Working Out – With a Lawn Mower

The Lawnmower Workout

Don’t have time for the gym? Here’s how to increase your effort and reps while mowing the lawn in only 8 easy steps.

The first two are the most difficult, because they require a certain degree of stupidity.  Both of which I recently demonstrated.

Step 1:         Leave the mower under the porch deck, covered only by an old upside down litter box. This will keep the ignition systems and fuel tank covered.  However, when there’s a patch of freezing or below weather for a week or two, this also allows water to condense on the roof of the fuel tank each day. This will gradually contaminate the fuel.

Step 2:         Attempt to start the mower on the coldest day of the year. You will not succeed, but you will transfer some of the water from the tank to the fuel line and carburetor, insuring that the mower will not start at all.

Step 3:         Frustrated, and with a dim idea that the rain and cold may be a factor, move the mower into the dry garage next to the motorcycle. Then recall that you have done this earlier in the year each of the past 20 years or so.

Step 4:         After a week for things to dry out, attempt to start the mower.  Voila!  It will run!  For about 60 seconds.

Step 5:         Repeat Step 4 several times, allowing the motor to get a little warmer each time.

Step 6:         Now you can begin to mow. Each time the engine dies, give it a few minutes for the warm engine to evaporate the water in the carburetor. If you have any available, pour the last dregs of the fuel can into the tank. This will allow the engine to run a little bit longer each time.  Use the extra time to empty the grass bag, move the trash cans to the curb, sweep the garage, whatever. This keeps your entire body moving.

Step 7:         In so doing you’ve avoided polluting the grass by pouring out the bad fuel, mowed the lawn (eventually), and reminded yourself to fill the gas can the next time you are out running errands. Your right arm has now yanked the starter rope about 6 dozen times – a good workout. You have exercised more than usual walking around the yard taking care of small stuff each time the mower dies and dries itself out. For the advanced athlete, figure out how to pull the starter rope with your left hand while holding the kill bar closed with your right.

Step 8:         Resolve to move the mower into the garage a month earlier next year.

 

David Preston                                                      Copyright 2014

Posted in Rants and Raves | Leave a comment

Dirt Bike Riders and Street Bike Riders

Differences Between Dirt Bike Riders and Street Bike Riders

It’s amazing how something as simple in concept as the motorcycle can be developed, massaged, improved, and altered into so many sub-categories, most of them unknown and of little interest to people who do not ride.

If you’ve not had the chance, a ride on a Harley Sportster of almost any vintage will be demonstrative of the original simplicity. For sure, there are many reasons to criticize the Sportster compared to other motorcycles of similar size and price.  Little power, barely adequate brakes, handling that is best not pushed, and standard foot pegs designed to punish your ankles every time you stop and put a foot down.

And yet… when you ride one you’ll understand the primordial motorcycle ooze from which the Sportster sprang. The earliest bikes were essentially bicycles with a motor of some sort bolted into the middle of the frame.  When you ride a Sportster, your initial sneer of elitism will soon give way, if your mind is cracked open at least a tad, to a realization of the beauty of simplicity.

The Sportster as one of the most honest motorcycles made today. It is what it is and does not try to be anything else. The essential early elements of a motorcycle are a frame you could design yourself on a piece of paper, an air-cooled engine in the middle, a transmission that feels and shifts like a farm tractor from back when farm equipment had manual transmissions with heavy gears, and basic instruments.  The Sportster, ridden as its designers intended, is a charming bike. Multiple inefficiencies and iron age technology are soon overwhelmed by the fun you’re having riding it. Which is exactly the point. 

What a tangled web of choices we’ve wrought from such basic beginnings.

Before dividing into street and dirt classifications, let’s enjoy a short detour to cover the differences between “bikers” and “motorcyclists.”

“Bikers” are almost always riding a V-twin motorcycle, It is either a Harley or one of a great many other brands trying to carve out a piece of marketing pie by creating a motorcycle that looks and rides like a Harley. One of these may be better in almost every measurable way than a Harley except one. It is not a Harley.  For a surprising number of people, that is the only issue.

Bikers usually dress to impress in a fearful way. Lots of black leather, lots of black everything else, and often a collection of sayings on decals on the bike and helmet (if a helmet is worn), broadcasting messages that span a gamut of inappropriateness from mildly out there to “if you do not find this offensive you must lack the ability to read.”

Like all other motorcycle genres, there’s less to this book than meets the eye. After all, the fabled “1%ers” of the 1960’s never got close to being an actual one percent of the motorcycle population. Almost all “bikers” you will meet are in fact friendly and warm people. 

Besides, there is some method to their masquerade. Whenever I see a person look at me on my motorcycle with fear in their eyes, I thank the “bikers” who created this reaction, which is almost completely unfounded.  Anyone who is afraid of me or what I might do is going to pay attention and stay as far away from my motorcycle as possible. I regret the false assumptions and the fear, but I cherish the increased safety. 

In my 20’s I was on a quest to educate the world about the true nature of motorcyclists, but I gave up on this quixotic quest decades ago.

“Motorcyclists,” on the other hand, can be seen riding anything and everything.  They tend to be more concerned with how they look to themselves than how they look to others. Like bikers, they are striving for a certain look, and that look is determined by the sub-category they wish to be seen as occupying. This may be based on reality but, like bikers, the result is often quite a bit removed. Which gets us to dirt bike riders vs. street bike riders.

Back in the day, (insert yawn as the old coot takes off again) dirt bikes were designed to be ridden in the dirt – imagine? Street bikes were ridden on the street.

This all changed about thirty years ago when the dirt began to disappear. As a child I played in a huge dirt and grass field (weeds, actually) down the block from our house in Buffalo, New York.  How many empty lots are there within 5 blocks of where you live now?  As an increasing rarity of empty spaces collided with a fear of lawsuits, dirt riding areas disappeared, and the cost of a “dirt” bike came to include the expense and hassle of a pick-up truck to carry it increasingly long distance to get to where the dirt could be found.

Then came the rise of the “dual-sport” motorcycle, led by BMW. The dual sport motorcycle has a license plate but is also capable in the dirt, saving you $30,000 or so because you no longer need to own a pick-up truck.

Now you have street bikes and dual sport bikes ridden most of the time on the same roads, and the friendly (mostly) jibes and insults fly back and forth among them.  Bikers ignore all of this, of course.

Although the rivalry is friendly, street bike people and dirt bike people often assume that those who do not ride the “correct” type of bike are not able to. This is a casual way of self-asserting superiority, and fairly harmless.

I choose not to ride dirt bikes, and this was a bit of a problem when I worked for dealerships that sold dirt bikes. Pretty easy to work around, as I could attend dirt events on a street bike. Since I also usually brought door prizes for the event it was all copasetic.  I also could schedule evening seminars on all manner of dirt bike techniques and gear, without the requirement that I actually listen to them.

Many friends made in those days continue to make comments that I should try dirt bikes because I’d love them if I did, or make snarky comments about my limited manliness because I don’t. 

What cannot be accepted is that I have ridden dirt bikes and can ride them.  Not with anywhere near the level of experience and confidence I bring to a  ride on pretty much any street bike, but I can do OK. 

The part that does not sell is that I simply do not like to ride dirt bikes. I wonder if it is the same for people who love only dirt bikes. Can they not convince others that they can ride street bikes but do not like to do so?

Each side can make compelling arguments. Street bikes bring with them a world inhabited by mechanical creatures that weigh one to three tons, driven by people whose attention is often directed elsewhere. In a confrontation between a 500 pound bike with two wheels and a 6,000 pound SUV with four wheels – the bike loses. Every time.  Street bikes must deal with speed limits.  And pedestrians. And gravel and dogs and horse manure and wet leaves where you were not expecting them.  For some, the street can be confining. You cannot go fast enough anywhere, even illegally, for a modern large sport bike to be approaching its limits. There are lots of reasons to not like riding on the street.

Dirt bikes are – dirty.  There are bumps and holes and obstacles of all sorts. Falling down is a fairly frequent and expected experience.  When I was a reasonably competent water ski enthusiast in high school I knew that if I was not falling down a few times a day I was not trying hard enough. Same with hockey.  However, I was not able to make that leap with dirt bikes. I don’t like falling down.  When you have a mechanical issue on a dirt bike (the odds go up because you’re throwing it on the ground from time to time), you may be far away from mechanical assistance and it might be a long push back to civilization. The bike gets dirty and you get dirty.  A paucity of gas stations may be an issue. Injuries are usually quite a bit less severe than after a street bike mishap, but can occur much farther from help, And they seem to occur far more often. There are lots of reasons to not like riding in the dirt.

Beyond that, I find many similarities in the two sides that might not appear obvious.

Appearance:  Motorcyclists like to look the part, whatever it may be.

Sport bike riders tend to dress to look like they are about to enter a road race (I did this for years), a drag race, or a stunt show.  Almost none of them are about to do any of these things.  There is no real harm in this, as long as the rider has some competence. You are simply a “poser.”  Don’t fret – it’s OK!  If you’re not a competent rider and do not know it, then you’re probably a “squid,” which may or may not be an acronym for “Surely Quicker Until I Die.”   Not good.

Favorite story. A number of years ago I was returning to the dealership after some event. I had on my best “poser” gear. Astride a Triumph Sprint in glistening British Racing Green, I wore my full Vanson leather’s suit, race gloves, black boots, and an Arai helmet in yellow.  Quite the ensemble. Waiting at a traffic light, I could tell the gaggle of early 20’s females in the car next to me were discussing – me.  I thought it would be fun to crank up the tinted visor on the helmet to reveal the actual age of the man they were discussing, but as the light changed I changed my mind. I was afraid the screams of horror would cause the driver to cause an incident!

Sport touring riders like to look like they’re about to take off on a cross-country trip at any second. Expensive textile riding suits and GPS and telephone technology are on display. Most of these bikes never leave the state.

Heavy duty tourers have outfits that vary depending on the brand and model of motorcycle.  This can be confusing to the newbie, but attendance at any event will make it clear. The Harley tourers dress differently than the Gold Wing aficionados.

This is where it can get weird. When the Gold Wing and the hundreds of enthusiast clubs for it first became popular 40 years and more ago, the riders of these bikes wanted to separate themselves from the hard-ass “biker” image. To do so, they mounted stuffed bears and other animals to the back of their bikes. All of them. OK, I can see that. Then they went further.  To get away from the black leather engineer boot style, they went for tennis shoes and white socks, because it is “friendlier.”  Many still do.   Tennis shoes and white cotton socks on a motorcycle that weighs 800 pounds is just not a good idea. And then when it rains…

Dual sport riders bend their attire toward an image of an imminent entry in a 5,000 mile rally in the dunes.  Most of them never ride further than the nearest coffee shop, which is where the phrase “Starbucks Adventure riders” originates.

There is no harm in any of this. Most of the farkles added to machine and body to create one’s personal image of choice also enhance comfort and safety, so no harm, no foul. Motorcyclists (and bikers) may be chasing an image of reality they will never attain, but it’s all part of the fun.

Let’s say you’re an “outlier;” a motorcyclist who wants to ride a bike for the approval received from the eyes of the great masses.  Based on experience, this is simple. You want to purchase a Harley V-Rod Night Rod.

 untitled

I once rode one of these to a charity golf tournament, where it would be the prize in the unlikely event someone aced a hole in one on the specified hole.  This bike, with its high-tech water cooled V-twin engine, is not really a “biker” machine. It is also not a sport bike. It is designed to look like a drag bike with forward pegs. Relatively forward bars give you a riding posture that emulates a large “C.”

As I rode it away from the dealership the handling was so weird I determined that the front tire was almost flat. Back to the shop, where my favorite technician checked both tires and confirmed their correct inflation.

At speeds above 30mph it started to feel almost normal, but the skinny front tire and massive rear made cornering – interesting. As I rode up the freeway in black jeans and boots, black jacket, black gloves, and black helmet with tinted visor, I received more thumbs up gestures and smiles from drivers in cars than any bike before or since. By a lot.  People admired my Kawasaki ZX 12R, or appreciated the exotic nature of the Muzzy Raptor I owned for a bit, or the beauty of a ZRX or Harley Road King, or even the over the top nature of a Thunder Mountain chopper.  But of the over 500 bikes I’ve ridden, nothing has come close to the approval this bike received from others, even though it was a severely compromised design. If I thought the handling was awful at low speeds on pavement, a more heightened experience awaited – riding it across wet grass at the golf course.

You can also have fun by riding the “wrong” bike for the “wrong” purpose. On my 4,000 mile ride to Minneapolis and back last summer I received many comments on the order of “You’re riding that?”  Many people could not see a “naked” Triumph Speed Triple as a sport touring bike.  People from time to time express confusion when talking with a man of my advanced years riding a Speed Triple, which has the carefully marketed image of a “hooligan” bike for your tear-abouts. Kind of a compliment, in a way.

We all want to look good.  No harm in that.

In short, whether on a street bike or a dirt bike, we’re all doing pretty much the same thing. 

We just don’t admit it very often.

 

Copyright, 2014         David Preston

 

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How To Buy Toys for Children

Purchasing Toys for Kids

I’m entering the second toy purchasing phase of life, as our grandson arrives next week to spend the Christmas holidays,  As he is 1.25 years old, I plan to spend the next several years showering him with toys.  Which ones? 

Here are rules for toy purchases, learned, sometimes the hard way, with my own children years ago.  It was going to be a list of ten – but there were more than that.

  • You’re purchasing a toy for the child, not for yourself. As a life-long car and motorcycle nut case, it’s hard for me to stray from my roots. When our children were young, I was struck by how much accuracy had evolved in small replicas of cars and motorcycles and trucks. So much cool stuff, and such temptation!  I wanted to buy every cool car model or motorcycle that was not available in my own childhood.

Somewhere buried in the dirt embankment of the driveway of the home of my childhood is a “Dinky” toy model of a Fraser Nash sports car. I lost it there and spent hours excavating the dirt looking for it. Still miss it.

A hard fact of life is that the child, or in this particular case the parents, may not be so gaga over miniature replicas of great machines as I. Since hardly anyone is, this should be obvious.

  • Eschew the electronics.  Anything powered by electricity, either plugged into a wall socket or by batteries, should be avoided if at all possible.  Not so much for safety reasons, but because any operations done with electricity are things the child does not do. The goal of a toy is to play with it, to let the mind roam, and to expand thoughts and fantasies. Simply watching someone’s creation run through its bag of tricks does not engage anything except the eyes. 

The late Johnny Carson once devoted the entire monologue at the beginning of “The Tonight Show” to this topic.  It must have been 40 years ago, but he’d been in a department store and was appalled by all the new electronic toys that required the child to merely sit and watch.  He did several minutes on what he called “Dickie the Stick,” detailing all the wonderful play a child could have if given only – a stick. Like all comedy, it was based on anger.  It was brilliant.

There are caveats, of course, While perusing the stock at a Radio Shack store a month or two ago while waiting for my 88 year old mother in law to straighten out an issue with her purchase plan phone, I was struck by the number of really cool radio-controlled vehicles you could purchase. And they were not all that expensive, These, purchased in pairs, get a pass, because what could be more fun than racing against your grandson around the back yard with your matching off-road vehicles?  In addition, I’ve owned several slot car race track sets in my life, and assuredly will purchase another one in a few years.

In a fit of excess, at the age of 30 I collected several sets of discarded slot car sets from friends and made a slot car track that required several transformers, mounted on saw horses covered by three or four 4’ X 8’ sheets of plywood. The lap time for this track was about 47 seconds.  I called it “Kirkland Junior Raceway” and had parties where friends would come over, ante in a buck or two, and indulge in races. As it was my track, and I had lots of practice, I tended to win a lot. And then people began to come up with custom paint jobs and modifications to the cars to make them faster.  I fought back with a model of an AMC Matador NASCAR racer, which I figured would handicap me with its size and weight. And it did.

  • Stifle the noise. Any toy that makes noise will drive the parents up the nearest wall in short order, in contrast to the melody of a child creating his or her own sound track.  Worst gift my children received in their youth was a game that involved a clucking chicken circulating a track, You were to depress a lever at the correct time for an egg to be delivered to you, and you tried to get more eggs than your opponent.  The clucking noise was a prescription for an eventual trip to a well-padded room when the noise defeated your brain. At the time, I wondered what heinous crime I had committed against my brother for him to respond in such a cruel way. Fortunately the children tired of this monstrosity in short order.
  • Avoid weapons.  This will arouse consternation for many, I am sure, but I don’t see the value in teaching children the “fun” of shooting things. I have to admit we did have fun back then with a set of laser tag pistols, which were weapons AND electronic, AND made noise, but in general, children will learn enough about violence in the fullness of time. Santa need not assist.
  • No computer games. Every child alive today or that will be born in the future who is fortunate enough to live in a first world society will spend an appalling percentage of a lifetime in front of a computer. You need not add to the total.
  • No videos.  Same as computers. TV is something to be tightly controlled.
  • Dolls are a toughie.  We may look at them as teaching “violence” (G.I. Joe) or “sexism” and “unrealistic body image expectations” (Barbie) and all sorts of other woes, but at the end of the day many children like them and have fun playing with them. The solution that worked for us was a variety of stuffed animals, especially ones that could be draped over a hand and used as a puppet. The child (or parent) provided the personality and voice and adventures, without the implied restrictions of a humanoid doll in a costume of some sort. 
  • Non-computer games are a go.  There are all sorts of games that require the child to engage parts of the brain dealing with logic or math in some form or strategy.  I spent hundreds of hours as a child with a set of “Soma blocks’ that could be put together in various combinations.  I’d recommend spending up for wood ones if possible. Teaching a child how to play Checkers and eventually moving on the Chess will give them a game for a lifetime.  My older brothers enjoyed a 3 dimensional chess set with three levels of clear plastic “boards.” The pieces could be moved in several directions. That one was a step too far for me, as I was not capable of playing it with any skill.

When my son learned to play chess, we had fun while playing if I was also watching Monday Night Football on the TV behind him. That way he was competitive and won often enough to retain his interest.  After a while he could beat me with the TV off.  And then, easily…

  • As a general rule, any toy made of real wood or steel or paper will be more valued that one of plastic. Sometimes you will have no choice.
  •  You can create a toy that is a “fort kit” from items in your home. Any child from 1 to 15 wants a fort. It could be three chairs with a blanket over them up to a tree-fort in the back yard as age appropriate.
  •  Avoid sexism. Some boys like to play with dolls. Some girls like to  play with radio kits, erector sets, or basic tool kits. 
  • Go for manual manipulation and dexterity.  Some (but not all) “classic” toys attained their status because they’ve provided millions of hours of play for children across decades. Most of them allow or require the child to put things together or take them apart, and they can be selected based on the age of the child.  Remember “Lincoln Logs”?  Erector sets, Lego kits, and models of one thing or another – the choices abound.

When I was about ten my older brother received a “visible man” kit for Christmas. This had the skeleton and bones of an adult male in small parts which fit into a clear plastic “skin.”  George went beyond the kit to paint in the arteries and veins in blue and red model paint, showing the focus and patience that would serve him well in his eventual career with a doctorate in chemical engineering.  I was more interested in basic items, like a new hockey stick.

  • Music is fine…if…  Does the child like music?  A gift that the child uses to create music, not merely listen to it, can be a wonderful thing.

Fun story. In elementary school I took up the flute. On Christmas morning I was excited to tear the wrapping paper off what emerged – a new case for my school rental flute. I was thanking my parents when they suggested that I actually open the case. It never occurred to me that they would actually purchase me my own flute! I still have it.

  • Books, books, books, and more books. A child who is read to, and then learns to read by him or herself at an early age will be streets ahead of everyone, for life.  There are books for non-readers, books for beginning readers, and on and on. The reason books are so great is that when you read, your imagination has to picture each scene and provide all the sounds and smells and colors.  This is a good thing.  It is pretty easy to keep track of the child’s tastes in literature and gently lead them toward a life of wonder and exploration.

Another fun story.  My children loved the “Berenstain Bears” books. I read them so often I thought I would lose my mind with our second child. I came up with a better idea. I would simply start to tell my son a bedtime story that I made up on the fly. I did not have to worry about the ending, because he would fall asleep before I had to figure out how it all came out.  I paid little attention to what was in each story. This worked a treat until the fateful day when my son said, “Daddy, tell me that story you told me last week again.”

Panic. I had no recollection of what the story was about.  Quick thinking got me to “Which story was that?”

“You know, the one where the boy is in the attic and he opens an old trunk and finds a toy fire truck.”

“Oh, that one,” I lied. I then took up that story and kept it going until he fell asleep again.  Whew!

If you remove all the gifts from this list that are “don’ts” you’ll still have millions of choices. I look forward to making mine.

 

Copyright 2014                                                       David Preston

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Merry New Hap News for 2014

Merry New Hap News… for 2014                        

Happy Holidays!  Here’s our annual effort to include all the adventures we see fit to print from 2014 in just a few pages. The major events of 2014 were, in order: 

1.  Grandson Arthur! 

2. Will and Alida’s engagement! 

3. Will and Alida’s wedding!

There were other adventures, of course, but none as meaningful as these three. 

We initiated the year with a quick trip to California to help Dorine and Dorje and 3 month old Arthur move to Santa Cruz.  This entailed two epic days of hard labor, and would not have been as successful without Richard Lewis zipping over the hill from Los Gatos to assist on the final evening.

 On January 1st we started the year off in the best way possible with a “We’re engaged!” call from Will and Alida.

In February we flew back to Santa Cruz to see how our hard work had panned out.  In April we chose to drive to Los Gatos and Santa Cruz in our Fiat, and David had a fun day or two as we returned up the coast on twisty US 1.  Susan cowered low down in the right seat with a book!

We attended a two day UW engineering festival in the spring with nephews Sam and Quinn. Sam is a senior and was interested in a couple of programs. We had no idea how prescient our attendance was.  More later!

In May David had the honor of emceeing a concert at Doc Maynard’s, his old stomping grounds from days of leading Underground Tours in Seattle. This was a fund raising event for cancer research, and Susan sold raffle tickets while David did whatever. 

As soon as school was out Susan was off to check in with Arthur in California!

In late July David recreated a motorcycle trip he’d taken three times many years ago by riding his Triumph back to Minnesota, where Susan flew in to join him for a couple of days of visiting old friends and places and an “all-years” reunion for Minnetonka high school. He’d been looking forward to this trip for (literally) 40 years, and it was all he could have hoped for. He took careful notes in both directions, and much of this trip was used in his latest novel, as several actual events blended easily into the fictional plot.

August featured another California trip for Susan to Los Gatos and Santa Cruz, while David’s participated in a Rider’s for Health fund-raising weekend camping trip and motorcycle ride.  The huge news was that Will had applied to both Seattle U and the University of Washington, and was accepted – to both! After comparing their respective programs he settled on the U of W, entering as a junior in Environmental Science, one of the programs featured in our earlier visit with Sam and Quinn.

September was “Wedding Month.”  We enjoyed meeting Alida’s parents and family. It was great fun for David to learn that the father of the bride is a car nut!   They managed to pay attention to wedding stuff – most of the time. The rehearsal dinner and wedding were both spectacular, filled with wonderful people from all over, terrific creativity in the planning of both events, and just a fabulous and memorable time.       

With all of this Susan also began her 29th year of teaching, welcoming a new group of 4th graders and all of the challenges they, their parents, and mandated common core tests can bring. How many more years for her?  Good question, and one we’re beginning to discuss.

Our fun continued for another week as we hosted Will and Alida’s dog Maizie while they were off on a honeymoon before Will’s first day of class at the U.   

Retired for a year now, David fills his time with increased duties around the home, working out, writing, riding his motorcycle, and going for hikes.  He’s recently added a bicycle to the garage, and hopes to attack that discipline in the coming monthsIn late October David completed work on his 4th novel and 7th book.  Taking over two years to write, Triathlon Ride is his 3rd “Harrison Thomas” mystery and by far the longest and most complicated of his books.  After editing by Susan and selected friends, friend Gary Stebbins took on the publishing duties of uploading it to Amazon as an e-reader. Triathlon Ride involves motorcycles (of course) as well as triathlons, where Will’s experiences and advice were crucial.  Will there be another?  Most likely!

For 2015 we hope for continued good health for all, and as much treasured time with our children, their spouses, our extended families, and our grandson as possible.  Also in the planning stages are motorcycle trips, teaching the children, perhaps starting another novel, hiking, reading, bemoaning the political idiocy of so many of our fellow citizens, and so on.  In the meantime, we continue to be grateful for all we have.      

All our best to you and yours!      

David  and Susan Preston                 

David@davidpreston.biz 

PS:     For a version of this letter that includes several pictures, send an e-mail request.

PPS:  This just in!  Over the next few weeks work will be completed to allow you to order one or more of my books from Amazon in paperback form!

 

 

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Press release for Triathlon Ride

For Immediate Release:  November 19th, 2014

Northwest Author Publishes 7th book:           Triathlon Ride

Bothell resident David Preston has just published his 7th book as an Amazon e-reader.  Triathlon Ride is the 3rd novel in his “Harrison Thomas” mystery series.

Over dozen years ago Preston wrote Motorcycle 101, a light-hearted guide to motorcycling for those new to or returning to motorcycles.  Originally written for his son, Preston’s book sold 1,000 copies and is now out of print. Motorcyclists asked for a revised and updated version of the book, and he responded with Motorcycle 201, an extensively revised e-book edition with added sections.

He later published two collections of essays that deal with motorcycles and high performance cars,  Motorcycle Heart, Theory, and Practice, and No Corner Left Unturned.

With some success from these books, he dug out a teen romance and mystery novel he wrote back in the 1980’s during a first career as a junior high teacher. The Third Marcia had never received any serious attempts to find a publisher.  “I think at that time,” he explained, “I was more interested in seeing if I could actually create a novel.” The rise of self-publishing through Amazon removed that hurdle.

In 2011, Preston finished a novel he‘d been working on for a few years. Mourning Ride was the first of the Harrison Thomas series. Harrison’s was a minor character in The Third Marcia, and the mystery picks up on his life after he retired.  “As my friends started to purchase the book, many of them said that the story was great but what they really loved were the characters. They wanted to hear more from them, and I realized I did too.”

Identity Ride came out in 2013, and used several plot and character devices suggested by friends who’d read the previous book. Triathlon Ride furthers the use of several of the same characters.

All of the books feature one or more motorcycles as significant plot elements. “It occurred to me the other day,” added Preston, “that this latest book is the only novel I’ve written where no motorcycles are destroyed. Not sure what that means.”

Will there be further novels in this series?  “I’m sure there will be.  A plot idea will pop into my head sooner or later, or be provided by one of my friends, and the next adventure will begin. They’re fun to write and hopefully, fun to read.”

All of Preston’s books are available at www.amazon.com by entering the title desired. They are for any e-reader, priced at $4.95 each.

e-mail: david@davidpreston.biz                     website:  www.davidpreston.biz

Copyright 2014                         David Preston

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Thoughts on Amazon book pricing

Amazon Publishing From the Low-Selling Author Point of View

I’m about to have my 7th book published as an Amazon Kindle or other e-reader. None of my books sell all that well. I average one to two a day, although I have hopes for the latest one, due out any day now. I have a business license, so I can write off some of my costs, and my tax person makes sure I show a very small profit each year on a total income of a couple of thousand dollars or less.

My experiences provide an interesting (at least to me) contrast to the much publicized battles between Amazon and large publishing firms over book pricing.

A bit of background:  I write because I enjoy the mental and physical process, as well as the result. To a large extent, the intended audience of everything I write is… me.  That some others enjoy what I write, either on this web site or by reading one of my books is a pleasant bonus that also provides encouragement.

I sold the first piece of writing I ever submitted. This was, against all odds, a science fiction story that appeared in “Rod & Custom” magazine, in 1972. Probably the first and last science fiction story to appear in a car magazine.

Oh, the excitement!  I rushed out to the store and purchased 9 copies, consuming some of the $100 or so I was paid. Most of the rest went to celebratory dinner out with Susan. 

First lesson in publishing. When you sell a story, you sell the words. I was appalled to see the illustration the magazine paid an artist to draw that appeared behind the words, because it was incorrect!

I sold the second piece I submitted. This was a story about our motorcycle honeymoon, focused on the motorcycle part, of course.  That one appeared in “Road Rider” magazine, now known as “Motorcycle Consumer News.”

Then I sold the THIRD piece I submitted, this one a truly awful poem about motorcycle riding that also appeared in “Road Rider.”

Now that I had sold three in a row and taken in at least $225, my future was secure. I would soon leave behind the ten grand or so of annual income from teaching junior high and become a highly paid author.

Obviously.

Emboldened by success, I set out to write a story for “Playboy” magazine. Back in those days Playboy paid ten grand for a published story, a year’s income for me.  Doing this allowed them to publish work by some of the best writers in the world.  Undaunted by the competition, I created a story I’m still fond of today, unlike the previously published poem, which was so bad I’ll be doomed to the hell of bad poets for all eternity in the fullness of time.

In my story, the main character road races a Corvette.  We owned one at the time, although much older and certainly not a race car.  My character had sacrificed a lot of time, sweat, pain, and money on his racing efforts, and was leading the season points’ race. As the story progresses, his marriage is falling apart. Just as the final race of the season begins, he learns that his wife has been having an affair with his chief rival, another Corvette racer. Enraged, he begins abusing his car savagely and takes the lead.  As the race progresses, he figures out that he is over-driving the car and using up the brakes and the engine. If he continues he may win, or he may blow up. Gradually it dawns on him that the car means more to him than his wife does, and he slows down to preserve what he has. His rival passes him and wins the race, but he’s fine with that because he has preserved his sanity and decided what is important to him.

I wrote that story, and worked on it, editing various passages over and over, I took a post-graduate writing class at the U of W, where most of the other students and the professor were “real” authors.  I read portions of the story aloud each week and took in their wise counsel. By the end of the summer term it was done.

I sent it off to Playboy and awaited the result. What came was the classiest rejection letter I ever received.  A small piece of note paper with the words “David, Not for us. Thanks.” It was signed by Hugh Hefner’s daughter, who at that time was the editor in chief of the magazine.

Forging ahead, I created other pieces, and soon learned lesson #2. When you send something in, there is no guarantee you’ll ever hear anything back.  Sometimes your hard work just vanishes into a dark hole that probably resembles a waste basket.  Publishers do not seem to have any requirements for basic tenets of politeness. If they did respond, it would be months later. Usually just a form letter that gave no indication that your work had even been read. 

But it could be worse. I got one letter from the (then) editor of Cycle World, a renowned author of several books and hundreds of articles. He went to great lengths to trash my work, pretty much challenging my nerve in writing anything at all and having the gall to waste his time reading it.  I could not imagine what would spur someone to such thoughtless malice.

I heard a story of an author who submitted a poem to a magazine and got back an envelope filled with just the ashes of his burned work.  That one was, I have to admit, kind of funny.

I did succeed at times, and had articles printed in newspapers and magazines here and there.

At one point I did a series of essays on education that ran in the “Bellevue American” newspaper.  I was invited to a meeting to discuss making my articles a weekly feature, and moving them from the editorial pages to the front section.  Excitement!

I met with a person with a big title who looked like a cross between Gordon Gecko and that boss in “Office Space.” 

Anyway, this guy was slick to the max in dress and speech and demeanor. He was all excited about what we could do together. I agreed with pretty much everything he said. I floated home to await further developments.

I was aware that Dave Barry, the famous humor columnist, had “self-syndicated” his column for years out of his own home before moving to the Miami Herald and tremendous and well-deserved success. I wrote him a letter about what I was doing, asking for any advice he was willing to share. I was so grateful to him, as he took the time to send me a four page hand-written letter.  He pretty much went over everything I was doing, told me I was on the right track, and wished me well.  What a nice man.

I never heard another word from the guy at the Bellevue American.

I completed my first novel and sent if off to Dell Publishing, at that time the largest publisher in the world. Never received any word at all.

I wrote a lengthy piece on motorcycle commuting that was published in the AMA magazine.  I think it went for $600, which was real money, I wrote a second piece that was even longer, and they agreed to publish that one. After almost a year of no news and no appearance of the piece, I sent a letter of inquiry. I was informed that they’d changed their mind, and included was a check for $600.  I later learned that this is what is known as a “kill fee.”  I wrote back and said that since the 2nd article was about 50% longer than the $600 that they had paid for the first one, I reckoned they owed me another $400.

I received a carefully written letter that essentially told me to pound sand.

Weeks later I was chatting at a soccer game with a parent who worked in publishing, and he told me that $600 was the largest kill fee he’d ever heard of.

Oh.

In the early 90’s I completed a script about a junior high school that was to be pilot for a TV series. Rather than focus on the students, mine dealt with the faculty.  I thought the staff was much funnier than the students.  I had a friend whose uncle had one of the major roles on the “M.A.S.H” TV show. She read my script and really liked it.  She sent it to her uncle, and he liked it as well and took it in to Disney Studios.  More excitement!

Nine months later it came back to me. No comment. No communication.  Nada.

In sum, if you’re a free-lance author submitting works to magazines and publishing houses, you’re playing a game where the other team has all the power and all the knowledge and writes all the rules.  They have no responsibilities to you at all, including timeliness or even basic manners.

You can hire an agent, of course, but now you’re adding to your own expenses. The really good agents are expensive, but that cancels out because they probably do not want to work with you. You can get a lesser agent with accordant lesser odds of success, but those odds never rise above “poor.”

Along comes Amazon and the concept of self-publishing of e-books.  You can publish anything you want. You choose a couple of categories where you wish your book to be listed. You set the price, and Amazon takes a cut on a sliding scale – the more you ask for your book the bigger a slice they take. You can even set the price at $0, and Amazon will offer your book for free to customers at no cost to you.

What you get in return is the exposure of your book to millions of people all over the world. Your books are for sale 24 hours a day, every day.  You can check where your book ranks in sales in the categories you’ve chosen, and the rankings changes are posted each hour.  You can also look up sales per month. You get paid two months after the sales for a given month. At the end of the year Amazon will send you a document with your total earnings.  It’s all very simple, except for the actual publishing part. I’ve benefited from the tech skills of my son and my friend Gary Stebbins for this, so I don’t know how hard that is.

One my favorite aspects of all this is the democracy of it. If people like your book they will tell their friends, and you will sell more. If your book is found wanting, it will sell less. For a guide, you can set up your book so people can read a sample. Purchasers can write reviews that will be posted with your book. The reviews include their thoughts, and a scale of 1-5. I suspect Amazon does not publish reviews lower than 3, or I have never gotten one that low – which seems unlikely.

I have wanted to write back to most of these people to thank them, but the system will not allow that. It is humbling to read a positive review from someone I’ve never met who may be in a state or country many time zones away.

The customer is protected as well.  Customers can pay Amazon a monthly fee and then “borrow” a book for two weeks or so without paying for it.  I get some money from that, but I’ve never bothered to learn exactly how that works. In addition, purchasing customers have 24 hours to sample the book and can get their money back if they don’t like it.

Here’s an example of how it works. In 2001 or so Motorcycle 101 was published, both as a CD to be read on a computer (that did not work very well) and as a paperback.  1,000 copies were printed. I think Cycle Barn purchased about 2/3rd of them, and used them for promotional gifts for new bike purchasers, door prizes, and other “do-gooder” purposes. It was fun for first time motorcycle purchasers to be given the book as a thank you for their business and then directed over to my desk to have it signed.

That book retailed for $19.95, and I received $3 of that.  That is how it works in the publishing world.  When I chose to convert it to an e-book I updated and revised it quite a bit and changed the title to Motorcycle 201.  (I know, my cleverness knows no bounds) That book sells for $4.95 from Amazon as an e-reader.  I get $3.75. The customer saves $15.00 and I make more money per copy.  That seems like a win-win for everyone, and I have now sold many more copies of the latter book than the first one in far less time.

I’m sure there are various ways to promote your books, at your own expense, that I have not explored.  Amazon will do some promotion by suggesting books to people who have purchased others in the same vein.

For a trip to rose-tinted goggles land, I’ve heard that if your book sells in really large numbers, a publisher will come to you to negotiate the rights to put out a physical edition of the book. Now the game has become much more equitable.  In the unlikely event one of my books reaches that exalted status I intend to be much more civilized with the publishers than they have been with me.

All the press coverage of the board room battles between Amazon and traditional companies seems to have ignored what I thought would be a central part of the discussion.  What is being done for, and to, the people who create the books in the first place?  The authors they deign to interview are mostly wildly successful writers with dozens of books to their credit, but I bet that the majority of authors are much more similar to me than to Stephen King.

All in all –  my thanks to local Seattle “real author” Jack Lewis and his wife Shasta for getting me clued in to e-reader publishing, (you really should purchase all of his books).  More at  jaxworx.com

Huzzah for Amazon!

 

 

Copyright 2014                                    David Preston

 

 

 

 

Posted in Marketing, Rants and Raves | Leave a comment

Recollections for Veterans’ Day

Recollections for Veterans’ Day

I come from a family with a long history of not serving in our nation’s armed forces. I feel no shame in this; just the way things worked out. Both of my grandfathers passed away before I was born. I believe my maternal grandfather served in WWI, but I was never told much about him. My father’s father also passed away before I was born. He served in WWI and was evidently gassed, but again, I was never told much.

My older brothers came of age before the draft, and never had to serve. I reached 18 during the draft for the Viet Nam war. I registered and took the physical, of course. Later I was granted a medical pass because a couple of doctors at the University of Minnesota essentially lied on my behalf.

I had come down with rheumatic fever and an enlarged pericardium (outer lining of the heart) in the winter of my senior year of high school, due to walking home across a frozen lake in soaked and sweaty gear from a day of playing hockey. I did not take the car to the hockey game because I’d crunched a fender the night before and did not dare ask for it.  Ironically, my brother took that car out the same day and finished off the fender I had dented. The result of my folly was a couple of days in the hospital with a raging fever.

Nobody ever determined the exact nature of what had happened, but the result was a few weeks of doing homework in bed at home and then a restriction on vigorous physical activity for 6 months. I cheated on that a bit with pick-up basketball games, and my parents gave me a set of golf clubs for high school graduation in the hopes I would take up a less demanding sport than all of the others I played to a definitely mediocre degree.

The two university doctors were women, which was rare at the time. They had a soft spot for my family doctor, who had been the only male student in med school years before who had treated them as equals. They felt they owed him, and in a nonsensical twist, told the army I had a heart murmur to “save” Doc Rollins’ patient.

That got me to my senior year of college, where the Army, getting a little more eager for recruits to send to Viet Nam, had me go to one of their own doctors for a 2nd opinion.   I was not surprised to find he did not think I had a heart murmur, just a mildly irregular beat.

I graduated and moved to Kirkland to begin my teaching career. Then the papers came that I’d been drafted. The school district appealed, claiming that I was needed to teach English and coach the tennis team. My draft board in Minnesota was not impressed, again not to my surprise, and I was declared 1-A in October.  My assumption was that I’d be allowed to complete my contract and then be sent to basic training in June, then off to Viet Nam, and then I would die. So I did the logical thing – I bought a new motorcycle.

The month after that, Richard Nixon held the first draft “lottery,” where all young men from about 18 – 22 or whatever had their birthdays put in a large drum, and the dates were drawn one at a time. According to the paper, if your birthday was among the first 50 drawn you were very likely to be drafted. All over America most people were glued to their little black and white TV screens as the dates were displayed in groups of 30. Once they got past 225 or so I began to panic, thinking I’d missed mine.  But later, there it was…334. For me, the draft was over.  I ended up dancing in the parking lot of my apartment building with some other guy with a high number. The next day at school I had to keep quiet a lot, as many of my friends had not been so lucky.

My two children have grown up in the volunteer Army years, and neither chose to enter the service.

But the most interesting tale from my family legacy comes from my father, except he never told me much about it. That seems to be the case with many of the best generation that saved the world at that time.  When they came home, the war was over for them, and thousands of them never spoke of it for the rest of their lives.  In many cases that was understandable.

In honor of my father and all others who have served, here’s what I know.

We seldom pay any attention to people who have served our country in times of war who were not in the military, but there were many of them. My father went through the University of Wisconsin in the ROTC program, primarily because it was economically advantageous to do so.

He was not an aggressive man, and one of the worst athletes I’ve ever seen, when he deigned to do anything remotely physical. A family yearly canoe camping trip was about it. When I wanted to play catch in the yard with a baseball my Mother was my partner.  He ensured that I could play football with my older brothers and their friends by giving me a football for Christmas, the only such piece of equipment on the block. If you want to play, David has to be included because it’s his ball!

One of my father’s favorite tales concerned marching in formation in a college ROTC drill. A drill sergeant came up to him and roared, “Preston!”

“Yes, Sir!”

“You’re out of step!”

“No Sir!”

The sergeant pondered that for a second and then bellowed “Company, half-step!”

My father had been the only one who was correct, and he never forgot that. In later years he became quite a devotee of square dancing, which amazed me.

He graduated from college and got a job as an engineer. WWII was starting to heat up, and soon he found himself leaving his job and heading to basic training camp on a train, with so many others. The train stopped somewhere that was not on the schedule, and a bunch of MPs got on board. They came down the aisle of each car looking for Albert Preston. When they found him, he learned that his boss had appealed to the Army, stating that the war effort would be better served by his engineering prowess being put to use on the home front.

That was all I knew of the story until… 1989. My father was going to die that year, and he knew it.  He had lived with diabetes for years, and survived open heart surgery, but a diagnosis of “progressive degenerative heart disease” is pretty much uni-directional. He was only 69, and at 67, I am a Greek god by comparison in terms of health. Never physically active, he never really recovered from my Mother’s death from cancer when she was only 48.   I’m not sure he was all that unhappy about his death, in fact, as most of the years from 1967 to 1989 had not been happy for him and he had suffered emotionally and physically.

One day, about a month before he passed away, he mentioned as an aside when some related topic came up that he’d received a patent during the war for his work on the high altitude breathing systems used by pilots. Evidently they had issues with their air supply not being reliable when the plane was not in level flight, which was often. My Dad fixed that problem.

I was astounded, and he pooh poohed my reaction, explaining that it was for the war effort so he never made a penny from it. To me, that was hardly the point.  Then he added that he actually earned six patents during the war.

He never talked about this in all of my years of growing up. I was very close to him, closer than either of my brothers I think.  I was the one that was spoiled in many ways. My father and I spent a lot of time together, and we talked at length on so many topics. This one never came up.

Recent research by my brothers and a nephew has unearthed at least three of the patents. The valve for which the first patent was filed was originally designed for high-altitude aircraft which used bottled liquid oxygen for assisted breathing by the pilot, allowing him (or her) to fly upside down without having liquid oxygen sloshing into the face mask. They were dubbed “Preston valves” and are evidently still in use and still called that. Two other applications dealt with delivering gaseous oxygen from liquid oxygen bottles. All three were filed in 1945 and granted in 1950.

I don’t know if I am remembering the number of patents as 6 incorrectly, or if nobody in the family has found them yet.  In any case, after the war Dad remained on duty, so to speak, as he was seconded by his company to the government. He and my mother and my two older brothers moved to Oak Ridge, Tennessee (where I was born) so he could work at the first nuclear power plant in the world.  He shared a desk with Lieutenant Hymie Rickover, who later became the head of the nuclear submarine program.

Interestingly, at the time I was born (1947) the town of Oak Ridge did not appear on any maps. It was a government installation of 15,000 people that was pretty much self-contained and off-limits.

A couple of years ago I met a man with a different viewpoint. His family was from the Oak Ridge area, and at that time the government pretty much moved in and seized the needed land, paying people little for their homes and land and casting them aside.

In an odd footnote to history, my brother in law Tim went through Northwestern on a Navy ROTC scholarship.  His wish was to serve in submarines, and after years of training he was sent to D.C for an interview with Admiral Rickover. In those days, no officer served on a submarine without a personal interview with Rickover, and with his endorsement. In a two minute interview, Rickover decided he did not like Tim, and he never got to serve on a submarine. In one of life’s cruel ironies, he served on a destroyer tasked with tracing and destroying…submarines.

And so, on Veteran’s Day, let us all pay at least a nod of respect to all who have served our country in whatever role fate cast for them, in or out of uniform.

 

Copyright 2014                                    David Preston

 

Posted in Rants and Raves | Leave a comment

Class Size

On Class Size

Some of this fall’s election issues deal with class size.  Smaller is better seems obvious, especially when our state ranks 47th in the nation in this regard.

Making classes smaller would cost money, of course.  The Seattle Times, as usual, has attempted to muddy the issue by publishing a story about a study that showed no clear results from varying class size.  This is not a surprise to anyone who has actually taught children in the public schools, as I did for over thirty years.

In our collective desire to reduce all complex topics to a fifteen word sentence, we leave out details. In this case, what sort of students are in each class?

I agree that too small a class size can possibly have a negative outcome. If you have fewer than fifteen students, and few or none of them choose to be actively involved, then it’s going to be difficult to establish a “feeling tone” that is conducive to learning.  Again, it comes down to who is in each class.

At the other extreme, a class size of over 30 will be almost impossible to handle well, in terms of personalized education. Again, results will vary by the students used to create the larger size.

Here’s an example. One year in the early 1980’s the counselors at Kamiakin Junior High had a real problem. The vagaries of budget, available rooms, scheduling big electives like band, available staff, and many other factors make creating any schedule a horror story I never had to deal with. Their problem was a need to add one more 6th period English class. I had such a class time available, but the resulting class size would be huge. The solution required a lot of effort by the counselors, but worked so well I still remember that class.

They chose to offer the class for students to select if they wanted, and if the counselors approved. I ended up with a class of 37 amazing 9th grade junior high students, placed at the last period of the day.

You’d think that the size and time of day would lead to disaster, but the opposite was the case. Because the students had to jump through at least one hoop to get into the class, the only ones who leapt were students who were interested. They were also, almost to a person, students I’d taught in 8th grade who’d had a good experience. I already knew many of the parents, from the previous year, older siblings, or coaching. Also, the counselors did not put any student in the class who had a reputation as a problem child of one sort of another.

The result was a class of 37 students who met each day, for their last class, in a class they wanted to be in.  The room held 35 desks, which was about all that would fit. There was no seating chart. The first 35 to get there each day got a desk, and the final two had to hope there was a student or two absent, or they’d be relegated to a chair along the side of the room.

The counselors were effusive in their thanks for my willingness to bail them out of a scheduling crisis, and yet it turned out to be a fantastic class. More of a “writer’s club” than a standard class, I could create assignments that ranged from creative to off the chart wild.  Often a student in the class would suggest a better version of an assignment, a version I’d then use in other classes.

I never had to deal with behavior problems, tardiness, or all the other minor snags that can rob a teacher of both time and energy.  Snags that are never discussed in the media.

It is true with such a class that grading papers could take a lot more time. And yet not really. For one thing, most of them were turned in on time. Secondly, people who like to write will create papers that are more interesting to read and have fewer errors to correct. At times I’d forget I was “grading” and just get caught up in reading.

I think it was the next year that we created the “Honors English” program I taught, and many of the assignments for that class originated in the humongous class the year before.

Next to my room two friends taught a special education class. Every student in that class faced one sort of challenge or another. Or several. There were about 15 students in the class each semester, one teacher, and usually at least one aide

My friend Colleen needed to attend a conference and needed someone to cover one period. It was my planning period, and I agreed to do it because I owed her a lot. She was the assistant volleyball coach while I was the head coach, and she was terrific. She was a better volleyball coach than I was, to be frank, and inherited the position from me when I chose to leave coaching.

In any case, Colleen prepped her students for a week before the day. She hyped it up quite a bit. Mr. Preston was the Head of the English Department. He was the Head Girls Basketball Coach and the Head Girls Volleyball Coach. He was a rock star!

On the day, Colleen gave me a well-detailed lesson plan. It was math, and I think it involved solving a story problem. Thanks to her hard work ahead of time, the students looked at me as if a movie star had arrived. They were earnest, attentive, polite, and eager to do anything I would deign to present. It was a perfect teaching situation.

And I failed.  Utterly and completely. They tried so hard, and I explained the problem several different ways, using every sort of technique I could muster.  None of it worked, and at the end of the period several of the students thanked me. For nothing. I was exhausted.  One period. Teaching 15 students, not 37.

At Juanita High School I taught a “basic” English course for a few years. This was a class meant as a last gasp effort for students who were about to flunk out of school or drop out.  Most of them brought a set of personal issues with them to class each day.  Some were hostile, some were bored, and some acted out. Most of my time, especially the first few weeks, was spent on what is termed “classroom management.”  I enjoyed the challenge on the days when I was not close to exploding, but the size of the class made no real difference.

How would you measure educational excellence in such a class? I had more than one student thank me for my efforts.   After much effort by both of us, the passing student would be the first person in the family to earn a high school diploma.  I had a young woman return the year after graduating. The D grade she’d earned had allowed her to enroll in the Marines.  Not all educational progress can be reduced to test scores or blanket assessments of class size.

Elementary teachers need smaller class sizes, despite the smaller stature of their students. My wife usually has 24 to 28 students in her 4th grade classroom. The clever architects for her new school planned on about 20. They knew that 15 to 20 is a good class size for elementary kids, but forgot to account for reality. Her classroom in the real world so crowded that the only way it works is for all the students to know by heart a series of procedures she teaches them to allow them to use the space in small groups and by turns.  The simple tasks of entering the classroom in the morning, leaving at the end of the day, or even going to recess takes very careful planning. Imagine 27 kids with huge back packs trying to hang up or retrieve their gear.

As we’ve slashed educational budgets in this state in the past 20 years, we’ve also cut programs and aides and other assets all over the place.  My brother-in-law works at a school in Olympia. The school has a pottery room with a kiln. Not used. It has a horticultural center with a large greenhouse. Not used.

At most schools, programs like band and orchestra and choir, if still offered, are now “pull-out” programs.  The teacher is supposed to somehow create inclusive curricula for all when some students arrive late three or more days a week or are pulled out in small numbers during the day.

All of these are logical outcomes from taking what was at one time the best public school system in the history of the world and trying to retain the results while cutting taxes and reducing budgets, or just maintaining the status quo while inevitable inflation does the job for you. Again and again. We choose to rail at small problems like the occasional teacher who should be in a different profession, because those are “them” problems where we can assign blame.

The real and much larger problem is a lack of funding and a lack of desire to even be involved in the child’s education. Far simpler to reduce everything to standardized tests that create meaningless results. Then we can compare this year’s meaningless results to last year’s as a measure of “progress.”  Then we can act surprised when some over-zealous teacher or school administrator falsifies the meaningless results.

The legislature has a handy habit of enacting legislation that requires new programs and lower class sizes.  But they leave out one part. They do not provide enough funding, often any funding,  to pay for the new programs or to lower class sizes.  They’ve done a brilliant job of combining a snow job and a smoke screen and have gotten away with it for years.  Now they’re on the brink of a contempt citation from the Supreme Court for their intentional and institutionalized efforts to violate the state constitution, which mandates the maintenance and funding of the public schools as the primary function of the legislature.  And then we re-elect them.

Class size is our problem. Funding is our problem. Guns in schools are our problem. We’ve created all of them.  They are “us” problems, not “them” problems.

I don’t see any effort to address any of these issues, and doubt there will change until we decide to take the hard step of owning up to the responsibility of all to pay for the education of the young.

Education costs money.  A lot of it.  Each class is different. Each student is different.  Every teacher is different.  Making it all work takes the time and effort to look at each teacher, each class and each individual student. It is very hard.

Making excuses, reducing every issue to such a simplistic core that it loses all meaning, and complaining: all of those are easy.  And free.

Copyright 2014        David Preston

Posted in Equipment, Rants and Raves | Leave a comment

Essay Assignments for College Prep

Essay Assignments for College Prep

Items in the news lately make me long to be teaching College Prep Writing again. After a short time I remember that dealing with students was a joy, as was the act of teaching, but along with it would come the parents, administrators, and colleagues I left behind with gusto. And grading papers.  Since my license expired years ago I am saved the agony of taking action on this occasional desire. But still…

Wouldn’t it be great to give the following assignment?

Essay assignment:  1000 words or less. Please select one of these topics and cover at least the bullet points indicated.

Honey Boo Boo (Only available if you have actually watched this show. I have not, and would not recommend it to anyone with a brain, which includes all of you, since you chose to take this elective taught by me.)

This show was cancelled today, evidently because the mother has chosen to date a convicted child molester.  Discuss:

  • If the man has served time for his crimes, is this fair?
  • This show is broadcast by “The Learning Channel.” What do you think the audience is intended to learn?
  • As a reality show featuring a child, would a new “character” that is a convicted child molester be likely to increase or decrease the ratings

 

School shootings in high schools. There seems to be one every week. Discuss:

  • Most citizens of European countries seem to be of the opinion that Americans have lost their collective minds when it comes to gun control. Do they have a point?
  • Some insist that we have a uniformed office in all schools all day.  Most high schools, including this one, already do.  Have you met our officer?
  • Does the presence of an armed officer in our school make you feel safer?
  • Would controls on gun access (any – since all of them that I am aware of have been attacked with vigor) have any impact?
  • Given the authority, what would you do to stop the slaughter of children in schools by students or adults with guns?

 

The NFL and parity. The National Football League has worked for years to achieve “parity,” where any team on a given day has a good chance to defeat any other team. They have done this by altering the conditions of the draft, salary caps, and rules on free agency. Discuss:

  • Will free agency eventually harm the NFL by making the discussion of favorites irrelevant?
  • Will the known dangers of concussions become a dominant factor in ensuring parity?
  • Will the Seahawks “all nice guys and we love each other” philosophy prove to be advantageous in the long run?
  • If yes, what sort of coach will other teams hire to emulate this approach?
  • If no, what will happen to the Seahawks in the next 5 years?
  • If you were in charge of the NFL, what would you work toward to ensure the financial success of this non-profit organization over the next ten to twenty years?I don’t know what my students would come up with, but I think reading their papers would be so much fun I might forget to wield my dreaded red pen!

 

Copyright 2014                                      David Preston

Posted in Education, Rants and Raves | Leave a comment

Guns, Football, and Motorcycles

Guns, Football and Motorcycles – Danger vs. Risk

Much ado about possibly very little in the news these days.  Playing football leads to brain damage, shooting guns will fill you with lead even if you’re never hit by a bullet, and motorcycles will kill you. But wait – are we skipping the thinking part?

I’ve written before about the difference between “danger” and “risk.”  To me, the difference is that risk can be reduced through education, equipment, experience, and focus on the matter at hand. Danger is just – dangerous.  Walking through the streets of some cities in the world at night can be very dangerous. It is difficult to lower the risk factor unless you have access to millions of dollars’ worth of  bomb proof vehicles and choose to ride.  Oh wait, local police departments now have that access. Most of us do not.

A recent study showed that some 96% of the brains of NFL players examined after death showed signs of brain damage. That is an alarming statistic. What I have not seen is a statistic revealing that percentage for all deceased men.  This is not sexist – there are no former NFL players who are women that I know of.  Look at your own life. Most men (and now women) participate in some or many activities that carry the risk of a head injury. I played football for three years. I was a linebacker and a center. Yes, children, we played “both ways” back in the day, and I do not remember ever being taken out of the game for a substitute. I played hockey for at least ten years, and for most of that time helmets were not worn, even by the pros. There was no face or eye protection. My mother was worried about my teeth, but never mentioned concussion. I played basketball for years (not well, and not for the school team), and played soccer for the University of Minnesota for a year. I dabbled in many other activities that would now be listed as carrying possible danger. And then, of course, I’ve been riding motorcycles for almost half a century.  I wonder what % of brain damage I will rack up after my death.  How about you?

Stepping back just a bit, there is certainly a massive difference between the number and severity of hits to the head taken by an NFL player and what I endured in junior high.  Then again, the equipment is so much better now. Overall, the % of men who will play football in the NFL is so small that data from them has to be statistically insignificant when applied to the general population. In fact, it has little relevance until a % is calculated for that general population. It is possible that number exists and that I have simply not seen it.

The Seattle Times is now spewing ink all over the topic of lead poisoning arising from the use of guns at firing ranges.  What % of ammo still uses lead? I am not well versed in this topic, but I remember reports years ago of concerns for lead poisoning in the Midwest from the sheer volume of spent ammo used to hunt ducks and deer and pheasants and so on.  I think it has been phased out, or is in the process of being phased out.  Perhaps the Times will cover that in future articles in their series.

And motorcycles.  Oh my. When I started riding I was told countless times that I was about to die. People would ask you about your “murdercycle,” or label you as an “organ donor.”  (Everyone should list themselves as an organ donor on their license, but that is a different issue) You were considered to be a dangerous drag on society, and the principal at the high school where I did my student teaching wanted me kicked off his campus and out of the student teaching program because I rode my motorcycle to a faculty meeting I was not required to attend.  After school.  He was not fond of my hair either, which reached all the way – to my ears. Ironically, the first principal I worked for after graduation told me he was happy to see me riding my motorcycle to school because he wanted students to see that you could ride a motorcycle and be a productive member of society.   Insert jokes about how productive I was here….

I countered the “wisdom” of the day by always purchasing and wearing the very best equipment I could afford. In the early days, that was not much, but a top shelf Bell helmet, boots, jeans, and a ski parka put me ahead of most.  I read everything I could on how to ride a motorcycle.  Some of it, such as Kenny Robert’s book on road racing, I did not understand.  He referred to some motorcycles as “front wheel bikes” and others as “rear wheel bikes.”  I figured out what he meant about 20 years later. I took several courses of riding instruction, and even helped develop one. All of these actions were taken in an effort to reduce the risk.  A friend once told me that he thought that what I enjoyed most about motorcycle riding was the act of taking on a dangerous activity and using the assets available to me to make it relatively safe. I think he was correct.

If you read the horror stories about motorcycling and put their content against the majority of my riding for the past four decades, which usually involved relatively high speeds on narrow back roads in all sorts of weather, you would have to conclude that I am now…dead. And yet, several hundred thousand miles later and having ridden over 500 different motorcycles, I am still functional.  At least physically, and I don’t think my mental oddities can be ascribed to head injuries or lead exposure.

I survived a big crash in 1969 and have not hit the ground in the 45 years since. (Knock on fuel tank for luck) In that crash I was unconscious for just a few seconds. Concussion?  Probably. Never tested or diagnosed for that.

And there are so many other dangers we exposed ourselves to growing up in our almost total innocence and ignorance. Car and motorcycle folks washed parts in leaded gasoline.

All the time. I did too.

Drag racers that used nitro methane and other concoctions even had a motto – “Gasoline is for washing parts.”  When I worked as an announcer at SIR in 1972 and at times ran the staging lanes, I absolutely loved inhaling nitro methane.  That cannot have been good.

I know from friends that have volunteered at ski areas that Friday night is a triage festival in the medical tent, with sprains, broken bones, and concussions lined up wall to wall. Soccer is now under the microscope for concussions, and that is a serious issue, since that sport is played by more people in the world than any other. And most of them children.

If you have children they are going to want to try things. That is what children do.  My son played soccer for several years, and eventually suffered a very bad wrist break.  Concussions too?  He was a goalie, and made many saves with what he could get on the ball, including his face. I.E., could be.

I was worried that my children would want to ride motorcycles in their teens, and since I’d been riding since before they were born, what arguments would I use to slow them down? Instead, my daughter took up rock climbing, and was soon very good at it. When she brought home pictures of her crossing a deep ravine over rocks by hanging from a rope and propelling her way across the chasm with her arms and hands I had the thought, “How bad could motorcycles have been?”

What to do?  I think the answer is to make sure your children are taking on an activity or sport because they want to, not because Mom or Dad wants to see them exceed the achievements of a parent in that area.  The odds are high that at least one of their choices will involve danger and risk.

My son has now completed a great many marathons and triathlons, including an Iron Man triathlon and a “super triathlon.”  Risks?  Oh yes.  Did he get any shove toward these events from his parents?  Hardly.

So back to the beginning. In approaching an activity, see what you can do to lower the risk through equipment, education, experience, and total focus on the matter at hand.

Read sensational newspaper and magazine articles for the content, but always balance it with your own experiences and other sources of information.

After all that, relax and live your life.

Copyright 2014                                      David Presto

Posted in Cars, Education, Equipment, Motorcycles | 3 Comments