Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Who built that? We all did

When I was an undergrad at Central Michigan University, I look a class in writing from Dr. Peter B. Orlik. He said something that stunned me at the time, but it turns out to be true: “There’s really nothing new. Creativity is just putting together things in different ways.”
I stumbled across this example. Our story begins 70 years ago, during World War II. Kay Kyser, “The Ol’ Professor of Swing,” had a hit record called “Jingle Jangle Jingle.”

It was a creative approach: It’s a cowboy song, arranged as big-band swing. It hit No. 1.
My mother loved this song. She would sing it while she did housework when I was a child.
In the pre-Internet age, it went where old hit records went – obscurity and the packages sold on late-night TV. But YouTube and digital archives brought it back: It’s for sale for 99 cents at Amazon.com.
Meanwhile, it found its way into a post-apocalyptic video game called Fallout: New Vegas.
A player known only as “Icky” got it stuck in his head. He also apparently was into something called “Electro Swing,” a sort of combination of swing samples and techno.
He turned "Jingle Jangle Jingle" into "Ring a Ding Baby." It’s cool:

At the same time, over in the DeviantArt community, people were fooling around with “My Little Pony” as a meme. They drew socks on them, made their own animations and had them sing terrible songs.
One of these artists, who goes by the name Tommy Xe, took Icky’s soundtrack of "Ring a Ding Baby" and turned it into a PMV: Pony Music Video.

And it’s just amazing.
Who made money off this? Maybe Google. Certainly the hardware and software makers who sold Icky and Tommy Xe the sophisticated machines they used to build these.
But mostly this is a path, an unpredictable path, through networks and open collaboration to something really creative. And according to writer Steven Johnson,  it’s really the answer to the question of “who built that.”

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The stunning arrival of Fall 2012!

Fall made its brilliant entrance today, on a crisp, bright day.
The autumnal equinox, which marks the precise instant where the sun crosses the equator on its trip south, took place at 10:49 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time.
I documented the effect of this for posterity.

The last moment of the summer of 2012, as seen from the Home on Horizon Park.
And the stunning arrival of the fall of 2012!
(In the competition for geekiness with my kids, I now have the lead.)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The 47 percent

I was once one of those 47 percent of Americans who paid no federal income tax. Yes, I was one of those lazy, shiftless individuals who wouldn’t take personal responsibility, part of this entitlement society depending on government handouts.
Um, really? I don’t think so.

Here’s how it happened: This was back right after the century started. I found myself as a single parent – this wasn’t my idea, but it happened – and I was raising three small children on my own. To make ends meet, I was working two jobs.

One was as the editor of a small, weekly newspaper. It didn’t pay much, and it folded eventually, but I did a good enough job that it got me hired as a reporter for the Morning Sun. I’m now the online editor, a position I’d like to believe I earned on my merits.

The other job was a part-time adjunct instructor at Central Michigan University. In those days, there was no union for temporary instructors. One had to prove one’s merit in the classroom to get a new contract. That sounds like a pretty solidly Republican idea to me. I’ve had consistent contract renewals for well over a decade now, so it would seem that I’ve proven my merit in that position, too.

But in the early days of those two jobs, there wasn’t a lot of money coming into the house. Interestingly, however, the Republicans had pushed through something called the child tax credit. This is a direct offset of taxes that otherwise would be owed. The idea was to allow me to keep more of what I earned, and allow me to spend it on my children the way I saw fit without having to filter it through the government.

That sounds incredibly Republican to me.

The more kids you have, the bigger the tax credit. In my case, the tax credit and other breaks for which an ordinary working guy like me qualified pushed my income tax liability to zero for a couple of years.

The first time that happened, my jaw dropped. Wow. Zero. During several more years, I paid a rate of about 3 percent after the credits and deductions.

Did I feel like a freeloader? Heck, no. I still was paying Social Security and Medicare taxes, as were my employers. I still paid state income taxes, federal and state gasoline taxes, state sales tax, state property tax, local property tax, federal telephone tax … I’m leaving out a lot. But I was grateful for the break the feds gave me. I didn’t have to ask for assistance. I could build a strong family. I was an ordinary guy, working hard and keeping more of what I earned instead of paying some bureaucrat to filter a little of it back to me.

This is a freeloader?

I no longer qualify for the child tax credit. All those kids are in college now and have jobs, showing me a terrific work ethic. I pay a lot more in taxes now. I don’t like it, of course, but it’s a lot more affordable now than it was back then when I was part of the 47 percent.

Yeah, tax the poor. Tax the workers raising their children without help. That’s the ticket to victory, Mr. Romney.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Together we are Maroon ... and Green

They called it "The Clash at Kelly/Shorts" - Michigan State playing CMU at Mt. Pleasant for the first time in history.
Some Spartan fans worried - after all, CMU has pulled the occasional upset against MSU. But this year,  the Spartans were ranked No. 11 in the country going in, and the Chippewas, well, were underdogs.
Michigan State is a huge draw, and people knew that this was something historic.
This wasn't a rivalry game. Leave that to the Spartans and Wolverines, the Wolverines and Buckeyes, or the Chippewas and Broncoes.
This was something else. There are so many ties between East Lansing and Mt. Pleasant - families, colleagues, friends - that this was a celebration, a great big party. 
I'm a Chippewa, and so are Kat and Robert
Kissy Missy is a Spartan.
Chippewas and Spartans mingled freely outside Kelly/Shorts
Spartan flags and Chippewa flags flew side by side.

Friends, family and friends, some old, some new gathered beneath the Ranzenbergers' maroon canopy.
We were joined by a few tens of thousands of our closest friends.
You've heard of the Blue Men? How about the Maroon & Gold men?
What's a party without a band?
The Spartan Marching Band filled the field.
Then the Chippewa Marching Band took over.
Robert marched with the Chippewa Marching Band.

And together, they played "America the Beautiful" at halftime.

Oh, and there was an actual football game. Michigan State won 41-7, and moved up to No. 10 in the AP College Football Poll.

Maroon and Green. Somehow it worked.