Monday, November 24, 2008

Maestros Nathan and Ashlynn

Recently Ashlynn participated in a piano contest in Idaho Falls. The top two performers from each division came back the next day to perform their numbers in front of lots of people and some very prestigious judges! Here she is playing The Magic Game by Bela Bartok.

Although Ashlynn wasn't awarded the first place prize this time, she did take second place and was given a gift certificate to the local music store, which she promptly used to purchase a light blue ukulele.

Here is a video of Nathan playing Agent 402 by Louise Garrow at the piano recital this weekend.

Both of these guys work really hard and are faithful with their practicing. It has been amazing to see how far they have come already, and we are very proud of them both.

Their teacher uses the so-called "Suzuki Method," which is an interesting approach to teaching pioneered by a Japanese man named Shin'ichi Suzuki, who lived from 1898-1998. He theorized that teaching music was kind of like teaching language, and that language is best learned by first learning to speak, then read, then write. He saw that most music teachers teach "speaking" music (playing the instrument) simultaneously with "reading" music (recognizing the notes, scales, key signatures, etc) and wondered if focusing on simple imitation at first (just like a little child learns to speak) would yield better results. It turns out that he was right, and he produced many "prodigy" musicians using this method (I believe he was a violin teacher, mainly).

Of course, many students taught in this way will never learn to read music, just as many people who can speak a language never learn to read it, and fewer still ever learn to write well in a language, since each of these things is a different learned skill. The Suzuki method doesn't ignore reading music as an important skill, it just emphasizes "speaking" it first.

I don't know whether it's that much more effective than other methods or not, but our kids' teacher asked us to read Suzuki's book called Nurtured by Love when our kids started lessons, and I thought it was interesting food for thought. Check it out sometime if you're interested.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

eCW Conference in Orlando

Lori & I travelled to Orlando, Florida November 2-6. I attended a work conference, and Lori got a little much-needed R&R. The conference was held in a large resort near Disney World called the Omni Resort, but we weren't able to stay there as all the rooms were sold out before we made our travel arrangements. Instead, we stayed at the Celebration Hotel, shown here on the right, with a lovely model posing in the foreground.

Celebration (the name of the town the hotel is in) is an interesting little place. Apparently, the land was all owned originally by Walt Disney, and was slated to be part of his grand resort complex there. The land wasn't needed, though, and was sold. I'm not sure if some of the buildings were already built, but it seems like they could have been; the downtown area has sort of a theme park feel.

The trip wasn't all business, though. One night we went out to eat at a place called Sleuth's Mystery Di
nner Shows; during dinner these actors portray a comedic mystery, while diners try to figure out whodunnit, and how. It was fun, kind of like the board game Clue, only with real characters instead of little plastic pieces, and with prime rib instead of potato chips. Lori, of course, had the whole thing figured out. I was way off, so that's another way it is like the board game. She always wins at that dumb game!

Here is a picture of a nice couple from Indiana we met at the show. We sat at a table with them during din
ner, and chatted with them afterward for an hour or so. His name is Nathaniel, but I can't remember hers (if you're out there, remind me!) She is a nurse at Riley Children's Hospital in Indianapolis, and he is a data analyzer for my great and abominable enemy, Medicare.

We also ate at a nice Thai restaurant (Thai food is our favorite, lately), and at a good but overpriced restaurant in our hotel called The Plantation Room. Call me weird, but it made me feel strange to be served exclusively by black people in a place with that name. Only in the South, I guess!

On Wednesday, the conferences were over at noon, so Lori and I drove over to the Epcot Center, mainly so that Lori
could fulfill a lifelong dream of having her picture taken next to the great big ball. With that accomplished, we turned our attention to the many attractions at the only major family theme park where, apparently it is not only acceptable but expected for parents to get drunk in front of their children. We happened to be there during some sort of international beer and wine-tasting extravaganza, and I'm guessing that is why the place had more of a night club feel than usual. I hope so, anyway.

I would imagine that, in its day, Epcot was quite a spectacle. To me, though, it was certainly not worth the $80 each we had to drop for admission. I to think what our "bar tab" would have been had we been sampling the various
beverages available. We did try out one Austrian treat from a vendor who promised that "funnel cakes are more addictive than heroin." It was good; not that good.

We were able to extract some thrills from a few of the rides; for me the biggest was riding in the dark next to a beautiful girl on the "future of space" ride, or whatever it's called. She even let me steal a kiss or two, just like we were both teenagers! Here we are on the giant screen TV at the end that puts your faces into a little animated movie.

Needless to say, I am not the biggest fan of theme parks, particularly the Disney variety, but on the bright side the weather was great, I got to spend a whole day with my sweetheart, and I didn't have to hear "It's a Small World" even one time.

All in all, the trip was very fun and a nice break from the daily grind. I learned all kinds of new things about our electronic medical record software that I will be able to take back to my colleagues and staff, so I am excited about that too.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

If I Were President

In conjunction with today's election, which in my humble opinion nothing more or less than a choice between Dumb and Dumber, I have decided to release my own presidential platform. It's probably too late for this year, but in case anyone wants to nominate me for 2012, here it is. (I have a feeling whoever is lucky enough to get the job this year isn't going to be so popular in four years. We have some tough times ahead, I'm afraid.)

In order of importance, my stands on the issues:

1. Healthcare. Do you know how I set my prices? Do I go through the process that everybody else does, and set my prices just a little bit lower than the guy down the street? No. I simply find out what all the payers (read: insurance companies) will pay for my various services, and I make sure to set my prices a little higher than that. That's what we all do in this business. Does that make you angry? When it does, you'll know the solution to the "healthcare crisis."

I would fix the healthcare system by making one simple but sweeping change. When you see the doctor, or have surgery, or get an MRI, (or fill your Zoloft prescription), you pay the bill, period. If you have health insurance, or government assistance, you are then free to seek reimbursement from your insurer, for whatever portion of your bill they will pay. This would, quite simply, direct the accountability of each involved party back where it belongs.

When I'm President, the "third-party-payment-system" will be a thing of the past. Of course this issue is more complex than that; there are many complex and valid arguments on each side. (I'll further clarify my plan through national media outlets once I get the nomination.)

2. The Economy. No government bailouts, ever. Risk is the price of admission for participating in the great gamble known as capitalism. If you lose your shorts on some sort of investment, including your home, that's sad. I feel bad. But, it is your problem. Suck it up, and go at it again, that much wiser. If this policy sends the country into the next Great Depression (which it won't), so be it. We gotta learn somehow.

Our commitment to capitalism and free enterprise is the only significant economic advantage we have over competing nations. Give it up, and we're another France in 50 years, or less.

Somewhere along the line, too many of us have come to see the government as some kind of a wet nurse. That will stop under my administration, so help me.

3. Foreign Policy. Any country that gets one cent of aid will comply with each diplomatic condition, fully and without question, or the aid is stopped, immediately. As for the rest of diplomacy, there will be a visual aid sitting on my desk in the oval office: picture a bronzed baseball bat and a carrot, crossed over each other in the shape of an 'X' with a large caption underneath in 25 languages that says, over and over again: "What'll it be, pal?" Behind it will be a large, full color photo of Clint Eastwood (before he became a liberal and got facial leprosy). This will be prominently displayed at all diplomatic events, and will have its own seat on Air Force One when I travel abroad.

America is the only remaining superpower for a reason. It's time we remembered that. We
will maintain the world's strongest, most destructive, intimidating, overwhelming, fearful (and most compassionate and restrained) military. Spare no expense.

3. Iraq, the Middle East, ism. As far as Iraq is concerned, each of those cheeky Arab leaders will regularly, publicly express unconditional gratitude for their recent liberation and beg us to stay and help them become civilized, or we pull out everybody and everything, tomorrow, and let them tear each other limb from limb in the streets like the barbarians they are. No skin off our nose. The day after I take office, they will begin to pay back all the money we spent in the process. No checks, please. We'll take it in the form of crude oil, face value.

Under my administration, we will simply starve these dysfunctional cultures back to the Dark Ages where they belong. Much more difficult to organize and motivate Jihadists when there's no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. See "Energy" below.

4. Immigration. The borders will be closed. Trespassers shot on sight, survivors deported. Come in legally, we'll help you find work if we can. Come in illegally, ton of bricks when you get caught. Commit a crime as an illegal, rot in the cellar of a jail until the rats pick their teeth with your bones. You've got no rights as an American if you are not one.

5. Energy. We will finally suck it up, quit spending tax dollars on stupid, inappropriate entitlement programs that don't work, and invest heavily, massively, in infrastructure. We will raise taxes across the board to do so, if necessary (the only reason, outside of any necessary war chest, that I would ever raise taxes).

I will begin immediately to build nuclear power plants, lots of them. The country's electrical grid will be modernized and upgraded. That we haven't already done so is an absolute indictment of the intelligence of present and past leaders. Yesterday's infrastructure won't fuel tomorrow's economy. I think that's going on my signs).

We will create extremely attractive incentives for invention and refinement of alternative sources of energy, particularly those in the transportation sector, and particularly those that are cleaner. The money for this will come partly from economic expenditures, partly from military, and partly from the Department of the Interior, since this issue is critically important for all three. We will ask environmentalist whackos to put their money where their mouth is and support this initiative, instead of simply standing in the way of progress as they do now.

I will impose
massive tarriffs on all imported oil, and massiver ones on imported oil from unfriendly nations. There will be no "oil for food" or similar programs. We will make no apologies for our strategy: cut off the supply of money to ist states and the cultures and peoples who sponsor them.

There you have it, my Presidential Platform. Now go out there and vote!!