Sunday, May 03, 2015

Decline of the Mall

The Great Mall of the Great Plains, one of the indoor malls in Kansas City, will be closing in October. Many of the remaining stores, including the Book Warehouse, a discount bookstore, are closing this month.  When my son was much younger, this mall offered a place for him to run around and to climb on the play equipment. Now he describes it as post-apocalyptic.

The opening of the Harundale Mall in Glen Burnie, Maryland was a major event when I was a child. My sister and I used to go there quite often on weekends. As I grew up, it offered a place to buy a record, pick up a book, or shop for jeans.

About twenty-five years ago, the common final for all of the composition classes where I was teaching required that the students respond to an essay about mall rats, those teens who hung out in malls. Teens apparently have found somewhere else to go.  Some students, now, when speaking of their high school years, tell me that they did whatever they could to make themselves appear attractive to scholarship committees or to college admissions. Other students tell me that they were forced to work during high school and often had little time to complete their homework when they got off work and barely got six hours of sleep each night during the week.

The mall, as a place to hang out, has become a victim of our failing economy and our limited amounts of time. It is much easier to shop from the comfort of one's home and to have that stuff delivered while spending time doing something other than driving to the mall and walking around among the crowds. Personally, during my free moments, I much prefer to get aside and to walk or meditate beside the river.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Glen Simpson in Lawrence

I met Glen Simpson, an aging jazz musician who was busking in Lawrence, Kansas, over the weekend.  He had chosen a spot on Massachusetts Avenue in the sunlight and was playing his alto saxophone to the crowds walking by, occasionally drawing a few dollars from the passers-by. He was already talking to my son when I walked up and once he heard that my son plays alto saxophone as well, he began offering suggestions to further my son's ability to improvise and expressed a willingness to provide lessons for a fee. He let us know that he once played with the late Joe Henderson and that George Cables was once part of his quartet.  Four of Glen Simpson’s albums are available at CD Baby. He says that he has five additional albums ready to be released. A video of his, featuring "In a Sentimental Mood," appears below, which, unfortunately, goes to black after a minute or two.  I tried to encourage him to use Bandcamp to get his music out to the public. We can only hope that we hear more from him in the near future.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

A Siddhartha Moment

I had a Siddhartha moment on Tuesday when I was enjoying the last warm day that we will be experiencing in this part of the world for sometime.   I was sitting on a park bench beside the Missouri River and delighting in the songs of birds, the shadows cast by the afternoon sun, and the movement of the river flowing south.  I had no thoughts of grading, and no other thoughts of worldly concerns, during that moment of intense sensory awareness.  I would have sat there much longer if my wife had not reminded me that we had errands to run.  

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Perils of Old Technology

My laptop computer, a HP Pavilion dv6, recently died after five years of use. It would no longer boot up and only made a clicking sound when I pushed the start button. After researching the problem, I learned that the hard drive was stuck and that it could be possible to take apart the hard drive, unstick it, and salvage the information. My efforts at disassembling the hard drive only resulted in stripping the screws. A friend of my son’s later tried to unstick the hard drive and to salvage the information; unfortunately, the hard drive was too scratched to retrieve my files.

It occurred to me in November that time had passed since I had last backed up my files. Over Thanksgiving break, I downloaded all of my pictures, music, and documents to an external hard drive. I had a feeling that my laptop could fail and could wipe out many of my files. I ended up losing only a month of pictures and documents.

I should have realized sooner that my HP desktop was about to fail because about six months ago it refused to open Office 2010 after uploading and installing a monthly update from Microsoft. It took a hundred dollars and two phone sessions with technicians at Microsoft to get my Office 2010 working again. I learned later that I could upload Office 2013 for $10.00 because of an agreement that one of my institutions has with Microsoft.

Until I upgrade, my wife has lent me her Dell laptop. My desktop is running Vista and doesn’t has the memory to work with D2L and Blackboard, two learning management systems that I am using for my online classes. The keyboard of her laptop is positioned farther away from the edge and makes it difficult for me to type on, so I have had to add an external keyboard. Nonetheless, with six gigs of RAM, my wife's Dell is more capable of performing multiple tasks than my old HP was. My HP used to freeze sometimes when I was using Word2013 and playing music with Foobar2000. I often had to boot up my old desktop to run Foobar2000.

During one of our ice storms about ten years ago, I was typing up my grading comments when I started hearing the neighborhood transformers popping.  This occasion was three laptops ago. Our electricity went off soon after the nearest transformer went out. That loss of power made no difference in my working because I was able to continue for so long as the laptop battery remained charged. I have since decided that although a laptop has merits during those times when the power goes off, when I am bedridden, or when I need to take my work somewhere else, my best bet is to replace my laptop by getting a good desktop with two screens. A desktop with two large screens will make it easier to see my work and to perform multiple tasks at the same time.

I used to admire the six screens that Gordon Gekko had in his London office in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. Surplus Exchange, a local business in Kansas City that sells used computer parts and discarded desks, could easily supply my needs, but I cannot ever see myself using more than two screens at the same time.

 My wife has since decided that she needs to start backing up more of her own files because of my loss of documents and pictures.

It was a sad moment when I added my HP laptop to the pile of E-waste at the local recycling center.