The Internet Isn’t the Problem

Some article with the clickbait headline of Why Steve Jobs Didn’t Let His Kids Use iPads (And Why You Shouldn’t Either) is making the rounds on Facebook. As you can guess, people are sharing it and crowing about their Internet-free childhood and all the fun they used to have sans computer. Or with slow Internet.

The gist is … kids were better off without the Internet. Because they got out and did stuff for real. You know, our parents said the same damn thing about TV. The computer – whether laptop, tablet or smartphone – is just this era’s TV. The handwringing is all the same, just with higher resolution and better sound. Call me a skeptic that all this rosy-viewed nostalgia is just so much bullshit. Let’s use the naming convention of the day and just call it NetShaming.

I first used the Internet when I was 23 and researching a paper for my Writing About Shakespeare class in college. Now, I’m going to regale you with a few choice bits of my Internet use that will prove that this article is wrong. And so are you if you’re jumping on its bandwagon. Let’s go in a relatively reverse chronological order as we examine how my Internet use directly translated into my real life:

THIS WEEKEND – Used the Internet to reset the idle on my Subaru Forester. I also used the Internet to play an online curling game, which helps me understand the strategy better for my "In Real Life" curling league. Oh, and I played against a Brazilian who helped me keep in practice with my growing Portuguese vocabulary.

EARLIER THIS YEAR – My wife used the Internet to sign me up for a class at the Aboriginal Living Skills School. There, I learned how to – in real life! – make traps, weapons and fire with sticks. I disinfected water and learned to identify edible woodland plants -- and quite possibly a variety of ways to wipe my butt with nature’s gifts.

LAST YEAR – Booked a flight to Vietnam, where I did stuff In Real Life that are too numerous to list here, including running a 10K in Hanoi. I keep in touch with people I met during that trip on the Internet.

ANY PREVIOUS NUMBER OF YEARS – Booked flights to, accommodations in and activities in: Australia, Belize, Costa Rica, Finland, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Korea and Sweden. Thanks, Internet!

FIVE YEARS AGO – Raced in my first 24-hour mountain bike race with people I met on Facebook in a community for Phoenix-area mountain bikers. Facebook, in case you don’t know, is (say it with me, brothers and sisters!) on the Internet.

UNTIL ABOUT TWO YEARS AGO – Used the Internet to book gigs. I played nearly 200 shows at regional venues. In real life. Because of the Internet.

10 YEARS AGO – Formed a band using some old friends and a drummer we found -- wait for it -- on the Internet.

That’s a decent summary. Look at the content of this blog to see other stuff I did with help from the Internet.

And I didn’t grow up surrounded by technology. Still, I think you need to quit blaming the tools. It’s not the computer, the tablet, the Internet, the smartphone or whatever that’s the problem.

It’s you. If your kids are wasting their lives on the Internet, look at how you use it. See any parallels?

Now what if – what if? – you use your Internet access to plan adventures? To research activities? To get shit done? Will your kids emulate that at all? Will they use it to meet future bandmates? To plan vacations? To learn how to do cool things in real life?

You betcha. Now quit blaming the devices.

A Look Back at Defunct Sports Teams

defunct sports teams
Yes, the Great One, Wayne Gretzky himself, played for the Roadrunners during an exhibition game.

The upcoming hockey season has me thinking about all the defunct sports teams from Arizona’s history. Yeah, I don’t get very excited about the Arizona Coyotes, a team that’s done just about everything possible to antagonize and alienate its potential fan base. I’d trade them in a second to have our minor league Phoenix Roadrunners back. This made me think of all the other great teams from Arizona’s past. And yes, it’s the Roadrunners who lead the list … it’s the team and sport I love best. But I think you’ll enjoy the rest, too. Alright, let’s go back in time!

Phoenix Roadrunners

A blast from the past – Phoenix Firebirds baseball.

The Coyotes have not a single fan collective that can hold up to the 207 Psychos, the uber-loud, often drunk bunch of genial louts who held court in Section 207 where they tried their best to psychologically scar visiting teams. For me, they are avatars of everything that was great about the ‘Runners. Well, them and the Polka Boys. Fans loved the unpretentious players, the low ticket prices and the enthusiasm of their fellow fans. But there just wasn’t enough of them. The team went through several iterations in the East Coast Hockey League (2005-09), the International Hockey League (1989-1997, arguably the franchise’s Golden Age), the Western Hockey League/Association (1967-74, 1974-77, respectively) and the Pacific and Central hockey leagues (dates unconfirmed). The team went from playing at Oceanside Ice Arena to sharing a spot with the storied Phoenix Suns at the U.S. Airways Center. Wayne Gretzky once suited up for the ‘Runners (as fans called them) during an exhibition against Gretzky’s LA Kings. NHL regular Robert Long of the Czech Republic got his start in the U.S. as a member of the Roadrunners.

defunct sports teams
I would’ve been a big Scorpions fan had they not played in Glendale.

Phoenix Firebirds

Even though I don’t like baseball, it was impossible to be a Phoenician and not hear about the Firebirds. They were a popular draw, making bank on the minor-league formula of cheap tickets and true fans who love the sport, not the chance to be seen loving the sport. Swimming pools in the outfield? Not for this crowd. The team started off as the Phoenix Giants (1958-59, 1966-1985) before adopting the locally relevant Firebirds name in 1986. The arrival of the Arizona Diamondbacks prompted the owners to take the team to Tucson and call them the Sidewinders.

Arizona Sandsharks

This franchise was pretty abject – ridiculously named, to boot. It got battered in the Continental Indoor Soccer League from 1993-97, never once advancing to the playoffs. Of course, the soccer purist in me thinks soccer leagues should only have playoffs to get promoted to a higher league. And for that matter, that indoor soccer is closer to hockey than real soccer. In fact, Fake Turf Hockey has a nice ring. This one kind of deserves to be a defunct sports team.

Phoenix Inferno/Pride

defunct sports teams
And THIS is why nobody would name a team the (City Name) Pride today. This is one of the top results for an image search on “Phoenix Pride.”

There’s never been a better-named team for Phoenix than the Inferno. And a never worse-named team for just about anywhere than the Pride – at least in the parlance of current times. Like just about every indoor sport played in the 80s, the Inferno/Pride franchise of the Major Indoor Soccer League plied their trade at Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum, aka The Madhouse on McDowell. They only lasted from 1980 to the end of the 1984 season, when MISL folded. Wikipedia says the team had an average attendance of 7,500 in 1984.

Arizona Heatwave

Think it’s hard to get people to watch soccer? Well, just try to get them to watch minor league women’s soccer. My wife and I got to the matches regularly, chasing the team to a variety of high school fields that served as their home. We tried to prevent them from becoming a defunct sports team. The standard of play was pretty good, but the crowds mostly consisted of soccer moms trying to inspire their rather disinterested daughters. It’s a shame – I enjoyed the Heatwave, which played in the United Soccer League’s W-League from 2003-05.

Arizona Sting

So the city of Glendale had a shiny new hockey stadium, and nothing to put it in during the summer. In 2004, the National Lacrosse League franchise formerly known as the Columbus Landsharks became the Arizona Sting (which probably annoyed Chicago Sting soccer fans from the old days). It was actually pretty successful on the field, winning the West Division title before losing to the Toronto Rock for League honors. Apparently, the Sting was so ashamed of its inability to overcome a name with such a silly name: It was culled form the league in 2007.

So, what defunct sports teams are from your own home? What good Arizona stories of sports failure have I missed?

Great Backpacking Destination: Iceland

backpacking destination
On one of Iceland’s best-known trails.

Iceland is made for backpacking. It has a wealth of trails that are supported by smart amenities and relatively easy to access. The country has embraced the backpacker, with plenty of touring groups, sports shops and hostels. Here are some other reasons why it’s a great backpacking destination.

Incredible Scenery

Icelanders realize what makes the country special: incredible scenery. Much of the land is young since it straddles the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Some lava flows are just 20 years old. This creates some dramatic landscape unlike anything you’ll see anywhere else. The scenery also changes quickly. Walk three miles, and the scenery changes completely.

backpacking destination
Trails everywhere. And lots of solitude.

High-Quality Huts

Major hiking routes have sturdy, high-quality huts ever eight miles or so. You can book reservations there, or just pitch a tent nearby (you’re not supposed to camp outside designated areas along the hiking routes). “Hut” is a bit of a misnomer since these structures actually have bathrooms and cooking facilities. Those who are tent camping can still use the bathrooms, but not the cooking gear.

backpacking destination
How’s that for a sweet hut? Amenities like this make Iceland a perfect backpacking destination.

Iceland isn’t the only backpacking destination to have incredible huts – New Zealand is also solid in this respect, as are many Scandinavian and Nordic areas.

No Dangerous Animals

I live in Arizona. Backpacking here brings the risk of rattlesnakes, scorpions and other potentially painful creepy-crawlies. We might have the Grand Canyon and very diverse scenery, but the state is just not set up to be backpacking destination. Iceland is a different story. Aside from sheep and harmless insects, the only animal you might encounter in the Icelandic back country is the Arctic fox – or possibly a Speedo-clad German taking a dip in a natural hot spring. In reality, the foxes are seldom seen and are too small to present a real threat.

Lots of Daylight During Summer

One of the challenges of backpacking can be the sudden drop in temperature when night falls. In Iceland, that’s not much of a concern. That’s because you’ll have about 22 hours of daylight. Even when the sun dips below the horizon, the sky still stays fairly light. That means no rushing to set up camp and dive into your tent and sleeping bag before the temperature turns frigid.

Solitude for Your Inner Hermit

Iceland is a decent-sized country. But it has only about 300,000 people in in it. So it’s slightly smaller than my home state, yet its population is about the size of a Phoenix suburb. That adds up to some empty space. Even at the popular Landmannalaugar hiking area, I hiked for hours at times without encountering another person. You’ll feel like you’re in some post-apocalyptic world with that sort of scenery, silence and solitude. Even areas like Dimmuborgir and the psuedocrater fields near Kirkjubaejarklaustur seem remote and rarely traveled.

Words of Warning

Though Iceland’s summer temperatures are often mild, things can change quickly. A driving rain can appear out of nowhere, with howling wind to accompany it.

The weather can do more than make you uncomfortable: It can kill you. In the mid-90s, a hiker died during a freak summer blizzard. He was just about a mile from the safety of the Hrafntinnusker Hut.

Plan ahead. Dress well. Bring the right gear. Then, you’ll be ready to have a great experience at any Iceland backpacking destination.

World’s Best Museums: My Top 5

world's best museums
You’ve come to the right place.

You know I’m not really going to tell you that my Top 5 list is the sole authority on the world’s best museums. This is just a snapshot of what I like … and I want to hear your responses. To compile my list, I considered a few factors: Weirdness, content and different perspectives just to name a few. So, now I’ll get on with the list. These are in no particular order.

Iceland Phallological Museum – Reykjavik, Iceland
This museum just about 30 miles from the Arctic Circle stood in a league of its own during my visit. It has since moved back to Reykjavik, which makes it easier for more people to reach. As a curated collection of detached members, it ranks high in oddball street cred. And it appeals to my dirty sense of humor. You’ll find penises that were attached to mind-boggling array of creatures – watch out for the taxidermied whale willies. Some of them just far enough from the wall to poke the unwary. My original blog post offers a more lengthy, penetrating review. Oops, I’ve built it up and now you’re going to be disappointed.

world's best museums
That’s creative use of crashed airplanes.

Vietnamese Military Museum Hanoi, Vietnam
This museum is packed full of memorabilia and information from thousands of years of conflict. As you might expect, it devotes a good percentage of its space to Vietnam’s more-modern conflicts with France and the United States. I was actually surprised that much of the content was more neutral than I expected. I only saw phrases like “imperialist aggressors” and “puppet government” a few times. Gear from captured U.S. personnel have a chilling power that I can’t explain. And there’s a magnificent sculpture crafted from parts of crashed aircraft. Added bonus: The museum is in a beautiful part of Hanoi.

List of museums in Washington, D.C.
List of museums in Washington, D.C. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

International Spy Museum – Washington, DC
“My name is Gary Wozniak. I’m a schoolteacher from Edmonton. I’m travelling for pleasure.” This was my cover nearly 10 years ago when I visited the International Spy Museum. And I’ve stuck to it like Chuck Bartowski sticks to his Charles Carmichael alias. This monument to Cold War espionage will make you shake your head in disbelief while totally roping you in with the random checks of your cover story (too much fun!). It really does need an exhibit called “Amazing Things Spies Have Stuck Up Their Butts,” though. Umm, reproductions would be fine for that exhibit. Fun factor and fascination make it a definite entry on my world’s best museums list.

world's best museums
The light, airy, photo-friendly Museum of Flight

Museum of Flight – Seattle, Washington
Let me get something out of the way: The Smithsonian Air and Space Museum has some awesome exhibits. There is nothing like seeing an actual Soyuz, Mercury or Gemini spacecraft. But the Smithsonian’s main location in D.C. is painfully dated, like Walt Disney’s 1960s vision of 1997 (Walt did not foresee nu metal, I promise you).

The Museum of Flight, on the other hand, uses natural light that flatters its also-magnificent aircraft collection. You’ve got everything from rickety bundles of twigs and canvas to supersonic fighters. And they’re laid out in photo-friendly fashion, for the most part. You have a few darker rooms … but most of it is bright and airy. Perfect for aircraft. Perfect for making my world’s best museums list.

Titan Missile Museum Green Valley, Arizona
I have never been in a museum as effective as the Titan Missile Museum. Between a cavernous interior that seems to suck up sound and tour guides who worked in similar installations, it’s less a museum and more of a time machine. You go in now, and shoot straight back to 1969. Need proof that it works? I went in to the museum with a bunch of tweens – and I doubted they would get it. But I soon overheard them saying stuff like “I can’t believe it was really like this!” Our tour guide got them involved by seating them in the control seats and running through the business end of the launch sequence.

The only way I could love this museum more is if the Titan missile itself was a bit more photo-friendly from the top. But still, it handily makes my list of the world’s best museums. It might even top it if this list went in order.

So, what makes your list of the world’s best museums?