Monthly Archives: July 2012

Alas – More Random Thoughts

Since we know archaeologists are going to be digging through our garbage in a thousand years, shouldn’t we be more picky about what we throw out?

Apparently the US Postal Service has to pay money into a retirement fund for future employees not yet hired. In other words, the mail comes late but their bankruptcy is being funded for the future.

Once upon a time, some relatively normal person looked at a cucumber and said, “I’ll bet this would be better if it were salty and sour. I’ll call it a pickle.”

We tend to solve problems by throwing money at them when usually they need more time and attention. For example, parents’ involvement with their children’s education is far more important than just adding money to the school system. (Isn’t it nice to know that you’re still relevant?)

I firmly believe that as soon as everyone with a screwdriver went out and bought a set of Phillips screwdrivers, the engineers came up with hex, torx and other odd shaped fasteners, each of which required a new set of tools.

On the other hand, it’s pretty hard to improve on a hammer.

Did you ever wonder what kind of person thinks that you really are going to send that e-mail to ten of your friends because the told you to?

How do they maintain quality control at the factory that manufactures whoopee cushions? Is it the volume that matters? The duration? Some other feature?

People worry that the Chinese are going to once again dominate the world. I figure anyone who illegally copies Adam Sandler movies can hardly be considered a threat.

 

Not the Fastest Learner

CNN story at 12:28 PM EDST 30 July 2012

Man who lost hand to gator charged with illegal feeding

 

Perhaps the story went something like this…

Age 2 – “No dessert if you don’t eat your peas! Well, maybe just one little cookie.”

Age 5 – “Stop pushing your sister! I really mean it!”

Age 10 – “Look, your homework is already two weeks late, I shouldn’t accept it at all, but I’ll give you a break, one last time.”

Age 16 – “I’m going to let you off with a warning instead of a ticket, but I better never have to pull you over again!”

Age 22 – “I thought when we moved in together you agreed not to see anyone else! I’ll forgive, but I may not forget.”

Age 40 – “I guess everyone is entitled to have a midlife crisis.”

2010 – 2012 “I keep telling you that there’s a big sign that says ‘Do Not Feed the Alligators!'”

Disorganized Thoughts on Entropy

en·tro·py /ˈɛntrəpi / [en-truh-pee] noun

1.

Thermodynamics .

a.

(on a macroscopic scale) a function of thermodynamic variables, as temperature, pressure, or composition, that is a measure of the energy that is not available for work during a thermodynamic process. A closed system evolves toward a state of maximum entropy.

b.

(in statistical mechanics) a measure of the randomness of the microscopic constituents of a thermodynamic system. Symbol: S

2.

(in data transmission and information theory) a measure of the loss of information in a transmitted signal or message.

3.

(in cosmology) a hypothetical tendency for the universe to attain a state of maximum homogeneity in which all matter is at a uniform temperature (heat death).

4.

a doctrine of inevitable social decline and degeneration.

Breaking News

Absolutely nothing worth reporting happened today.

Nothing.

Our Action Team News crew is busy rerunning stories from yesterday. In the meantime we have reporters at the Police Department, the City Jail, the Fire Department Headquarters and the Mayor’s office.

A camera crew was sent to the Animal Shelter, but none of the dogs or cats were cute enough to use on television.

We’re carefully watching the wire services to see if any national or international stories are brewing, but so far – nothing.

Stay tuned as we continue to cover this breaking story throughout the evening. We’ll have a complete summary, along with video on our 11 O’clock news, and of course we’ll break into regular programming as necessary to keep you up to date.

With Action Team News, I’m Bob Goodhair, and along with our entire staff I want to wish you a good night and an eventful tomorrow.

Stay tuned for Wheel of Fortune.

How Do They Know?

First an old joke:

 

Three men were sitting around and the question came up as to what was the greatest invention of all time.

 

The first man said, “The internal combustion engine. It gave us cars and planes. Without cars America would never have become as great as it is!”

 

The second man disagreed, “The computer. It’s changed the world. It got us to the moon. It gave us the internet.”

 

The third man smugly waited his turn and then gave his answer; “Thermos bottles!”

 

“Thermos bottles!” replied the other two men incredulously. “Why in the world would you think that thermos bottles are the world’s greatest invention?”

 

“Well,” replied the third man, “they keep hot things hot and cold things cold.”

 

“So?”

 

“So?” replied the third man, “How do they know?”

 

+++++

 

There’s a big brouhaha about requiring voters to provide identification at the polling site. Opponents claim that this is merely a ruse to disenfranchise those without identification who tend to be lower income and lower social strata. They also claim that the states enacting the laws have not encountered any voter fraud, therefore it doesn’t need to be fixed.

 

I need an ID card to get into my work place, or drive a car, get a library card, use a credit card, etc. I guess I’m just used to it. On the other hand, I’m old enough to remember when the original Mayor Richard M. Daley and his political machine ran Chicago. The joke(?) was that Chicagoans should “Vote early and vote often,” and “Even dead people have the right to vote in Chicago.”

 

However, that was then, this is now. I’m sure today’s politicians are significantly more honest than politicians were back then.

 

<Sorry – I had to catch my breath.>

 

In any case, if I can register to vote under any name I choose and not have to prove my identity either while registering or while voting —

 

How do they know?

 

When I’m Home

Yes, I think it would be nice to see the pyramids, visit Tokyo or trek through Europe, and if I ever have a huge influx of cash, I just might do those things. However, for the most part, I was made for simpler pleasures.

I took a couple of days off work and tacked them onto the weekend. I got a number of things off my to-do list. The bushes in the front yard now look civilized. I cooked dinner for the family outside several times, once under an umbrella because of the rain. I made lamb stew inside. I got about 2/3 of my office/radio room/music room cleaned. I got in a little guitar practice. It was good.

The reason I work is because it allows me to have a home and a place to be with my family. When I’m off work, home is where I want to be. Give me a few projects so I can have a sense of accomplishment and I’m good. Throw in a nap and a chance to watch a favorite movie and it’s great.

The Beatles put it best in “A Hard Day’s Night.”

When I’m home, everything’s going to be right.

This morning it’s back to work, but there’s a weekend coming up in only 4 days.

Sally Ride

Sally Ride died today – the first American woman in space. As the saying goes, she now belongs to the ages. Sally flew two missions on the shuttle Challenger and later started a foundation to encourage girls to pursue science and math.

Sally was not the first woman in space – that honor belonged to Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova – gotta love the name. Of course, “Mustang Sally” recorded by Wilson Pickett in 1966 included words often quoted during those Challenger flights – “Ride, Sally, ride” so Sally held her own in the “great name” department.

I always looked up to astronauts – both literally and figuratively – after all when in orbit they COULD put their pants on, both legs at the same time. Seriously, though, they’re real heroes, and we can never have too many of those.

So best wishes on your final journey, Sally. May you find your way, and may your example and your efforts help many other young women and girls to follow your example and your dreams.

Of Kings and Legends

King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table are among the best known and most loved legends in western civilization. Arthur may have existed, but if he did, the legend has overshadowed the reality to the point that historians cannot point to a particular individual and say “Here is the man that inspired the legend of King Arthur.” However, much of what we perceive of medieval England is colored by the legend.

The reality is that castles are cold and damp. Raw sewage was tossed into the street. People rarely bathed – and smelled like it.

No wonder we prefer the legend. Legends are the way that we want to remember something or someone rather than how they really were. In legends, real people become taller, stronger, wiser and just plain more admirable and likeable than they ever could have been as real human beings. In America, we tend to make legends out of our presidents. Ambassadors, senators and others might get a mention, but it’s the president who is remembered as larger than life.

Washington and Lincoln were great men, but men nevertheless. Except for that one photogenic wart on Lincoln, we’ve removed all the imperfections. But you don’t have to look back over a century to see the legend being built. Let’s look at two more recent examples – John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan.

Kennedy’s main accomplishment was that sadly he was assassinated. To many of the Catholics who were thrilled to see the first Catholic president, he was essentially martyred and sainted. The Cuban Missile Crisis is sometimes quoted as his legacy, but in reality this was the response of the Soviet Union to the United States and NATO locating missiles almost within sight of Soviet leaders’ dachas. It was while Kennedy was president that the Berlin Wall was constructed. Kennedy also was instrumental in getting the United States involved in Viet Nam. JFK was known for his “indiscretions” with various women, although at that time the Press had a hands-off practice with regard to such issues.

Reagan was an actor, and not a particularly notable one. He was remembered for co-starring with a chimpanzee in “Bedtime for Bonzo.” He did realize that his forte was communications, not intellect. He was noted for surrounding himself with those who were smarter than him to do the actual planning, while he was the mouthpiece for the ideas. He started out as a Democrat and was not only a union member but president of the AFL-CIO affiliated Screen Actors’ Guild. He would not fit today’s conservative mold, with its results-be-damned-I’m-not compromising attitude. Apparently he counted Tip O’Neill – Speaker of the House of Representatives and a significant adversary – as a friend. He did successfully end the Cold War and saw the removal of the Ber,in Wall.

Yet both of these men are remembered fondly and larger than life. Why?

I propose it was because of the message each carried. It was not their actions so much as their belief.

Kennedy envisioned America as Camelot – the legendary center of King Arthur’s world. The musical “Camelot” was popular at the time and was one of JFK’s favorites. Camelot was a place of perfection, although it was for only “one brief shining moment.” Likewise, Kennedy was able to communicate his beliefs. In his inauguration he noted that “The torch has been passed to a new generation,” and advised Americans, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”

Reagan spoke of optimism, of “Morning in America.” He also said, “I know in my heart that man is good. That what is right will always eventually triumph. And there’s purpose and worth to each and every life.” Perhaps his most noted quote was at the Berlin Wall when he said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”

Both men had, and shared their faith in a better America and a better world. Neither claimed that our system or our nation is perfect, but that it was worthy of belief.

Faith is a marvelous thing – and I’m not just talking about what we experience in church. If I have faith in the weather, I will plant my garden. If I have faith in the economy, I will invest. It is because I have faith in my children that I push them to do the best that they can in school, in athletics and in music.

Faith is the answer to the challenge, “Give me one good reason why I should…”

Faith today is what leads to legends tomorrow.

Department of Redundancy Department*

Living languages are always a challenge, which is why Latin was once used as the language of education; as a dead language it didn’t change. Well, actually it did. Even with Latin, new words had to be added to describe things that hadn’t existed when Latin was alive. But real living languages are constantly changing with English – or at least American English being a perfect example.

American English has stolen words from almost every other language on the planet – and we’re diligently working to include those rare languages such s the one spoken by the 6 remaining members of the tribe at the source of the Amazon. English stole so many words from the Indians (those in Asia) that they eventually gave up and decided to conduct all their educational efforts in English. The problem is that when we don’t know exactly what a word or phrase means, we inadvertently come up with words that are, upon reflection, just a bit silly.

The prime example is reference to the Rio Grande, which essentially means “Large River.” Often it is described as the Rio Grande River, or Large River River.

However, it’s not always the foreign words that trip us up. The area in which I live is called “Great Bridge” because in the Revolutionary War a battle was fought at the site of the main bridge in the area – the great bridge. Over time, the term came to mean the whole area – not just the bridge itself, so when referring to the actual bridge, it is called the “Great Bridge Bridge.”

To add insult to injury, the Great Bridge Bridge is located about one-quarter mile from where the original Great Bridge Bridge and its famous battle existed.

I guess I should be thankful that the Great Bridge Bridge doesn’t allow people to cross the Rio Grande River River.

* With apologies to the Firesign Theatre

No Problemo

I keep trying to avoid the news. As far as I can tell, media reporters are the grownup versions of the obnoxious kids we knew in grade school. No common sense. No sense of decency.

I saw a news story on NBC News – formerly MSNBC.com that goes beyond the pale.

Shootings thrust Batman studio into tough spot

Do-It Yourself

There are some things we should do ourselves and there are things that we should farm out to others. When I was younger it made sense for me to do the manual labor and use sweat equity to increase the value to my home. As I’ve gotten older, many of the things that I used to do myself I now prefer to turn over to professionals. These include many jobs requiring power tools and almost everything that requires working at altitude. I like my fingers as well as my other bones, and keeping them intact is a priority these days, thank you very much.

 

I used to love working with power tools, but there comes a time when you realize that you can do 3 other tasks in the time it takes to drag out the saw horses, electrical extension cord, circular saw, safety goggles, and wood. Then there’s the fact that the bifocals don’t really help to see what you’re working on – it’s either too close or too far away. Add to that the other 27 other tasks you could do in the time that you spend waiting in the emergency department to get stitches, x-rayed, etc. and it makes good economic sense. It’s also what we call – “An easy decision.”

 

Some things, though, are best done by one’s self because they express that essence that makes each of us unique. I spent a lot of time photoshopping pictures from my daughter’s soccer games. No – I’m not airbrushing team members, but sports photos can’t always be composed properly in the camera since there’s little time to get the shot, so cropping makes for a much better photo. Then of course there is the reality that all 12 year old girls don’t have the exact same skin tone. They tend to vary from black through several shades of brown to basic Caucasian to blonde oh-so-pale with freckles. I tend to balance the skin tone to best suit the girl with control of the ball. This is the type of thing best done personally.

 

I’ve been planning for a long time on making my own QSL* cards. In ham radio parlance “QSL?” means “Can you confirm contact?” and QSL translates to “I confirm contact.” It has been traditional to exchange QSL cards after making a contact as proof of the encounter. While many hams now use electronic QSL cards, I don’t have a lot of time for radio operating, so I don’t make as many contacts as I’d like; as such, a real 3 1/2″ x 5″ postcard type QSL card is more fun.

 

This coming weekend I hope to take time to finalize the design of the QSL card I’ve been working on for about a year. In fairness, let’s just say I started the project about a year ago. Since this represents me to someone with whom I’ve shared a conversation but never met face-to-face I’ve decided that it should be made by me rather than printed by a professional. The trick is getting enough time while I’m in the mood to finish this project.

 

It’s on my list for this weekend. Wish me luck.

 

* “Q” codes are three letter abbreviations beginning with the letter Q and not followed by a U used as shorthand in amateur radio. These hearken back to the days when amateur radio communications – like all radio communications – was conducted using Morse Code. Abbreviations and Q codes make life easier when you’re communicating at roughly 5 – 30 words per minute.

 

 

 

In True Forrest Gump Style

It’s late and I don’t have a lot to say – or write. I just got back from a business trip, and although we got a lot done, it was tiring. As a civil servant and a taxpayer, I’m happy to report that we taxpayers got our money’s worth out of the work done today.

So, without further ado, to paraphrase Winston Groom’s character.

I got to go to Washington, DC. Again.

And that’s all I’ve got to say about that.

I’ll Never Be Rich!

I like money as much as the next person. On second thought, maybe I don’t since I generally find that I end up getting rid of my money as quickly as I can. Having a teenager and a preteen helps; they’re capable of consuming large quantities of food while simultaneously bemoaning the fact that there’s nothing to eat. I believe they have stock in the local power company because I am constantly finding lights and televisions on with no one in the room. I believe one of my kids is trying to solve global warming by leaving the door to the house open so that the cool air from inside will impact the environment, but I’m not sure which one.

The problem with money is that I don’t like it enough to do the things that are often required to accumulate vast amounts of it. There’s “puffery” in which a seller exaggerates the benefits of the item he is trying to sell. Unfortunately, I can’t tell puffery from bald faced lying. There must be a difference, but no one has been able to explain it to me.

Then, of course, there’s the old fine print and legal mumbo jumbo. It doesn’t really have to be fine print – all you have to do is make the other person believe they know what’s going on when actually everything is going in your favor. You know, things like, “Sorry – your frequent flier points can’t be redeemed for a flight on any day that ends in a “y”.

So the bottom line is that I’m just not willing to do what it takes to get a better bottom line. However, it’s probably just as well.

I don’t think I’d do much different than I do now if I were rich. Maybe take the family a few more places. Maybe get away with the wife for a weekend more often. Maybe spend some more time at home, but that’s pretty much it.

Hey! Does that mean I’m rich already?

The Lazy Days

Somewhere mankind got off track. We stopped looking for new worlds, stopped reaching for the moon, stopped learning for learning’s sake.

Instead, we got practical. What can I invent, produce or discover that can make a buck?

Maybe it started with the “Pet Rock.” If you’re too young to remember, this was a rock – just a plain old rock – in a box with an instruction booklet as to how to care for your pet rock. It was a clever marketing effort since it offered something with no utility, no real value, but people clamored for it.

The Pet Rock itself wasn’t a problem, but it may be symptomatic of the direction we’ve taken. At some point we made the decision that form was more important than function. We began to believe that what was on the outside that mattered. Just around the time we made the first steps towards believing we should “not judge a man not by the color of his skin but by the contents of his character” we began to first judge by the designer of the clothes he wears.

The watershed was probably when manufacturers found they had enough hutzpah to put their logos on the outside of the product. Levis started it with blue jeans, but now if it doesn’t have “Nike” or “Aéropostale” or whatever emblazoned on it, the product – and therefore the person wearing or carrying it – is just not up to snuff.

Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were initially hailed for the capabilities they brought to society with their computers. However, this soon devolved into merely a quest for dollars. Microsoft went for market share; they sold their operating system cheap to manufacturers so that people would be familiar with it and then buy it. Apple made their system exclusive so that only products manufactured under their brand name could use their software. The products are interesting – but not as important as we believe. Does an iPad make the world a better place? I’m afraid not.

Where are the Pasteurs? The Faradays? The 21st century Tom Edisons? Instead of exploring the unknown, they’re playing shoot-em-up video games. They’re watching reality TV shows.

So here’s what we’re going to do – and I do mean “WE.” Let’s all go learn about one thing just for the joy of learning about it. Just one thing in the math or science world. Something quantifiable – oh, and it has to be fun.

Deal?

Really! It’s True!

It may seem like I haven’t written in a couple of days, but that’s not the case.

I was caught in temporal anomaly, which resulted in my moving from the present – or at least the present at that time – to the future, which was the future at that time but is the present now.

I ask you – could I have made this up?

The Ideal Couple

I was visiting with some people and was struck by the opulence of their home. You know what I mean – perfect lawn, shrubs trimmed to perfection every week. Pristine swimming pool with diving board and slide; water so pure you might think it came out of millions of plastic bottles.

 

Inside is every bit as nice. Designers who routinely have their homes on magazine covers would be green with envy at their furnishings. Every piece is coordinated with every other piece in the most tasteful of fashions. Seven bedrooms with 10 bathrooms; each bedroom is decorated in a different theme. There’s a tropical bedroom complete with sheer netting, one that could have been lifted from the Palace at Versailles, another that is an exact copy of the Lincoln Bedroom at the White House.

 

“It must cost a fortune to have a home like yours,” I commented.

 

“The word fortune is such a nebulous word,” the husband replied. “A fortune in the early twentieth century isn’t even at the poverty level today.”

 

But nevertheless,” I offered, “Most people would not be able to afford to maintain a home like this, much less purchase it.”

 

“Oh we had it built,” replied. “We looked at existing homes, but we couldn’t find what we wanted at any price.”

 

“So, to what do you owe your good fortune that allows you to have such a beautiful home?” I asked.

 

“Good career choices,” they answered together.

 

“I see,” I answered. “Attended the right college and a prestige graduate school to prepare?”

 

“Oh I never went to college,” he answered.

 

“I have a bachelor’s degree from a state university,” she added.

 

“Really,” I responded with surprise. “I guess I figured you were both investment bankers or stock fund managers or such.”

 

“Oh no,” the wife laughed. “I hated both finance and accounting when I was in college.”

 

“Besides,” the husband added, “It’s too easy to go to jail if you go into finance.”

 

“So what were the career choices that you made that worked out so well for you.”

 

“I started out at a small garage working on cars, and then moved up to body and fender repairs.”

 

“And as for me,” she offered, “I am a traffic engineer. “I design highways and specialize in high volume intersections. You know, the ones that are prone to lots of accidents?”

 

“Today,” continued her husband, “I own a chain of auto body shops. The customers wreck their cars on her highways, then they pay me to fix them. It’s like a license to print money!” The wife snuggled closer to her husband.

 

“And that is why we have such a perfect marriage and such a beautiful home,” she said with a smile.

Medical Miracle

“How are you feeling, son?”

 

Not so well. I’m a little bit confused.

 

“That’s understandable. Do you know where you are?”

 

I’m in some kind of hospital, aren’t I?

 

“It’s a long term care facility. You’ve been in a coma for quite a while. Tell me what you remember.”

 

I remember being in the car, driving down the road, and a truck was coming at me. That’s the last thing I remember.

 

“It was a terrible crash. Your entire car was destroyed but by some miracle you obviously survived. Your brain and your body kind of shut everything down for a while. They sometimes shut down to give the body a chance to heal, but in your case it took a long, long time for your body to reset itself. Do you happen to know what day this is?”

 

No, I really don’t. I’m not even sure what year this is. They leave the television on in my room and I remember hearing all kinds of things. It might even have helped me wake up. When I did I saw women with short skirts and bare midriffs. There was an ad for “Hawaii Five-Oh” and I saw what looked like US military in some godforsaken place, so naturally I thought I was back in the 1970s.

 

Then I saw an ad for the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” movie and “Transformer” toys so I thought I must be in the 1980s. It’s very weird when you think you’re waking up in a different time.

 

“I can understand your confusion. You did not go back in time, but in a sense you did travel quite a ways forward in time while you were comatose. You did miss much of the past ten years, so your brain is desperately trying to fill in the blanks. It’s now the year 2012. Many of the things that you have known in the past have come back. They’ve made movies of ‘Charlie’s Angels.’ Batman has been back several times, as has Superman and Spiderman. It may be confusing but it’s nothing to worry about. What else have you seen or heard since you woke up?”

 

Well, I guess there’s a presidential election coming up. I’ve seen lots of political advertisements, and they’re, well they’re vicious. It seems like people need jobs but no one is helping. I hear about fights over healthcare. Everyone is calling everyone else names. That’s not anything I’ve ever seen before, or want to see again.

 

“Mm Hmm.”

 

So I have one question.

 

“Go ahead.”

 

If what I’ve seen so far is any indication of what the present is like…

 

“Yes?”

 

Can you put me back into my coma, at least until after the elections are over?

Bull!

I understand that different cultures are, well, different. I usually eat with a knife, fork and spoon – others use chopsticks or their hands. One is not necessarily better than another, they’re just different.

However, some cultural practices make me wonder. In Spain they’ve had the running of the bulls. The Spanish seem to think that bulls were meant for entertainment. Since we tend to eat beef, I’m not saying we’re better, just, well different. However, when the bulls are let loose to run through the town they tend to act like a bull in the … town, and trample over everything in their way.

Now, for those who don’t know (big city dwellers, for example), bulls have horns. These horns develop as a weapon. When something threatens a bull it tends to charge at that particular threat – with the horns.

So –

Bulls running loose in town

People running loose in town

People imbibing in adult beverages (assumed, but it makes sense)

Some person gets gored by a bull

Happens every year. The amazing part?

The media wire services pick up this bit of information and it is covered by the news media! The Virginian Pilot, my hometown newspaper, gives an update as to how many people (and their ages and if not Spanish, their nationalities) got gored.

Of course, it does give us a break from that other bull – the current political campaigns.

Hot!

It has been hot here, and I assume you’re sharing the same situation.

Now that it’s evening the temperature has slipped back to 98 from 102 degrees Fahrenheit.

I saw a great sign outside a church. “Satan called. He wants his weather back.”

Help Wanted – Philosopher

In the story of Harry Potter, Dumbledore, the head master finds Harry spending his time sitting before the “Mirror of Erised.” The mirror shows a person’s greatest desire, which for Harry are his mother and father who were killed when he was a baby. Dumbledore advises Harry that people have wasted their lives in front of the mirror and tells him that the mirror provides “neither truth nor knowledge.”

I thought of this as I scrolled through the news. How much of what the media presents to me is actually important; how much provides me with information on which I will act? How much provides truth, knowledge or more importantly, leads to wisdom. What does the media teach me that is relevant?

Which entertainer is gay?

Which entertainer/politician/celebrity is getting divorced/dumped?

What the Queen of England or Kate Middleton wore to an event?

Results of sporting events?

An obscure but sensational tragedy?

Where are the great thinkers of our age? The Aristotles? The Socrates? Where are those whose power of thought can enrich our lives, and lead us in a new direction?

Maybe that’s our responsibility. Maybe you or I are supposed to be the force to enlighten others.

I wonder what would happen if everyone took time today to periodically examine what they are reading or watching and critically examine it. Maybe then they could use their observations to start an interesting conversation or write an interesting piece.