition. The intent is to place an "emphasis on the process and patterns, what [Robert Sun] likes to call 'the method behind the math.1'" Rather than learn the method, the focus for these kids was on rote memorization skills.

Until the end of the tournament, when the trophies were distributed, all of the students were having a great time. It was when they heard that one specific school won 15 of the 18 trophies that they realized something was amiss. And the disappointment set in. Granted, the kids still had a good time. However, realization set in that all of their practicing was fruitless as they were studying the wrong thing.

The bright side of this story is that all of the students I worked with increased their math capabilities tremendously. For that I am happy. But I am still frustrated.

Isn't that the same as studying really hard? Perhaps. However, I would be willing to put money on these students coming out near the middle of the pack or lower if new cards were introduced or if a different solution was expected, e.g. 16 or 32 instead of 24. They may have studied hard, but it wasn't to get better, but to win.

Is this just the ramblings of an upset parent of a losing student? I would say no. While my daughter did compete, neither she or I had any expectation of her coming home with a trophy. She was there to be with and to support her friends as was I. Further, I will volunteer to proctor again next year even though I will have no children eligible to compete.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Homeopathic (holistic) solutions?

Back in 2006, I was diagnosed with gout, a temporary, but recurring disease that is debilitating  Gout is a disease in which your body fails to dispose of uric acid appropriately. Very simply put, certain foods and drinks such as processed meats, beer, and asparagus have high levels of purines. As the purine is broken down within your body, it is converted to uric acid. For most people, the uric acid is sent to the kidneys and is then passed via urine. However, in some cases, too much uric acid is created. The excess uric acid tends to collect in joints, frequently the first knuckle of the big toe, in the ankle, or one of a number of other joints.

As stated earlier, gout is debilitating. The first attack that I had sent me to the hospital where I was explaining to the German nurses that I broke my toe, but didn't know how. I am sure that they were thinking that I was a complete idiot and represented the stereotypical drunk, American soldier. I was out of work for three days taking a couple of different medications to reduce the swelling, alleviate the pain, and get rid of the uric acid. Just the breeze caused by my daughter walking buy caused me to double over in pain. When I did return to work, it was while wearing a pair sandals.

The doctor gave me a list of foods to avoid or, more realistically, eat in moderation. However, over the course of a couple of years, my dietary habits returned to normal and I had a couple of more gout attacks. The last one that I had led me to realize that I needed change. I saw a doctor in the US and he was surprised that I opted to modify my diet rather than have him prescribe my way out of gout. However, he gave me an updated foods list and I implemented a strict diet which saw the end of the gout attacks.

You might think this is the end of he story, but that would make for a relatively boring story -- one that is certainly not worthy of this exciting blog. I found that a couple of friends in the area have gout and we discussed our symptoms and triggers. This really surprised me that purines and uric acid did not behave identically in different people. My buddy, Butch, can drink all of the beer and eat all of the meats he wants. However, one stalk of asparagus will have him down for the count. For me, it's the nitrates and nitrites that are commonly in bacon and sausage.

Finding these differences led me to additional research where I found a couple of fly-by-night conspiracy theory websites touting the benefits of eating cherries. Cherries!? Why hadn't I heard about this? It was on too many different sites to be mere coincidence. I figured that I would give this a try. After a month of eating 20 dried cherries per day, I slowly reintroduced my favorite foods back into my diet. I haven't had a gout attack in nearly three years.

So I started wondering why doctors weren't touting this as a simple, inexpensive, drug-free solution to gout. Of course! The answer was right there in front of my nose. Pharmaceutical companies cannot regulate the production of cherries. There is nothing to be gained by conducting this research. So why hasn't the FDA latched onto this? Likely because it's not in pharma's interest to do so. That said, cherries are getting greater publicity in the mainstream media and medical sites alike.

In the mean time, this has given additional credence to homeopathic holistic solutions to issues commonly treated medicinally. I am more willing to accept or review things I would have laughed at in the past. I recommend you do the same. Don't accept these at face value, but do some research and evaluate it to see if it works for you.

I think that holistic is a more appropriate term than homeopathic is. Actually, alternative medicine is probably the best term.