Monthly Archives: November 2012

Post D

That’s “D” as in the Roman numeral for 500 This is my 500th blog and I’ve been thinking something special to write. Coincidentally, I also now have more than 100 followers – not impressive to “REAL” bloggers, but for me a milestone nevertheless.

I thought about writing something funny. Maybe based on the line that John Wayne spoke in one of his movies. “Life’s hard. It’s harder if you’re stupid.” Nope.

Maybe the start of another multi-part science fiction tale? Couldn’t think up a good story to tell.

So instead I offer you something to think about.

Imagine you were in a terrible accident and spent a month in a coma. You wake up and find that your body is in casts, traction and all sorts of therapeutic (and uncomfortable) contraptions. What goes through your mind?

“I’m glad to be alive!”

Now imagine that you’re healthy, everything is going pretty much in your favor and as you open a letter you get a paper cut from the envelope.

It drives you crazy all day long.

Sometimes it’s the little things that capture our attention. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

You may never win the Nobel Prize or a Pulitzer or the lottery. That’s okay because those aren’t the things that we really need.

Pay attention to the little things in your life that are good. Dinner with your spouse. Your son taking on an extra chore without being asked. Your daughter telling you why her day was good. A warm shower. Fresh sheets on the bed. The smell of fresh baked bread.

Revel in the good things and savor every one of them.

Like hitting blog 500.

Or having 101 followers.

Thank you, everybody.

Passwords, Activation Keys and Other Annoyances

Software companies invest time and effort into their products. They then try to sell them for the maximum price “that the market will bear.” I have no problem with profit, but when the profit is very lucrative it creates a major market for pirates, bootleggers and other ne’er-do-wells. The software industry‘s response, install special keys and filters so that copies can’t be used.

There’s a flaw in that theory.

Certain large Asian countries that do not honor our copyright laws reverse engineer our hardware, software and everything else. Hackers laugh at “your paltry little schemes!” They then share their tools and techniques freely on the internet and people happily install copied software with hacked activation codes or passwords.

In the meantime, honest people (well, even the dishonest ones) have computers crash and need to reinstall the software. This is a long and painful process even if you backup your data regularly.

It is even more painful if you can’t remember where you put the original disk with the activation code.

I upgraded the version of Windows on a computer that had come with a prior version of Windows installed. The motherboard (the main board into which everything else connects) failed, so I replaced it with the identical board from the original manufacturer.

Except that the folks at the computer company, which I won’t name, but the initials are H & P, had added one itty-bitty-tiny bit of code to the BIOS chip (the program that starts up the computer.) When I tried to reinstall the new version of Windows it wouldn’t accept that it was an upgrade because that code (called a tattoo) wasn’t there.

Customer service at Windows response – “That’s the way it goes.”

Fortunately, those who do not study the past are doomed to repeat it. The software companies are not studying history.

Remember when VCRs were new? (If you don’t, ask your parents or grandparents.) Movies on tape sold for nearly $80 a piece – thereby spawning the video rental industry. Remember Hollywood Video and Blockbuster? (If you don’t, ask your parents or grandparents.) The movie people soon realized that the people who were making the profit were the video rental stores. Their eventual response – make the price of a movie attractive enough so that people would be willing to buy their own copies.

Now people pick up movies by choice or even as an impulse purchase. I’ve even purchased a favorite, “Just in case I don’t already have it.”

The movie industry is going through another evolution as people shift from buying a movie on tape, then buying the same movie on DVD, then buying it again on Blu-ray. Now they’re streaming video through a service like NETFLIX and watching their favorites that way. It’ll be interesting to see how that develops; it’s great at home, but if you want to have a movie for the kids to watch in the car during the trip over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house, you need to purchase the disc.

I wonder if the software companies are studying this, or just planning on doing more of the same.

Just thought you’d want something to think about.

Writing Implements

The latest word is that cursive handwriting is a dying art.

Cursive was created, so they say, with the invention of the pen. Being able to keep a quill in contact with the paper longer meant less ink splattering the paper. On the other hand, scraping symbols onto wet clay was far more like printing – each letter or symbol a discrete character. It was soon realized that pens could be shaped so that the cursive writing, or even printing, for that matter, could be a work of art in its own right. Illuminated manuscripts, for example, are sometime breathtaking. Gregorian chant, with its square notes seems to demand a second look.

Illuminated Manuscript
Try doing that on your smartphone!

But today, the sound bite has replaced the story and texting while madly punching tiny keys with the thumbs has replaced calligraphy. We’d much rather say nothing quickly than say something worthwhile in a meaningful way. What’s important is that people are able to transmit their message, whether or not anyone receives it or even pays attention.

More’s the pity.

Imagine Harry Potter at Hogwarts with an iPad. It just isn’t the same. Somehow you just know that the right thing is to see him writing on a scroll with a feathered quill pen and an inkwell.

Fortunately the pendulum swings. When people are no longer required to learn cursive, perhaps they’ll develop an interest. They may have to pay tutors to teach them. Whole industries may spring forth.

There will doubtlessly be a cable television program – if not an entire cable channel dedicated to cursive writing.

Why do I believe this?

Because sooner or later people’s thumbs and their desire to say what they want in 140 characters will wear thin.

Animal Tales

The two children who are still at home each have a cat. We adopted them from the same place and they allegedly are from the same litter, but I sometimes have my doubts. My son’s cat, Smokey, who has shown up in this blog before is primarily striped, with just a touch of calico/tortoise shell and short haired. He dotes on my son, waiting for him on the stairway near the front door when he is due home from school. He follows Adam around like a puppy. Each morning as each person gets up, Smokey needs some attention and he meows loudly as though he’s part Siamese. Think gregarious.

Katie’s cat, Sam, was a long haired kitten and is still long haired in certain areas. Her tail is narrow near her body and then bushes out at the end. The long hair around her face has an uncanny resemblance to Martin Van Buren‘s muttonchops. Although she is very affectionate to my daughter, except for first thing in the morning she is less so. You don’t have to be threatening to frighten her.  If you think too hard about her, she’ll run and hide under the bed.

President Martin Van Buren – I would have included a picture of Sam the cat for comparison, but she’s hiding under the bed.

Louis (pronounced Louie as in King Louis) the dog is just a plain predictable dog. Think an overly affectionate slobber generator who wants to play. Or maybe it’s eat. Or maybe play. Or – SQUIRREL! You get the picture.

And of course, there’s Alex. As with most birds, Alex could be Alexander or Alexandra; other birds can tell so they really don’t worry about whether we humans can or not. He can charm when he wants, but when he feels offended, or ignored, or just feels like it, he can be a royal pain. Which phrases he uses and whether he speaks or just glares also change with his mood.

Why am I telling you this?

With two children in those teen and pre-teen stages, I sometimes have difficulty dealing with their moods, attitudes, and communication style.

Looking at the pets I think, maybe it’s just natural.

Voices

No, I’m not hearing voices in my head – at least not yet. Instead, I’m thinking about how our voice defines us in some ways and is totally befuddling in others.

First, for the befuddlement. Many of us have heard someone on the radio – a disk jockey or “personality” and we picture in our minds’ eye how they must look. Almost always, their physical appearance is a huge shock and we’re left with the overwhelming sense that somehow that voice and that person weren’t meant to be together.

Wayne’s World
The ultimate in singing in the car.

Of course the primary commercial use of a voice is for music. Inside most of us is a frustrated singer. Admit it – you try to sing along with your favorites on the radio when you’re alone in the car. Unfortunately, most of us just don’t have what it takes. For guys especially, it’s a challenge.

Pre-teen boys can’t wait for their voice to change, but the downside is that after it does, most can’t sing tenor, and tenors get everything that’s good. They sing lead – Denny Doherty of the Mamas and the Papas is a classic example, as is Steve Perry the original lead singer for Journey.

Billy Joel once commented that he wished he hadn’t written so many high notes when he was young that he has to try to hit now that he’s older. Welcome to the world the rest of us inhabit, Billy.

Even in classical music, the tenors get an unfair share. They are always cast in the role of the heroes. To quote Frosch from Die Fliedermaus, “Does it make sense for the guy with the highest voice to be the one that gets the girl?”

Back when we first met, my wife commented that listening to me speak on the phone was nice because I had a “radio voice.” At least she didn’t say I had a “radio face.” However, my radio voice is severely limited to about a five note range when I try to sing.

But even with that, when I’m making a long drive home late at night and I’m trying to stay awake, I sing along with the radio.

Be happy that you don’t have to share those rides with me.

Make It a Heartfelt Thanksgiving

I’m a Catholic, and we’re heavy into liturgical prayer – “Say two Our Fathers and three Hail Marys” sort of thing. One might think that back in history the clergy didn’t trust the common folk to come up with prayers on their own. The truth is that many people seem a little unsure as to what we should do or say when we pray.

The Lord’s Prayer appears in the Bible as the answer to the disciples request for Jesus to teach them how to pray.

Liturgical prayer has its advantages, but its main disadvantage is that the more routine it becomes the harder it is to concentrate on its meaning. I know my mind wanders…

“Give us this day our daily bread… Did I remember to pick up salt when I stopped for bread? Oh wait, I never checked to see if we needed milk…”

As such, I tend to try to put my thoughts into a prayer and pray spontaneously. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. When I say the grace before meals, I tend to thank God for family, home, the fact that our kids are in a good school and we’re generally safe. It’s a good list, but sometimes it becomes too comfortable and I say it without really thinking about it, much less meaning it. “I don’t see the salt on the table. Did I remember to pick up salt when I stopped for bread? Oh wait, I never checked to see if we needed milk…”

Jesus taught us that the two greatest commandments are to love God with everything we are, our heart, soul and mind. The second He said is “like it” and calls for us to love our neighbor as ourselves. Perhaps when He said they are alike he was also telling us that they go together.

Perhaps, this Thanksgiving we can pair up what we are thankful for with some way to put that into action.

If I’m thankful for family, maybe I should call Aunt Edna and give her twenty minutes to ramble on about how much she dislikes this or that.

If I’m thankful for the meal, maybe I should gather up cans of my favorite foods and donate them to the food drive or food bank.

If I’m thankful for the freedoms we have in this country, maybe I should sit politely and listen to the guy at work who enjoys discoursing on his personal interpretation of some particular law or lack thereof.

If I’m thankful for my relationship with God, maybe I should pray for all who seek Him whether through my belief system or not. I suspect that when all is said and done, God is going to grade us on a curve and the “A” for effort will outweigh the “D-” in subject matter expertise.

“Freedom from Want”
Norman Rockwell

Dear Heavenly Father, I thank you for this family. You know we love one another, but out of gratitude may we accept one another as individuals and celebrate that each of us is unique – created in your image and exactly as you wanted each of us to be.

I thank you for my home. Size and neighborhood don’t matter. It’s a home because it’s one little spot in the universe where this family can come together to love and be loved. Please always be here with us and make this home yours as well.

I thank you for this meal, and every meal we have. We don’t go hungry and are so blessed that we can pick and choose those things that are our favorites and avoid those that are not. May we realize how extraordinary it is to be blessed to this degree.

I thank you for this country in which we live. A country for which young men and women will dedicate their very lives because of the principles on which we are built.

Finally, Father, it was You who breathed life into each and every one of us – a gift that only You can give. May we look to you always as a child looking at a parent, for You to show us the way, correct us when we’re wrong, then forgive us. We’re especially thankful for your unconditional love.

Happy Thanksgiving.

W.I.T.C.H.

You’ll have to go here to read the CNN article about a 61 year old computer that has been restored. Please note the picture.

While the technology of the computer has been eclipsed, what hasn’t changed is the way news photographers pose people for pictures. The W.I.T.C.H. computer used paper tape for input, and the photo shows two men – supposedly scientists, staring at the paper tape which has all of the information stored as holes punched into the paper.

Having used punched paper tape, I can tell you there’s nothing to be gained by a human looking at it.

However, I do recall that while I was in college an enterprising individual decided that the chads (remember chad from Florida?) – the little dots of paper punched out of the holes – would make great confetti. The teletype machines had a little plastic box into which all of the chads dropped, so he saved a bagful and took it to the next football game. Unlike plain paper the paper tape and its chads had some type of waxy coating, which meant that when it was tossed and ended up in people’s hair it would stick.

It took heavy duty shampoo, the 1970’s equivalent of a pressure washer and half a day to wash the chads out.

Wonder if someone at the museum will be tempted to try the chad confetti and have the same experience.

The Rise and Fall of the Twinkie

According to Wikipedia, “Twinkies were invented in Schiller Park, Illinois in 1930 by James Alexander Dewar, a baker for the Continental Baking Company.[1]
When he realized that several machines used to make cream-filled strawberry shortcake sat idle when strawberries were out of season.”

A treat upon which many an allowance was spent. Many times lunch money intended for more nutritious endeavors found its way to the snack counter and the Twinkies.

According to the news, Hostess, the parent company of Twinkies and several other popular brands, filed for bankruptcy. The company said it could no longer afford to operate according to the demands of unionized workers. The workers and their unions, on the other had, said that the pay and benefits for the jobs had deteriorated so badly that the jobs were no longer worth saving. Both are probably correct.

With the demise of Twinkies, the dietitian’s’ nightmare, and yet their own secret fantasy; the snack that reportedly could not die of old age on the shelf dies, as also did it’s partner, Wonder Bread. Wonder Bread the whitest of white breads. Wonder Bread – every child’s favorite, and another product unfazed by the passage of time (at least in comparison to its competition.) Bread may stale, but Wonderbread would stay to build strong bodies 12 ways. (Actually, in the 1940’s Wonder Bread added nutrient typically missing form most commercial bread, so its claim was not merely hyperbole.)

Like the buggy whip, the steel mills of Pittsburgh and American made Apple products, the Twinkie now fades into history.

Where were the federal bailouts for Twinkies? Where were the 99% to protest its demise? Nowhere to be found. Instead, the “invisible hand of economics” described by Adam Smith came into play, taking down the inefficient, the costly, the unprofitable, the Twinkie defense.

As Twinkies fade, at least briefly, into the sunset, don’t lose hope, because there is every chance that Twinkies will reappear, same recipe, same trademark, mostly the same packaging when some automated bakery buys the rights to the product and produces it in a more cost effective way.

To paraphrase our brethren down here in the South — “Save your allowance, boys, the Twinkie shall rise again!”

Friday Night

Friday night and I worked late on a business trip and have to work tomorrow. Every night before, I came back to my room and did work. Tonight I had the chance to share dinner with my coworkers. It was good.

In the giant scheme of things, though, it reminds me of a story, which I’m sure I’ll get at least slightly wrong –

The teenager got a job at a fast food restaurant after years of being told how important self-esteem was. When the teen was with grandparents the teen pointed out how the job seemed to be below the teen’s importance.

The grandparents dutifully listened, then passed on their wisdom.

“To you working at a restaurant seems like a demeaning task, but when we came to this country, to us it was an opportunity.”

E-Mail Security

With the controversy over General Petraeus, CNN asked the question that if the Director of the CIA’s e-mail isn’t secure, what about yours?

It’s fine, don’t worry about it.

That got me to thinking. What if my e-mail isn’t secure? What if the world at large could read everything I’ve ever sent?

They’d die of boredom, if they didn’t die of embarrassment about your pre-spellcheck errors and terrible grammar.

I mean, it’s not like I’ve ever written anything that outrageous, at least that I remember.

Ha! At your age you can’t remember where you put your car keys!

I’m probably paranoid. I guess I don’t need to worry about whether my e-mail is sacrosanct or not.

Nope. Nothing to worry about here.

Don Adams as Maxwell Smart on “Get Smart”. Not someone tapping into your e-mails. No really! You’re fine! We’re fine! Everything’s fine!  How are you?

My Turn to Fume

I try to be positive and upbeat, but every once in a while I just have to engage in a temper tantrum because things just don’t make sense.

Right now there’s a lot of discussion about “Obamacare” or whatever you want to call it. First, let me say that after 30 years in healthcare, I have huge problems with the current medical industry business model. No one can tell you the price of anything in advance. Prices are set exorbitantly high so that insurance companies can get huge discounts. There is a disconnect among who decides what services will be used, who is the “customer” for those services and the third party that pays. Many can’t get primary care and basic prescriptions so their only option is to wait until things go from bad to worse and show up at the Emergency Department, after which there is no follow up.

Etc., etc., etc.

However, I also have concerns about the government running these programs.

(Before I continue, let me say to the business community – you blew it by putting your own short term profit interests ahead of the big picture. You could have proven yourself a better choice but you elected not to. If you had come up with something better, that’s what we’d be using. Know what value added is? Didn’t think so.)

The government has been involved with various service industries either directly or through quasi-corporations in the past. Let’s review a few of them.

There’s the United States Postal Service, whose primary customer is junk mail producers.

There’s Fannie-Mae and Freddie Mac who helped usher in the housing crisis.

There are the student loan programs that are making for-profit college owners rich while not actually leading to people (especially service members and veterans) getting degrees that will help them earn a living.

There’s AMTRAK which sells hamburgers for $9.50 (!) even though it costs AMTRAK $16.00 (!!!) to make each one.

I use the official prescription plan for military retirees. They don’t send me the prescriptions that my doctor has ordered but they do send me the ones that he has discontinued, even when I specifically request them not to.

Frustrated, I sent a note to the mail-order pharmacy through my user ID and password protected access to their site and they send me a response that required me to set up another separate user ID and password (yes, separate from the one I have) just to read their reply.

What ultra-secret words of wisdom did they have to share with me?

"Dear Mr. Nowak, 

Thank you for using XXXXXXX Pharmacy Program. We appreciate the opportunity to serve you.

Thank you for your feedback. XXXXXXX Scripts appreciates suggestions made by XXXXXXX beneficiaries as it allows us to improve our processes. Your feedback has been forwarded to the appropriate department for review.

If you have any further questions please email or contact us at 1-877-XXX-XXXX.

We apologize for any inconvenience you have experienced. Thank you for continuing to use XXXXXXX Pharmacy Program.

Sincerely,

Shawn G.

I’m not sure how you read this, but to me it says, “Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Go away!”

Now I’ll bet you’re all excited about how the new healthcare system is going to make your life better, too.

Veterans’ Day

The shooting stopped during the “Great War; the War to End All Wars” on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. The armistice was commemorated by Armistice Day.

Thus was born the date that would eventually be known as Veterans’ Day.

There are about 21.5 million veterans in a nation of 312 million people. Of Americans 18 years or older, about 12 – 13% are veterans. Counting all Americans, slightly less than 7% are veterans. As we lose the veterans of the Second World War, the percentage of veterans will drop significantly.

Of the currently seated Congress, 28 of 100 Senators are Veterans, as are 92 of the 438 members of the House of Representatives.

Presidents in my lifetime who served in the military:

Harry Truman (D) Army

Dwight D. Eisenhower (R) Army

John F. Kennedy (D) Navy

Lyndon B. Johnson (D) Navy

Richard Nixon (R) Navy

Gerald Ford (R) Navy

Jimmy Carter (D) Navy

Ronald Reagan (R) Army (Air Corps)

George HW Bush (R) Navy

George W Bush (R) Air National Guard

The military uniform is often referred to as “the cloth of our country.” If you are one who has worn the uniform, “On behalf of a grateful nation,” thank you.

All gave some.  Some gave all.

 

 

Simply Stated

In a world of surveys, opinion polls, projections, predictions, lies, damned lies and statistics, it’s nice to have ONE honest graphic representation.

 

I don’t know who created this, but well done! Well done!

Crawling to Safety

The vast wasteland lay before me as though an eternity. I knew to stay in one spot meant certain death and there was nothing behind me so I decided to crawl forward. I was long past walking. I had tried to sleep in what shelter I could find and move when I could do so unnoticed, but so far it hadn’t seemed to do me much good.

By sheer willpower I continued on. Many times I let my head drop, but knew if I gave up for a moment I would give up completely. I was thankful for the numbness for I knew if I could feel, the pain would be unbearable.

What was that ahead? A glimmer of hope? Could I keep going.

I had to.

If I could, I might have a shot at surviving – a small chance, but I had to shoot for it.

Yesterday I would have welcomed death to save me from this torment but today I continued on, knowing if I could last just a few more hours the political ads would stop. The robocalls would no longer haunt me. The hate that filled the air would subside.

I dragged myself forward toward the light.

Communications Progress

In this day when we can instantaneously tweet in 140 characters or less (LOL) are we really communicating better?

First, I think we’ve forgotten how to use punctuation. I mean some “people” seem to “think” that quotation marks are some kind of “magic” sign whether on the page or in the “virtual” world.

Then, of course, you have those who think that comma’s must be used immediately before the final S in any word. “Please remove shoe’s” etc. I think example’s like these show people’s willingnes’s to rely on generalism’s.

In the interest of political correctness we use the plural pronoun “they” so that using the masculine singular pronoun “he” is not dis-inclusive. This leads to such sayings as:

“Them who hesitates is lost”

I guess it was inevitable. People probably bemoaned the loss of colonial speech when “thee” gave way to “you” and wives no longer referred to their husbands as “Mr. So-sand-so.”

We’ve successfully bid goodbye to the grape scissors and salad knife at the dinner table. In fact, we’ve pretty much said goodbye to the dinner table, except as a place to stack things. So too will we say goodbye in the not too distant future to current punctuation.

IMHO #thatsthewayitis

Murphy’s Law and Other Thoughts

The kids normally have their soccer games on Sunday, which can be a schedule juggle for a number of reasons. Church is one. Having a full day of driving cheering, etc. before diving back into the work scene is another. So you’d think I’d prefer Saturday.

Not necessarily.

Both kids had games in Richmond – about a two hour drive. The games were at the same time. Convenient, huh? Wrong.

They were about an hour’s drive apart from one another.

If you don’t have kids in soccer, this may require some explaining. Soccer complexes don’t have a convenient place to kill an hour, except in your car. Most don’t have indoor plumbing, much less concessions, etc. Therefore the only logical alternative was to drive two cars halfway across the state in the same direction at the same time.

To add insult to injury, to get to the games on time we had to get up about 6:30 – not exactly weekend hours.

But the kids had fun.

An I guess that’s what it’s all about.

Work, Work, Work, Work, Work!*

I’ve been outrageously busy at work preparing for a meeting. Since I’m a Federal employee, I just wanted to let you taxpayers know that there actually is an effort to keep costs down. The number of justifications I have to complete in order to travel for work is sufficiently onerous that anyone who has the option would quickly decide to stay home. It has to be really, really important before you’re willing to run the gauntlet for orders to travel.

As an employee, it’s an ordeal. As a taxpayer, I approve.

So, here are other thoughts…

We have a combination printer copier at work. It prints, it copies (obviously) it does dual sided copies, it enlarges, it scans, it folds, staples, spindles and mutilates.

So why doesn’t it know that if 3 of its 4 trays are filled with the same size paper oriented the same way, it doesn’t have to stop all printing and wait until Tray 1 is refilled?

At what age did it happen to you?

Twenty?

Thirty?

Forty?

At what age did you realize that your “Permanent Record” was no longer of any consequence?

I always wanted to read that the Permanent Record Storage Vault was destroyed by fire, flood or hacked by Wiki-Leaks throwing the country into chaos. I pictured it as some cavernous bomb proof shelter buried deep underground in West Virginia accessible only by a secret trap door in an otherwise nondescript Waffle House.

But, alas, it was all but a ruse by our high school teachers.

Today’s high school teachers have to tell a far better story to the kids today.

* Governor LePetomaine – “Blazing Saddles