Tuesday, February 9, 2010

#9: You Say Ax, I Say Axe

Few tools wield the mystical power of an axe. Grasp a screwdriver or a pair of pliers and you are simply holding a tool, but hold an axe and you’ve got something special. It’s a feeling that cannot be explained; only experienced. So if you’ve never felt the majesty of the axe, stop reading this now and go to your local hardware store (or axe store if you are Canadian) and take one for a spin. Then you’ll know.

For hundreds of years the axe has been a symbol of power. In Medieval times axes not only served to cut wood but they were also used to bust open heads, making the axe perhaps the first true multi-tool! Nowadays axes are used to save lives rather than take them. In addition, the axe is still used to cut wood and…well that’s about it. Nonetheless axes mean power.

Look at any group of guys and the man with the axe is generally in charge. Unfortunately, society tends to frown on carrying an axe any place but into the woods, so this is only a scene from the history books. I think the negative stigma associated with axe brandishing is a major reason for the breakdown of society, but that’s a topic for another day.

I somehow managed to live 36 years before purchasing my own axe. I was amazed to see how modern axes differ from those of my youth. There are some things I thought just could not be improved, namely the hammer and the axe. Well, when it comes to the axe I was wrong.

Modern day axes are equipped with a built in wedge to facilitate wood splitting. Such technology is only rivaled by the artificial heart and microwave popcorn. In addition, the hickory handle from days of yore has been replaced with fiberglass, which is not just unbreakable but “indestructible”. Seeing such a claim stamped on the side of the handle implies that there is someone out there who can actually destroy an axe handle. All I can say is that I want to be on that dude’s good side.

My “premium log splitter” has one final improvement, a blade cover. I was formerly ignorant to the modern marvels of axe advancement and thought that blade covers were made strictly from old newspaper and duct tape. Every axe my dad owns has exactly that covering the blade. Apparently there is new technology that gives axe makers the ability to mold a piece of plastic to fit over the blade. There are some sharp people out there! Of course, I have already lost the cover so I’m back to folding up an old copy of the Wall Street Journal and wrapping it with tape. So much for technology.

Use #9: Axe Blade Cover

John Hansen has cut and stacked many cords of wood. He has also enjoyed central heating and thinks turning up the thermostat is much easier than splitting wood. He is the co-author of the Power of Zahn, a mega-hero novel waiting to split the literary world with an axe.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

#8: Creating Future Scrabble Champions

Christmas break is a month past, and except for a few snow days, school is back in full swing. As far as I can tell the girls are learning the required subjects like math, science, reading, and social studies. I hear occasional fussing about homework and see piles of graded papers and tests which indicate that there is indeed something happening at the school house. I assume they are doing this work, or at the very least have hired someone to write a bunch of random stuff in cursive and complete multiplication tables. One subject I have no doubt they are learning is spelling.

I vaguely remember taking spelling tests in grade school, but that is about the extent of it. I also recall my spelling score on the 11th grade achievement test being “Below 8th Grade Level”…but we won’t let the kids know that little secret.

I am amazed how much the teachers push spelling these days. In fact, I am convinced that there is an underground movement to put the spell check guys at Microsoft out of business. Teachers have dreamt up dozens of methods for learning 10-15 words a week. Activities such as writing each word five times, alphabetizing the words, and using them in a sentence are all logical spelling activities. These methods foster basic memorization, or as we old-timers like to say, old-fashioned learning.

I guess I am behind the times, because there are apparently new learning techniques. Some classics include hiding the words in a picture, painting the words, and rainbow writing (don’t even ask). I am told that these are a “hands on” way of learning. The last time I checked, spelling wasn’t like plumbing. I cannot wrap my head around the “hands on” aspect of spelling like I can with the concept of making a toilet flush.

The absolute worst of these projects is what I like to call the ransom letter method. The kids have to cut letters out of old magazines and newspapers (enter the Wall Street Journal) and then use the letters to create their spelling words. The newly created words are then pasted onto a sheet of paper. Who in the hell thought this was a good idea?

Basically what I end up with is scraps of paper strewn throughout the house and random crap glued to my kitchen table. When the two hour spelling debacle is over, the girls have fifteen haphazardly glued words forming a ransom note written in monkey-speak.

gentle people injured unless poodle arrives underneath bleachers.
leave million outside window before tuesday arrives.

What exactly are they learning from this? I guess if any kid has aspirations of becoming a kidnapper he will look back fondly on grade school and remember the “hands on” experience he gained in his spelling lessons.

Use #8: Spelling Homework

John Hansen owns multiple dictionaries as well as a thesaurus. He is capable of looking up words in these books on his own and has been known to expand his knowledge by doing so. Along with Zak Hathaway, John has co-authored the Power of Zahn, a mega-hero novel featuring over 90,000 properly spelled words.