Dec. 31, 2007

Eight years ago today, my friend Jim generously offered to host a small group of Vanguard coworkers at his house on New Year’s Eve 1999. Instead of going all-out to celebrate the arrival of the year 2000, many of us who work in the IT industry were strictly required to stay close to home with our pagers on, just in case any pesky Year 2000–related issues came up.

As we all know now, the lights stayed on, computer systems kept running, and our vigil on Dec. 31, 1999, was mercifully uneventful. (But Y2K was not a hoax, mind you. Thousands of people worked very hard in the late 1990s to make sure that major problems would be kept to a minimum, and you have all of them to thank for the “no news is good news” result on Jan. 1, 2000.)

Still, eight years later, it’s funny that the occasional Y2K issue still manages to surface once in a while. Take, for instance, the copyright notice on an employee benefits Web site that shall remain nameless:

Copyrighted © 107

In that case, I’d better prepare to ring in the year 108!

[ No. 403 ]

Dec. 30, 2007

Last night, in Joe Paterno’s 500th game as Penn State head coach, PSU defeated Texas A&M, 24–17, in the Alamo Bowl. The Nittany Lions trailed the Aggies 14–0 in the first quarter, but responded with 17 unanswered points before halftime. Evan Royster’s impressive 38-yard touchdown run at the end of the third quarter gave PSU a lead they would not relinquish.

Paterno’s NCAA record for bowl victories now stands at 23, and Penn State has won nine of its last 11 bowl games. The Alamo Bowl win brought a positive end to a turbulent, embarrassing season for the Penn State football program. In fact, quite frankly, I’m glad that this year is finally over.

In April, months before the season even began, several players took part in an off-campus brawl, which resulted in several charges against Anthony Scirrotto and Chris Baker. That ugly incident was followed by rape charges against Austin Scott in October and, incredibly, another fight involving Chris Baker (yes, the same one) and Navarro Bowman at the HUB in November.

I’ve never seen a PSU squad involved in so many off-the-field incidents in one season. (The blog Every Day Should Be Saturday, which tallies legal troubles among college football teams in a competition called the Fulmer Cup, ended its second annual contest with Penn State ranked second this past fall, and that was before the latter two incidents.)

Guys, please behave next year. Your school and your fans deserve better.

*     *     *     *     *

On the same night as Penn State’s bowl win, the New England Patriots became the first NFL team in history to finish the regular season with a perfect 16–0 record. I will reluctantly admit that it’s an impressive feat — the 1972 Dolphins, who won all of their 14 regular-season games, were the most recent team to go undefeated, and that took place before I was even born.

But the Patriots’ historic accomplishment (which will be repeated on ESPN until the end of time) simply leaves me cold. If a team like the Colts, Steelers, or Packers had gone undefeated, I would’ve been happy for them. But the Patriots are an obnoxious team — they blatantly cheated earlier this season, then proceeded to run up the score on many of their opponents, as if to prove that they didn’t need to cheat in the first place.

In response to allegations of rubbing it in, quarterback Tom Brady bragged, “We’re trying to kill teams; we’re trying to blow them out if we can.” (That’s the goal of every NFL team, Tom, but true sportsmen choose their words much more carefully.) And coach Bill Belichick, who shows his respect for the game by dressing like a homeless person on the sidelines, is the most ungracious coach in the league, despite his team’s huge success over the last few years.

So, is 16–0 impressive? Sure. But I don’t admire the Patriots in the least, and their next loss can’t come soon enough.

[ No. 402 ]

Dec. 28, 2007

The blog Signal vs. Noise, which is run by a Chicago-based software company called 37signals, recently posted an article about the best ways to “get ink” — that is, how to promote oneself or one’s product or service.

The final entry in the list contained a link to an interview between Charlie Rose and Steve Martin. At the 52:02 mark in the video clip, Martin provides some interesting advice (emphasis is mine):

Rose: “Someone stood up in an audience somewhere and said to you, you know, ‘How do you be successful?’ And you said, ‘You have to be undeniably good at something.’”
Martin: “Well, it really is this. When people ask me, say, ‘How do you, you know, how do you make it in show business?’ or whatever, and what I always tell them — I’ve said it many years, and nobody ever takes note of it, because it’s not the answer they wanted to hear. What they want to hear is: ‘Here’s how you get an agent,’ ‘Here’s how you write a script,’ ‘Here’s how you do this.’ But I always say, be so good they can’t ignore you. And I just think that if somebody’s thinking, ‘How can I be really good?’, people are going to come to you.”
Source: Interview by Charlie Rose, “An hour with Steve Martin” (Dec. 12, 2007)

Now there’s a New Year’s resolution: be undeniably good at something.

If you have the time, watch the full video clip. Steve Martin gives one of the most genuine, down-to-earth celebrity interviews I’ve seen in a long time.

[ No. 401 ]

Dec. 24, 2007

I’ve been getting a little long-winded on here lately, so here are some brief updates on recent events before Santa arrives tonight:

  1. Thanks to both a preventable writers’ strike and Kiefer Sutherland’s jail time for a DUI, I’m already mourning the loss of a new season of 24 this winter.
  2. A department holiday luncheon at Ruth’s Chris is, quite simply, a very good thing. (Best. Filet mignon. Ever.)
  3. I Am Legend started out with some amazing shots of an eerily abandoned New York City, but halfway through, it devolved into a campy horror film.
  4. If you absolutely must break out of jail, you might as well pay tribute to The Shawshank Redemption, still one of the best movies ever made.
  5. The length of my Christmas list is extremely reasonable, so why do I always put off shopping until the last few days, each and every year?

I’m off to visit the family later today. Merry Christmas to one and all!

[ No. 400 ]

Dec. 13, 2007

Earlier today, former Sen. George J. Mitchell announced the results of his 20-month investigation into the use of steroids and performance-enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball.

The lengthy Mitchell Report implicated 86 players in all, including seven MVPs and 31 All-Stars, and its frequent mention of pitcher Roger Clemens raised the most eyebrows. (It’s no big surprise that the Yankees, an insatiable franchise that’s pure evil in my book, had 22 players named in the report, more than any other team in the league.)

This latest bombshell isn’t terribly surprising, of course — most baseball fans are quite familiar with the topic of steroids, thanks to our good friend Barry Bonds. But given that the extensive Mitchell Report almost certainly fails to document many more examples of cheating, I have no choice but to distrust every baseball statistic from the last 20 years, and that’s a sad statement.

And so, the already stunning Year of Scandals, one that has thoroughly disgraced the world of sports, will end with a fitting exclamation point. And I’ll paraphrase Holden Caulfield by declaring that I’m completely sick and tired of phonies — every last one of them.*

* Update: In an e-mail that also contained comments on my previous PSU/VT post, a reader by the name of Richard Carter writes:

As far as the Mitchell Report, to think that that report is complete is shortsighted, in my opinion. Full disclosure — I am a Yankees fan, but usually it’s the biggest fish that are easiest to catch, which probably explains why they have so many. Further, they’re the only professional sports franchise to donate any money to Hokie Memorial Spirit Fund ($1 million), and they’re coming to Blacksburg in the spring to play an exhibition game. They’re not all bad.

For the record, Rich, those were some of the most level-headed comments that I’ve ever heard from a Yankees fan. Thanks again for writing!

My description of the Yanks as “pure evil” has a lot to do with their management’s and fans’ complaints about not winning enough, as if their team is entitled to a ring every year. But regardless, I’m genuinely glad to see that the Yankees are making a serious effort to help the grieving Virginia Tech community. Good for them.

[ No. 399 ]

Dec. 10, 2007

It’s amazing how the actions of a few can ruin the reputation of many.

On Apr. 21, just five days after a gunman brutally murdered 32 people in a horrific massacre at Virginia Tech, many Penn State students attended the annual Blue-White Game wearing maroon and orange shirts. It was a touching display of support for the grieving VT community, and the compassionate gesture gained national attention.

But just six months later, a pair of obnoxious PSU students negated all of that goodwill with some inconceivably tasteless behavior. They not only dressed up as Virginia Tech gunshot victims at a Halloween party, but also published photos of their despicable costumes in their online Facebook profiles.

So, thanks to two cruel Penn State seniors, Nathan Jones and Jessica Maroclo, the entire university has been disgraced. The reaction in State College has been one of disgust; students, faculty, and administrators alike are appalled and deeply embarrassed. As one observer told the Daily Collegian: “If I was at Virginia Tech, I would hate Penn State for life.” I wouldn’t blame anyone for that response, either.

Incredibly, in the wake of the PR nightmare that he helped to create, Jones defiantly defended his costume choice in a follow-up interview with the Collegian. In fact, he stated that he will “never ever ever” apologize, declaring, “I will die before I do.” (He even mentioned death in his retort. Nice touch.)

Now, I have a pretty high tolerance for indecent humor, but this sort of mockery is completely over the line, and Jones’ stubborn refusal to reconsider his behavior reeks of selfishness and immaturity. I’d love to ask him if he’d feel any differently about his actions if one of his relatives or friends was among those gunned down in Blacksburg this past spring.

For shame, sir. Need I remind you of the lyrics to our alma mater?

“May no act of ours bring shame /
To one heart that loves thy name.”

And remember, these two students are seniors and will likely graduate next spring. Given that the national media has mentioned them by name, what employer on earth would hire such careless, mean-spirited people? If there is any justice in the world, Jones and Maroclo will remain unemployed for a long time. But even that won’t begin to heal the wounds that they have inflicted on the Virginia Tech community, not to mention their own school.*

* Update: A reader by the name of Richard Carter writes:

Nice write-up on Jones and Maroclo. It’s unfortunate that many people will forever associate our university with the actions of one person, and it’s also unfortunate that many people from VT will associate PSU with these two individuals, instead of all the support we received from them in the wake of the shootings.

As I wrote back to Rich, I think the Virginia Tech scandal will gradually fade away (if it hasn’t already). Hopefully, most people will dismiss those two students as idiots and not representative of Penn State in general. But it’s still disheartening to see such stupid, insensitive behavior.

[ No. 398 ]

Dec. 7, 2007

Congratulations to my friend Mike and his three business partners for opening a new bar and restaurant in Philadelphia!

It’s called the Ugly American (love the name), and our extended group of friends attended its unofficial opening on Wednesday night. The refurbished building looks great, and based on the bite-size appetizers that we sampled, I can’t wait to try some of their entrees.

Check out the Philadelphia City Paper for a brief write-up and an exclusive look at the menu. (And don’t let the photo of Linda Tripp frighten you; she has absolutely nothing to do with the place, thankfully.)

So, if you’re looking for a new place to grab some drinks or enjoy a nice meal, make sure to stop by the Ugly American. It’s located at 1100 South Front Street in South Philly, at the corner of Front and Federal. Just take I-95 to the Columbus Boulevard exit, and it’s just a few blocks away. Plus, there’s a ton of free parking nearby. Tell ’em Monorail Mike sent you!

[ No. 397 ]

Dec. 3, 2007

To the owner of a silver Ford Focus that I spotted in the local shopping center earlier this evening:

If you ever get pulled over for a traffic violation, your bumper sticker that proclaims I’M A MESS probably won’t help your case.

[ No. 396 ]

Dec. 2, 2007

After a five-year court battle, the Harrisburg-based Patriot-News finally got what it wanted: Joe Paterno’s base salary, which was $512,664 in 2007.

JoePa’s income was revealed in a self-important article that also made sure to defend the paper’s investigation:

The Patriot-News sought the information, arguing that the public has a right to know because these Penn State employees will draw pension benefits from the taxpayer-supported retirement system and because Penn State University is supported by $349 million in state aid this year.
Penn State maintained that its employees’ salaries should be confidential and pointed out that none of Paterno’s salary comes from tax dollars. Nonetheless, state retirement benefits are based on salaries. The Supreme Court agreed with the newspaper and the pension system, ruling that the public deserves to know how its money is spent.
Source: Jan Murphy and David Jones, “Paterno salary mystery solved” (The Patriot-News, Nov. 29, 2007)

This past May, at a Penn State event that I attended in King of Prussia, Paterno stated that publishing his salary is a non-issue to him:

“I don’t care whether they release it or don’t release it. I don’t care if they find out I made five, six million bucks a year. That’s fine. Putting up with [the media], I guess I deserve it.”

Most coaches earn much more additional compensation from TV contracts and endorsements. But when you exclude those sources of income and compare Paterno’s base salary to that of his counterparts at other schools, he earns far less than most. In fact, a detailed USA Today article from 2006 reported that plenty of Division I-A football coaches earn well over $1 million in base salary alone — about double the amount that Paterno receives.

Regardless, I’m not surprised by his reported salary. Everyone knows that Paterno has never been motivated by money or fame; otherwise, he would have accepted a lucrative offer from the NFL decades ago. Plus, Joe and his wife have given back millions to the university that has employed him since 1950.

Given all of the time and expense devoted to this ultimately pointless “right-to-know” crusade, I sincerely hope that the Patriot-News reporters are deeply disappointed that Paterno’s salary didn’t turn out to be an egregious sum after all. Don’t hold your breath for a Pulitzer, guys — you’re not exactly Woodward and Bernstein.

The very next day after the Patriot-News claimed victory by publishing Paterno’s income, the paper published a bizarre editorial, arguing that Paterno should be paid more. Why would they ask the state Supreme Court to meddle in Paterno’s financial affairs, and then lobby on his behalf?

If you ask me, the paper didn’t have enough to write about. So the staff decided to create their own news story, one that few of their readers even cared about, and now the Patriot-News looks like a bunch of fools.

[ No. 395 ]