Read any good powerpoint presentations lately?

Nothing challenges and already challenged attention span more than a speaker reading from his own powerpoint. Especially one short on graphics.

(Sorry, primitive line and bar graphs don’t count.)

I went to an environmental lecture tonight at Ashland University, which turned out to an exercise in mental somnambulism.The lecture was about how chemical contaminants migrate through local and global ecosystems.

This should be fascinating — if not scary — stuff.

But it wasn’t. Not as presented.

Granted, much of the talk was highly technical. But the speaker, like others I’ve heard lately, resigned himself to “sticking to the script” for the most part.

Let’s cut to the chase. I can read. I don’t need someone to stand up there and read to me.

Powerpoint technology should complement a talk. Unfortunately, too many people use it as an alternative to 3-by-5 cue cards.

Tonight’s lecture left me cheering for the contaminants.

 

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Pseudosilence — define

Coined word for today, pseudosilence.

Help me out here. What do you think it should mean?

Submit answers in the comment section here or on facebook and I’ll share them in a future post.

FYI, the term has been kicked around but, as far as I know, hasn’t made its way into the official lexicon.

Remembering the Family Truckster — another chapter in my Auto Biography

Delivering laughs in Columbus in my Family Truckster. Notice the camo job on the side panels. (Photo from Columbus Monthly.)

A week or so ago, John Shenberger asked on facebook whether anyone knew how station wagons got their name. At the risk of dating myself, I admitted that I did.

Station wagons were called that because they were marketed to middle-class folks or people who lived out in the sticks — the idea being they would use them to drive down to the railroad station to pick up family members, house guests, luggage and supplies.

I’ve owned a couple of station wagons in my life. Neither of them was used for this purpose.

By the time I started driving, trains and other forms of mass transit had taken a back seat to the almighty automobile. Car manufacturers and highway construction lobbyists had seen to that.

I came up in a generation in which cars and driving became a focal point in our lives. With that in mind, I once set out to write my autobiography around the cars I had owned. I called it “Auto Biography.”

It seemed like a better idea than writing my life story around other things I’d owned — like underwear. Although “Briefs” would have been a catchy title.

Can you imagine plugging a book like that on a talk-show?

“Well, Mr. Oslin, after writing an autobiography based on the underwear you’ve owned, what will you do for a sequel?”

“Depends.”

I wrote a few installments for “Auto Biography,” which ran in Hoot, a humor tabloid I published in the ’80s and ’90s. At the time, I owned a 1979 Ford station wagon. I never got around to writing that chapter.

The Ford wagon was one of the most remarkable cars I’d ever owned. I’d inherited it from my brother, who ran over a fire hydrant, took a left turn onto the railroad tracks and run into God knows what else.

It had assorted dents, a mangled front end and a three-gallon ding in the gas tank with the imprint of a fire hydrant. (Miraculously the gas tank never leaked.) It was the same make, model and color as the Family Truckster, the stylized Ford Country Squire wagon made famous in the movie “National Lampoon’s Vacation.”

After inheriting the station wagon from my brother, I set out to customize it. I “pimped my ride” as the kids are fond of saying.

It so happened that, while crusing the backroads one night, I found part of a front clip from a Mack truck in a ditch along the road. I thought the Mack insignia and bulldog hood ornament would make a nice addition to the Family Truckster. The clip was made of fiberglass and weighed quite a bit, but I managed to hoist it onto my roof rack.

Whenever I tell this story, the listener insinuates that I stole the body section from an intact truck. That’s not true. I’m not that kind of guy. In fact, I promptly reported the crash from the first pay phone I could find.

The fake woodgrain panels on the Family Truckster looked tacky, so I covered them with camouflage contact paper.

Over time, I added other features including a baby doll arm turn signal. The right turn signal unit was missing when I inherited the car, so I mounted a doll arm on top of the fender and wired a bulb socket inside of it. (I came by the baby doll arm honestly, so don’t even ask.)

In spite of its appearance, the Family Truckster was quite roadworthy. I used it to distribute bundles of my humor publication, so I had to beef up the suspension. I used coil springs from a half-ton pickup truck and installed air shocks in the rear. At one point, the parking brake cable broke. I ordered a replacement from Ford, which apparently was shipped from Deerborn, Mich., by ox cart because it took forever to get to Columbus.

The Family Truckster came closer to passing a safety inspection than any car I’d ever owned. The vehicle inspector got a chuckle out of the Mack bulldog hood ornament and he was pretty impressed with the baby doll arm turn signal. Then he asked to check the parking brake.

Here’s how that conversation went:

“Now I’m going to stand in front of the car and I want you to put on the emergency brake, take the car out of park and slowly take your foot off the brake pedal.”

“You might not want to do that.”

“Why not?”

“Because the new brake cable is still a box in the back of the car.”

‘They hate you if you’re clever and they despise a fool’ – John Lennon

On yesterday’s blog, I talked about growing up on Keiper Court on the West Side of Cleveland. I lived there until I was six or seven.

The address was 3310. On the front of our house, we had a white plastic plaque with red translucent numbers. I think I remember that because, one time, a number fell off and my father had to glue it back on.

I didn’t know what addresses were until after I started school. In my 5-year-old mind, I reasoned that the numbers on houses served the same function as license plates on cars.

I also didn’t know my name until I started school. I’d always been called Butch. Except by my older sister, who called my Jane.

She still does to this day.

On the first day of school at Orchard Elementary, we had roll call. Our teacher, Mrs. O’Malley, called our names and, one at a time, my classmates raised their hands and said, “Present.”

I remember feeling alienated because I thought I was the only kid in my kindergarten class who hadn’t been called on.

Mrs. O’Malley looked at me and asked, “Are you Irvin?”

“No, I’m Butch,” I said.

“Then your real name must be Irvin,” she told me.

It wasn’t ringing a bell. I’d never heard the name before. My father was Irvin Sr., but people always called him Ozzie or Sonny.

“No, my name is Butch,” I said.

“Your real name is Irvin,” she insisted.

This went on for quite awhile until I resigned myself to humoring Mrs. O’Malley and letting her call me Irvin.

Then she asked if I knew my address.

Things really started to go downhill from there. I thought she was asking me if I had a dress.

In spite of my sister calling me Jane, I was comfortable with my gender from a very early age. But now this.

I decided to nip it in the bud.

I grinned at Mrs. O’Malley and said, “Don’t be silly, I don’t have a dress.”

Then I got to meet Mrs. Middleton, the principal.

The three of us went round and round about my gender identity and my identity in general, but we couldn’t seem to find any common ground. I think they came to the conclusion that either I was the dumbest kid they’d ever seen or a smart-ass.

Of course, it was pure naiveté on my part. But, thanks to their persistence and the high educational standards of the Cleveland Public School system, I eventually gravitated toward the latter.

West Side Diary — Memoirs of my Cleveland childhood

Approaching Fulton Road from Keiper Court. The salt box was roughly where the guys are standing.

I remember the first time I ever saw a drunk passed out on the street. When I was a little kid, we lived in an alley behind the Lorain-Fulton movie theater. One day I was walking down the alley with my mother and, when we got to Fulton Road, there was a disheveled guy sleeping on a salt bin.

The city used to put wooden rock salt bins on street corners during the winter.

I asked my mother what was wrong with the guy.

“Nothing,” she said. “He’s just dopey.”

I remember thinking how shitty it was that one of the Seven Dwarves had grown up to be a drunk.

All the news that’s fit to omit

Tools of the t(i)rade

I had an interesting exchange via facebook today about one of my pet peeves — the dying art of legwork in journalism.

I’m not talking about online research or phone interviews. I’m talking about getting off your ass and making the rounds of city hall, the courthouse, the cop shop or wherever you beat ought to take you.

I was harping about the tendency of young journalists to rely too much on virtual coverage. In other words, the Internet and telecommunications.

A colleague pointed out — and rightfully so — that technology should serve as a complement to good old fashioned legwork.

I agreed and admitted that, dinosaur that I am, I have come to embrace technology. I’ve come to realize that it’s a good thing. As long as it’s not the only thing.

Sadly, the increasing demands of the job have forced us to rely on technology more and more. Journalists everywhere are being pushed to be more “productive.” It’s come to the point that a lot of journalists, myself included, are being pressed to perform menial tasks once handled by typists and office managers. Consequently, we can’t do our jobs effectively and the process and the product suffer.

Right along with the people’s right to know.

My picks for top news stories of 2011

It didn't have a name, but I got the feeling he called it "lunch."

At the end of the year, most newspapers regurgitate their top stories in the form of top-ten compilations. Which comes in handy during those slow news days around the holidays.

In the course of going through the stories I wrote last year, I found a few that really stood out. But not for reasons that would qualify them for the Ashland Times-Gazette’s Top Ten Stories of 2011.

I’ll share them here with a little running commentary.

• In March 2011, two Amish cousins were busted for drag-racing in their horse-drawn buggies near Savannah, Ohio. One of the buggies struck an oncoming car and overturned. No one was hurt in the crash. The Amish men were on their way to church. Not surprisingly, this story went viral, making international news.

• In May, two men were arrested after they stole a piggy bank from a local restaurant. Employees had placed the bank on the counter to collect donations to help people diagnosed with cancer. There’s a special place in hell for these guys.

• In July, Ashland Police responded to what I jokingly referred to in the story as a “Code 18A — a wild turtle on the prowl.” A woman called police to report that a large turtle was approaching her house. The softshell turtle had escaped from a turtle trapper in the neighborhood, who also happened to be the mayor’s nephew. Mayor Glen Stewart heard the call on a police radio in his office and knew right away what had happened.

• My favorite story happened in November. I was at my desk and a call came across the scanner from a sheriff’s deputy urgently requesting backup. He was investigating four suspicious characters in a pickup truck near a wooded area by Charles Mill Lake. One of the men got into a scuffle with him. The fight ended when the deputy threatened to zap the suspect with a Taser. Before the dust settled, the scene was bumper-to-bumper with police cruisers from five different law enforcement agencies. I wasn’t going to do a full story at first, but it just kept getting better and better. Turns out the guys were cutting trees on public land and got a chain saw bar stuck. Two of them had outstanding warrants. However, it was originally thought that the warrant one guy had was outside the pickup radius, so the officers cut him loose. When a Mansfield Police officer arrived, they found out he also had a warrant from that jurisdiction. The officers jumped into their cruisers and pursued the pickup truck down State Route 603, pulled it over and arrested him. In addition to arresting two guys on outstanding warrants, citations also were issued for damaging the trees and littering. One of the suspects had tossed a Mountain Dew can on the ground during the initial investigation.

• Also in November, State Highway Patrol troopers from the Ashland post arrested a woman twice in the same night for OVI. Seems she had been released to a “responsible” party. When she went to retrieve items from her vehicle at the impound lot, someone saw her get behind the wheel of the vehicle of the person who had come to give her a ride home. The witness notified the Highway Patrol and a trooper stopped her in nearly the same spot where she was originally arrested. The second time around, she was not released to a “responsible” party but taken straight to jail.

• In August, Sheriff’s deputies arrested a man who took his mom’s pickup truck and trashed cornfields, turfed yards, and stole signs and lawn ornaments in western Ashland County. They were able to trace him through a trail of mud and corn stalks, finding the truck ditched in the yard of a friend. Turns out the friend, a juvenile, had been along for at least part of the ride.