Friday, January 28, 2011

Don't Drink the Kool-Aid

My 18 year old daughter wants to pursue a cosmetology license. I can’t really argue with her decision, because it’s something that interests her, and nobody is outsourcing those jobs.

There are several schools in our area that offer certification programs. Some are low-rent vocational schools, and some are snooty, fashionable and expensive. You can probably guess which one my daughter wants to attend.

The one she’s interested in is named for a well-known New York hairdresser, who has used his name recognition to franchise a branded curriculum all over the country. The school is known for its “method,” which is a rigid protocol for the practice of cutting and styling hair.

One of the primary requirements (in addition to the outrageous tuition) is that each student must purchase a “kit” of equipment and branded hair products for $2,000.

I recently attended an event with her, and we met a guy named Michael. He’s a trim, neatly-groomed man in his fifties who is a hairdresser with his own business. I peppered him with questions about the profession, while my daughter listened eagerly to his answers.

He asked which school she was planning to attend, and she told him. He grimaced and said, “Well that’s fine, but let me give you a bit of advice – ‘Don’t drink the Kool-Aid.’”

I glanced at my daughter and saw a facial expression that can best be described as “Huh?” I realized instantly that she had no idea who Jim Jones was. Fortunately, she’s a smart girl and kept her mouth shut.

We had a good laugh about it later in the car. It made me wonder what other expressions that make sense to me would be meaningless to people her age. So I tried out a few with a group of her friends.

“Sufferin’ succotash!” – They got this one immediately, because old cartoons are constantly recycled for new generations.

“I am not a crook!” – One kid got that quickly, because as he said, “They mentioned it on an episode of Family Guy.” So even new cartoons represent their primary source of information.

“We’re more popular than Jesus.” Finally, that one stumped them.

Can you think of any other good ones?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

A Month Without Posting

I didn’t write a single blog post during the entire month of December – an unusual and troubling lapse. It’s not that I didn’t have ideas, because I have those all the time. Usually, I ruminate on them for a day or two and then start writing when I have a spare hour or so. It’s the hours that have been lacking.

It all started when we rearranged the furniture in one room of our house. Let me rephrase that: It all started when I rearranged the furniture in one room of my house while my wife supervised. In the process, I had to empty a bookcase. Two shelves of the bookcase contained commercial VHS videotapes that my daughter had watched when she was little. Most were produced by a giant entertainment conglomerate associated with a cartoon mouse.

We deposited most of them in the Goodwill box, but about a half a dozen tapes were designated as my daughter’s favorites. My wife, realizing that VHS tapes were prone to disintegration over time, asked me if I could find those titles on DVD. I was surprised to discover that the giant entertainment conglomerate is hoarding their back catalog, releasing titles on DVD only when it suits them. This probably has something to do with annual earnings, but I suspect that the creative well has run very dry and it’s the only way they have left to make real money.

So my wife asked if there was any way to copy them onto DVD, which would enable my daughter to watch them with her own children someday without fear of destroying the tapes. I did a little research and discovered an inexpensive device that converts analog VHS signals to digital files that can then be burned onto DVD fairly easily.

We were down to one VCR in the house, which I moved to my computer room and hooked everything up. I was unprepared for what happened next. My wife walked in with a gigantic armload of the videotapes we had taken of my daughter during the first 10 years of her life. She dumped them on the desk and said, “Copy these, too.”

For those of you unfamiliar with this process, there are several steps. The first step is to digitize the videotape, which is a real-time process. In other words, ten 6-hour videotapes will take 60 hours to digitize. Each file is hundreds of megabytes in size. You have to take each file, cut it up into DVD-size chunks, add a DVD menu with chapter divisions, and burn the DVD. I’ve done over 40 of them in the past month.

They include videos of the pregnancy, the birth, first steps, first birthday, first pony ride, first roller skates – you get the idea. She’s an only child and we had a video camera and lots of time. Mixed in with all of the usual nonsense are some genuinely adorable moments. I’m sure every parent probably feels the same way about their kid, and has hours and hours of shaky, blurry videos, so I’m not going to post any clips here, even though I’ve invested a month of my life making them.

If you have any videotapes you want to digitize, drop me a line and I’ll tell you what to buy. But don’t ask me to do it for you, because once this project is finished, I’m going to smash this little box with a sledgehammer.