Halcyon Days

Columns and reflections by Terry Britt

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Course Readings as Childhood Experience

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Now that another holiday season is in the books, I’m anxious to start hitting the books again.

I pre-registered for Spring 2014 classes at the University of Texas at Austin back in late October.  Like everyone else in a research-based graduate school program, I was looking for an elective that, I felt, would assist me significantly in moving toward production of my master’s thesis report next year.  I scanned the course offerings in several social sciences departments as well as the School of Journalism and other programs within the Moody College of Communications, as it is now known.

There were a few that seemed potentially helpful, but nothing that was just a sure-fire fit.  I kept searching, and it was late in the game that I found a course with a very simple, yet fascinating, title, and in a department about which I knew nothing at that point:  American Studies (AMS) 390 – Watershed Decade:  The 1970s.

I stopped by the department’s office the next day, emailed the professor for the course, and was later informed a place would be available for me (they have to give priority for seats in the course to American Studies and History students).

And for the next four months, Mondays are bound to be more interesting than ever before.

The course looks at the so-called “Me Decade” from many perspectives – social, political, economic, and cultural, to name a few – but holds another, more unique, attraction for me.

It’s not just a roughly 10-year period of time to be studied and dissected in class discussion and a term paper, it’s my childhood – or the world that I saw as a child.

The history textbooks issued to me through my 12 years of public education rarely got into the mid-1960s, and that was covered only if there was time remaining in the last couple of weeks in the school year.  Even the American History courses I took in 1984 at the collegiate level included little more than a cursory overview of major events in the 1970s.

This upcoming elective graduate course marks the first time I have had the chance to do any in-depth study of a time period I actually experienced.  Throw in the fact that I was a very media-aware child of above-average intellect, and the immersion level takes on a whole new dimension.

While I certainly hope the course does provide valuable information and insight that can help with my research work in the years to come, the bonus might be new understanding and insight about the “me” that existed in the “Me Decade.”

This I know:  That kid started the 1970s as a relatively happy 4-year-old.  By decade’s end, he was struggling through the darkest period of his life – and wondering why to bother.

There is a human tendency to grow nostalgic about the days of our youth.  While I can look back upon certain elements of that time with fondness, there was more than enough bad with the good to relieve me of the desire to ever have it back again.  Anyone who thinks the fashionable retro-merriment of “That 70s Show” is an accurate depiction of the time period never had to contend with runaway food prices with a $2.00 per hour minimum wage and service stations with no gasoline to sell.

There were other aspects of the time that stand out in my memory, things that tend to get overlooked in the shadows of Nixon and Watergate, disco music, and racial unrest.  For me, one of the most important – personally and culturally – was the development of consumer product technologies that formed the foundation of everything we take for granted in the mid-2010s.

The first successfully marketed personal computers were introduced in the 1970s, and the standard by which they would eventually start to “talk” to each other, Ethernet, was developed around the same time (one of the co-inventors of Ethernet, Robert Metcalf, is currently a professor at UT-Austin).  Video game systems?  Another brainchild of the ’70s.  Home video recording devices and microwave ovens made their entrances into the general retail marketplace during this time, too.

Today, I have three personal computers in my home – two desktop PCs and one laptop – three video game systems, an iPad, and a smartphone as powerful as the laptop.  But the whole digital revolution, for me, actually started 35 years ago when my parents presented their three sons with one then-super cool Christmas present:  One of the dedicated Atari Pong consoles with two built-in paddle controllers, four digital paddle-and-ball games, and immeasurable fascination for the five of us.

I imagine I will have a lot to share with my younger classmates.  It’s one thing to study history, but quite another to have lived it – and survive to tell the tale.



Hooray For Realignment Day

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This one is for all the followers of Texas high school sports.

Monday was the most anxious day of this school year for high school athletic directors, coaches, student-athletes and fans — UIL Realignment Day.  Every even-numbered year in early February, the University Interscholastic League in Austin announces which schools will be in what classification and the district lineups within each of those classifications.  Speculation always runs rampant as to which schools might be moving up or down among Class A to Class 5A, and what schools will become their new district opponents for the next two years.  No one knows but the people at the UIL office and that information is guarded more tightly than a nuclear testing site, it seems.

So Monday came the big reveal for school years 2010-11 and 2011-12.  The biggest surprise to me?  For the first time in 20 years, the minimum enrollment number for the largest classification (Class 5A) went down, by 20 students to be exact.  While that may not sound like a lot, it was large enough to pull Denton Guyer from Class 4A to Class 5A for the first time in that school’s brief existence (it opened in 2005).

Of no surprise at all is the continued drop in enrollment, and thus classification, of several urban schools.  Someone pointed out that Dallas ISD will be down to just four schools competing in Class 5A and Fort Worth ISD continues to have Paschal as its lone ranger in 5A.  Both urban school districts also had a school drop from 4A to 3A this time around.  High-growth suburban and extended suburban areas opened new high schools to differing effects.  In Wylie, TX (northeast of Dallas), the opening of Wylie East (4A) was enough to pull Wylie High back to 4A from 5A; North Forney (3A) did not have the same effect on Forney High (still 4A).

On a personal note, I have to say I was very happy with how the UIL’s tumblers clicked in the area I have to deal with in my reporting work, the hinterland between Dallas and Tyler.  Not only did the three Class 3A schools in Van Zandt County — Canton, Van and Wills Point — remain together in a district for another two years, but they also will be joined by the other Class 3A high school I cover, Quinlan Ford.  Nearby Rains County and Lindale (dropping from 4A) join in, making for a very good and very compact new district.

Some schools only wish they had it so good.  DeSoto, a Class 5A school southwest of Dallas which must (for yet another two years) travel all the way to Tyler and Longview for district games, comes immediately to mind.

Another disappointed bunch would be the football coaches in the smaller Class 2A and Class 1A.  The UIL opted for a split division format (again, based on enrollment) within those two classifications for the entire season, not just in the playoffs as is the case with Class 4A and Class 5A.  That was not the complaint heard around the area, though.  It was rather the reduction of playoff spots from three per district to two, cutting the Class 2A and Class 1A postseason field statewide from 96 to 64 teams (32 districts x 3 teams vs. 16 districts x 2 teams in 2 divisions).

If you want to check out the new districts for yourself, you can do so at http://www.uil.utexas.edu/

Written by terrybritt

February 2, 2010 at 5:33 pm

10-year Time Warp?

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It is kind of neat to see the Dreamcast – perhaps the greatest example of a product lifespan cut too short among video game consoles – back on the market to some extent. But unless you simply must have one never soiled by previous owner hands, you can find them at many classic gaming resellers like Game Xchange or Movie Trading Company for $29-$49, which will also give you a bit of financial room to try to snag a copy of Soul Caliber or Virtua Tennis.

Written by terrybritt

May 3, 2009 at 11:41 pm

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A Week Of Perspective

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It’s amazing how one day can change your sense of appreciation for what you have.
A co-worker of mine noted this week how she feels very fortunate now to have a relatively safe position of employment after reading about the reduction-in-force moves this week at one daily newspaper. I concurred, having just read the same details at another daily newspaper.
While it’s certainly not a premium gig and never will be, my job as a staff writer for a group of weekly newspapers is steady employment. In this economy, and especially in mass media, job security has become a priceless commodity. While you can never say never anymore, the fact is that I can wake up each day with fairly strong assurance I will have a paycheck coming every two weeks.
Earlier this week, I learned I took second place in feature writing in the North and East Texas Press Association competition.
It’s a nice achievement, and even nicer to know I’ll probably have a chance to shoot for first place next year.
I won’t, however, be so filled with accomplishment as to forget my colleagues let go from larger publications and facing uncertainties I don’t have at present.
I think a lot of us in the U.S.A. are gaining a renewed sense of appreciation for what we have, knowing how quickly now we could lose it. This week was one such reminder for me.

Written by terrybritt

April 10, 2009 at 1:22 pm

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OS Memories

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Leave it to the folks at the UK’s PC Advisor to come up with a trip down operating system memory lane, posted on the magazine’s Web site over the weekend.

For those of us who have been around personal computers since they first hit the scene 30-something years ago, the article reads like a “greatest hits” record collection of how you used to get things done on a keyboard and monitor. I was able to recognize/remember most of the 10 OSes featured, but the one that really drew the “Oh, yeah, THAT!” reaction from me was something called GEOS.

In the 1980s, I was a happy and content Commodore 64 owner, but I didn’t like the way some of my hipper-than-thou computer geek friends would dismiss my system as nothing but a glorified video game machine with a keyboard. When GEOS came along, C64 fanboys like myself finally had something that could prove our computers could be productivity machines, too. Think of GEOS as a sort of early Microsoft Windows or MacOS overlay for the Commodore systems and you’ll get the picture. I think it initially retailed for $79.95 – a pricey piece of software for the C64 – but at that time it was really cool being able to manipulate files on a graphic desktop interface, use a font-rendering 80-column word processor and let your inner Picasso out with the paint program. You didn’t even need a mouse, as you could use the cheaper alternative of a standard nine-pin joystick controller to handle input functions.

Check out the article; you’ll be amazed at some of the facts it provides. Oh, and for the record, I remember the brief TV ad campaign for OS2 Warp in the mid ’90s and I can still operate a PC with MS-DOS command line structure.

Written by terrybritt

March 31, 2009 at 10:23 pm

The Ike Blog

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Sunday wrap-up: Looking outside today, you would have never known anything potentially destructive had touched the neighborhood or the city.  A daylong rain shower with occasional wind gusts was all yesterday brought and the evidence had just about dried up completely by the afternoon.

Of course, there are a lot more people in Texas who are not as lucky as we were here in Canton.  A local reserve police officer I know told me we have about 200 evacuees staying in shelters set up in churches and elsewhere, and just when they will be allowed to return home – and what they will find once they do – is an unknown at this point.  Government officials in some towns along the Texas Gulf Coast have already stated it could be weeks or even months before any semblance of normal life returns.

If anyone reading this has an urge to help, I suggest doing so through the American Red Cross (www.redcross.org).

God be with everyone affected by Ike.

6:08 p.m.: Things have died down considerably in the last hour. Light rain continues to fall and it is still breezy outside, but it appears the harder stuff hit the area to the east of where I am. Tyler Morning Telegraph is reporting about 100,000 without power in an area running through Lufkin and Nacogdoches, Palestine, Jacksonville, Crockett, Tyler and Smith County, and Wood County. God be with them all and hopefully they will get power restored very soon.

I’m going to retire for the time being, though another round of high wind and rain is being forecast for this town starting about 8 p.m. CDT. I’ll pick up the blog again if the situation starts to get intense during the night hours.

4:12 p.m.: The center of what is now Tropical Storm Ike is just to the north and east of Canton. As it moves onward, I expect the wind and rain to whip up again as the back end of it passes through.  Indications I’m getting by radio and other reports is conditions are considerably more treacherous to the east of here in and immediately around Tyler, Texas.

In the last hour or so, I’ve spotted several pickup trucks and other vehicles traveling along my street. I really hope they are out only to check on other family members. This is not the time to be joyriding in a storm.

The water buildup in front of my apartment continues and I’m hoping I don’t start to feel dampness in the carpet covering this home office room later.

3:45 p.m.: Well, here’s a little twist I didn’t count on – losing my cable signal (and the Internet connection with it), but not electrical power.

It went down about 2 p.m. CDT and finally came on in just the last few minutes.

Meanwhile, rainfall has been steady, wind is occasionally gusty, but not much else. The water, though, is starting to build up around the stoop/front wall of my apartment.

1:30 p.m.: The rain has started to pick up and is visibly being windswept down the street in front of me. Nothing major yet, but you can sense the intensity is definitely rising. Water is starting to collect out front. I had a little flooding mishap in the back bedroom in May, so I’m hoping the dirt work and the French drains the landlord installed will be good enough to prevent a repeat this weekend.

I just got word from my son that he has been called to report for Civil Air Patrol duty for the next 3-4 days in the San Antonio area, primarily to check on residents down there and assist National Guard troops. Imagine that in your absentee letter for high school!


Noon, Sept. 13: I’m going to update this site as Hurricane Ike continues to move inland today (Sept. 13) through East Texas. Right now in Canton, the rain has picked up and the tree branches around my apartment have begun short fits of swaying in the wind, but this obviously is just the beginning.

My immediate concerns: Power lines, obviously. I will continue to update this site about every 30-45 minutes as things progress and I continue to have power for my ‘Net connection here at home.  Still, if the wind gusts reach the 65 mph in the forecast, we’re sure to have some downed lines at some point. Also, there is a large tree right in front of my living room window here. I’ve parked my car as clear of it as possible in the hopes of lessening the odds of a direct hit if that tree falls.  I’ll also have to hope and pray it does fall backward onto the building itself.

My prayers go out to all those in Galveston and Houston that they may be rescued if needed or otherwise will be OK. I’m donning a Galveston Island shirt from a summer visit two years ago as a little sign of solidarity through this. Likewise, my prayers go out to those evacuated from that area and all their family members, as well as all those in the numerous other affected areas of Texas and Louisiana.


Written by terrybritt

September 13, 2008 at 12:30 pm