Meekness Onions and Toastmasters

While considering a blog that has discussed landing on the moon, car purchasing approaches, books, movies, football board games, or how Christmas came to be celebrated on December 25th, it might seem odd to see a post encouraging the emotional literacy that I’ve come to know from my time learning to speak publicly, as an adult, through an organization called Toastmasters International.

A longer term goal that I have had professionally has been to lead processes and people, which can be a funny concept to people that understand my ISFJ personality type as revealed by this personality test:

Think about being led by Vin Diesel, Beyoncé Knowles, Halle Berry, or Selena Gomez … All are reliable folks that bring loyalty and enthusiasm to supporting others, though a tendency to meekness, frustration, and an aversion to change do not suggest a propensity for leading people through situations where leadership should prevail.

Affording me the opportunity to take leadership roles in my Toastmasters club, speaking regularly has offered me the chance to confront feelings of meekness, humility, and an unwillingness to speak out about things that I know are wrong. The first step in getting comfortable with change is to think through changes that I want to make in the world, and then speaking about them.

Toastmasters has offered me the opportunities to push the limits of my personality type. My tendency towards meekness may never change, though continuing to accept that things must remain unchanged with no effort to grow is a choice. Toastmasters, for one thing, allows me to peel back layers of timidity in my “meekness onion.”onion

Right now, I am taking satisfaction from actual growth that I can see in my willingness “to put myself out there.” Peeling one ring of the onion, right now that ring is practicing the technique of confronting my timidness. Further growth may get me to the leadership goal of leading process(es) and/or people. At the core of this onion, Toastmasters International is helping me getting to the core of that goal.

Matt – Wednesday, January 4, 2017




RIP Richard Adams – Watership Down book review

Per an Associated Press report that came to light earlier this week, British author Richard Adams died on Christmas Eve at the age of 96. His book Watership Down was thought to be a classic of children’s literature, both for its lyrical quality as well as the perception of its relevance at the time of its publishing and today. Completely unrelated to this timing, I chose to read Adams’ masterpiece in advance of his passing. I finished my reading earlier this afternoon.

Set in southern England amongst a small group of rabbits that spoke in terms understood by readers, Watership Down was the tale of rabbits living in their own natural environment engaging in what I would consider “natural village behavior” for rabbits living in the wild. They speak, feed, move, and went about the “trauma and excitement” of seeking a new place to live while not knowing where to go, what they’ll face, the correctness of tactics or strategy, and enemies with similar concepts of life and death.

The really adult quality of this adventure, beyond this setting, is that the culture of the group of rabbits, and the other animals they encountered, is unique to each group and diverse. Each group came to view the world per their abilities, their experiences, and what life has taught them. This story did an excellent job showing “adulthood” to a young adult audience; the experience allowed something for juvenile kids and adults coming back to this, or experiencing it for the first time.

I come away appreciating the story. Some people have come to this story now, on both sides of the liberal / conservative approaches to government, seeking insight. That’s okay, and those readers will take something from Watership Down. That somebody might want to read that could probably find it here. I did not seek that ability for “reading into” the story; I think that this neither added nor detracted from a quality experience.

Given all this preface, let me mention that my rating is 4-stars out of five.

Matt – Saturday, December 31, 2016

Fantastic Beasts and How to Find Them movie review

Set upon arrival in the 1920’s New York City where witchcraft and sorcery are synonyms for Prohibition and poverty of the age, the hard times of 1920’s New York City are central to place for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, that people recognize from the books and movies, are clearly presented and present in this movie.

Almost glancing references are made to Hogwarts and Albus Dumbledore in the Fantastic Beasts story, which is accurate to the backstory of Dumbledore (supposedly born in 1881). With Fantastic Beasts existing before the more contemporary stories of Harry, Hermione, their parents, or even Tom Riddle, the timeline is satisfying for ringing true. The glancing references to language between the sides of the Atlantic Ocean (the United Kingdom versus the United States) was for my part a cute touch.

Fantastic Beasts is a good family movie, which is the focus of this post. I liked the movie and enjoyed it.

The tone hits you as less intense / dark than the last three Harry Potter movies, which are based on the books Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Scamander does a respectably British in mannerism protagonist through the movie, with mates, foils, and fantastic beasts in Kowalski the baker, Graves, Chastity, Modesty, and Credence Barebone, the Shaw family, and others. The Grindelwald mystery, which scores as a background story for our hero through much of Fantastic Beasts, does reward the clever viewer in search of a mystery.

Finally, remember that while Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is definitely of the Harry Potter universe, my strong recommendation is that this movie works in isolation. That is, the movie is an uplifting standalone experience. I’d be amiss for not mentioning that the movie does earn its PG-13 rating in the United States. Grade = B+.

Matt – Friday, December 30, 2016

Bowl Bound and Paydirt: Two football board games to rule the December gaming world

With the kickoff of today’s Pinstripe Bowl from New York City between the Pitt Panthers (8-4) of the ACC and the Northwestern Wildcats (6-6) of the Big Ten having just occurred, I cannot help but want to watch some college football. My competitive juices also have me wanting to play a little football, too.

Thankfully for me, the good folks of Time Inc. came up with a board game in cooperation with Sports Illustrated Magazine to create a game that simulated the play of football using real college teams through history called Bowl Bound. The professional football equivalent of that game with NFL teams was first called Sports Illustrated Pro Football, and later Paydirt. Both started as Sports Illustrated games that were later published by the Baltimore area company Avalon Hill.

The original Bowl Bound game included 32 select NCAA I-A teams from 1960 to 1970. Two additional team sets of 20 teams apiece, dating between 1940 through 1978 and 1979 through 1987 respectively, were sold before the rise of computerized sports led to the game’s discontinuation. Much of that history can be found on the Wikipedia page, whose objectively correct description of this game I corroborate.

Bowl Bound Wikipedia Link:

Paydirt and Sports Illustrated Professional Football games published charts for most National Football League seasons from roughly 1970 through 1993, though some seasons did encounter contractual questions that prevented release. While following NFL rules rather than college rules for gameplay, the concept of gameplay between the games is the same.

Paydirt Wikipedia Link:

When Hasbro acquired Avalon Hill later, the board games and chart-making rights for Paydirt mostly passed to Data-Driven Football ( Data-Driven Football is the modern day equivalent to this game. It is compatible with the old charts. A computerized version of Paydirt is available at the Data-Driven Football website.

The chart-making rights for Bowl Bound passed to Mays Football ( Some charts for Paydirt are available through as well.

Matt – Wednesday, December 28, 2016

World and U.S. Literacy Rates by UNESCO and NCES

According to a 2013 study published by UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the adult literacy rate through 2011 was estimated as 84.1% of the total adult population of the world. The report shows that male literacy was almost 10% higher internationally than female literacy rates.

According to that study (linked here, literacy includes “having basic reading and writing skills.”

In the United States, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) publishes information on adult literacy rates. A 1993 study (linked here looked at adult literacy rates along mostly racial lines.

The thought process in that emphasis on race rather than race and gender isn’t stated in the reporting, though the emphasis on race has a clear historical component that is significant.

Going back about 100-years to 1910, the overall literacy rate was rated at 92.3%. White adults were 95% literate while black and other adults rated at 69.5% literate. This disparity, while appalling, was a dramatic improvement from the Reconstruction years following the US Civil War.

While my aim here is largely to compare adult literacy rates today to 100-years ago, we’ll end today’s look at literacy with a look at 1979 values in the US. Overall, 99.4% of adults were literate. The white percentage came in at 99.6% compared to 98.4% of black and other populations. Again, the gender-based numbers are not available.

The report concludes with the suggestion “that the overall education level of the [US] population will continue to rise slowly at least into the early 21st century.”

Literacy is a subject that matters to us, and we’ll be coming back to it over time.

Matt – Tuesday, December 27, 2016

First Tonight Show host born 95-years ago today

Many of you perhaps have enjoyed falling asleep to the jokes of Jimmy Fallon or Johnny Carson or Jay Leno, or even Conan O’Brien and Jack Paar.

These hosts of the Tonight Show standout for fans of NBC (National Broadcasting Company). The Tonight Show began broadcasting the same year as NBC, namely in 1954. The Tonight Show’s first host was Steve Allen.

Steve Allen was born 95-years ago today, on December 26, 1921. Allen passed away in October 2000.

Matt – Monday, December 26, 2016

Christmas on December 25th? Ask Pope Julius I and Roman Emperor Constantine

Thinking back to the period roughly two-thousand and sixteen years ago, my thoughts drift to the way that the world was different than it is today. For one, the notion of the current expression of the calendar was still pretty new in human reckoning terms. For one, the month of August was called August for less than 10 years. The month July in Rome hadn’t been known by this name for 50-years yet, having become known by that name in 44 BC.

Precise birth records weren’t what they are today. Besides, the New Testament telling of the birth of Jesus, at least to biblical accounts that I am familiar with, tend to omit current historical features of interest, which would include the precise date that the historical figure Jesus Christ was born. While there can be some historical sense for when Passover and the events surrounding the death of Jesus Christ actually occurred, when the birth of Jesus Christ really happened can be debated. Mostly, I take the birthday of Jesus Christ as an article of faith and tradition as passed down by my faith and the culture I live in; that is, my faith and culture acknowledges the claim of a December 25th Christmas without argument.

So, how did we come to celebrate Christmas on December 25th, anyway? For that, the two biggest contributions were made by two men. First, the first Roman Emperor of Christian persuasion, Constantine, was a leader in Rome in the year 336. While conjecture exists around when the Romans understood the Winter Solstice to occur in 336, there was a festival honoring that event that coincided with the December 25th date. Also, the date where Mary was told that she was carrying “a very special package,” namely Jesus, is still celebrated March 25th by the Roman Catholic Church. In short, the tradition seems to have started 1,680-years ago.

A few years after the first Roman celebration of Christmas on December 25th, then Pope Julius I officially declared the official celebration of Christmas to occur on December 25. At that point, any debate would seem to have been formalized.

Matt – Sunday, December 25, 2016