Monthly Archives: December 2014

So You Say You Want a Resolution?

Great calendar! and apparently you can print it for yourself. www.trendymaal.com photo: elsoar.com

Great calendar! and apparently you can print it for yourself.
http://www.trendymaal.com
photo: elsoar.com

Personally I don’t subscribe to the idea of New Year’s Resolutions.

Every day is an opportunity to do at least one thing better, and we should seize every one of those opportunities as it comes along. Most areas of improvement are like fruit; they ripen at a certain point, and if you wait until the first of January they get squishy and smell bad. You need to grab them at their prime.

Big decisions, in my humble opinion, cannot be accomplished between 31 December and the next morning. Major changes like quitting smoking take time, and may require assistance from medications, nicotine patches or whatever. Most people stumble—the question is, “Do I pick myself up and try again from where I fell, or do I chalk it up to another resolution I couldn’t keep?” Picking one’s self up is hard, but the results—well they speak for themselves.

The closest thing to a New Year’s Resolution I’m going to make is to pick something each day and then try to be a little better husband, father, daddy, lover, friend, worker, or whatever. Not all at once—just one little tiny improvement per day.

When the day comes that I can shave without turning on the bathroom light because of the halo glowing around my head, I’ll stop.

In the meantime, my wish for you is that 2015 (or however you number your years) be blessed; that it brings you closer to God; that it helps you count your blessings, starting with those around you—family, neighbors, friends, and even the people in your neighborhood that you know by sight but have never met; and most importantly, that it helps you overlook the foibles of others that drive you crazy while being of no importance whatsoever. After you remind yourself how blessed you are, share your blessings with others.

And you can start, or restart on any (or every) day from today on.

Thoughts on Getting Older

In the sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter Gabe Kaplan moves and lets out a groan. “That’s my father’s sound!” he exclaims.

Been there, done that. However, getting older is not the beginning of the end. It’s a new beginning.

Our readings as Mass this morning included Genesis 15: 1-6, 21:1-3 in which God tells Abram that he will have descendants more numerous than the stars in the sky. Abram, and his wife Sarai are both well past parenting or even grand-parenting years. Yet God, calling Abram “Abraham” and Sarai as “Sarah” gives them Isaac as their son. Abraham—Ibrahim became the father for Jews, the Muslims and the Christians.

Today’s gospel was from Luke 2:22-40 and told of Jesus presentation and consecration at the temple as a first-born son. The focus, however, was not just on Jesus. The story’s center included Simeon, who was probably quite old, but had been told by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he saw the Messiah.

He held the baby Jesus and knew he could die in peace, but first he had a message for Mary that the child, “is destined for the fall and for the rising of many in Israel, destined to be a sign that is rejected – and a sword will pierce your own soul too – so that the secret thoughts of many may be laid bare.”

Also in the Temple was Anna, a prophetess who was “well on in years.” She was a widow who had never left the Temple after her husband died. “She came by just at that moment and began to praise God; and she spoke of the child to all who looked forward to the deliverance of Jerusalem.”

We know nothing is impossible for God. He chose an elderly couple to create a people when there were many young couples around. He chose an elderly man and woman at the temple to recognize who Jesus was, and deliver important messages to His parents.

I try to remind myself that as I get older, God has just as much (if not more) for me to do than He did when I was young. Was He waiting for me to gain some wisdom? Was He waiting for me to have more faith? Maybe it’s just that He has something for each of us to do to serve him, everyday of our lives.

 

 

I Heard the Bird on Christmas Day

Alex, the Spirit of Christmas Present

Alex, the Spirit of Christmas Present

Merry Christmas!

In my office/radio/computer/scientific wonders room I have a light for my plants (Currently a couple of Venus Fly Traps and some Shamrocks) that’s on a timer. This is also the room in which Alex the Parrot reigns supreme.

This morning, being Christmas, we slept in just a little; the main advantage of teenagers over toddlers is that they teens love to sleep in—even on Christmas morning,

At 4:00 AM, when the plant light timer clicked on, Alex the Parrot, waited a little while, but by 5:45 AM he was convinced that our lack of activity indicated some type of crisis, so he began to fuss and chatter to wake us up.

So, to paraphrase:

“I heard my bird on Christmas Day,

“”Wake up it’s Christmas morn,’ he’d say.

“And whether born with feathers or skin,

“Share peace on earth, with birds and men.”

 

At least that’s the way I heard it.

The Disappointment of Christmas

Most of us forget that we are spiritual beings on a journey through this material life. I personally forget about it for around sixteen hours each day; the other hours, I’m asleep.

When the Messiah came, people expected someone who would take charge and straighten things out. Lord knows it needed straightening out. The Levant was under military control; the power of the Roman Empire was the only reason that the various tribes weren’t at war, as was the norm. However, the hate was still there, just waiting for the chance.

The rich abused the poor. Innocent people were enslaved, tortured and executed, and most of this was done in the name of one god or another.

“Don’t worry, when the Messiah arrives, He’ll be a brilliant leader; a warrior superior to David and Joshua and a wise leader who would overshadow Solomon,” was the hope.

But Jesus was not that kind of Messiah. Rather than focusing on our “three score and ten” years, he put his efforts toward our eternity.

While His gift of salvation was free, he did give us the dictum to carry on His work—to “Love one another as I have loved you.”

This Christmas Eve the Levant—and the whole rest of the world is still a mess. The rich still abuse the poor. Innocent people are still enslaved, tortured and executed. Great evil is justified as being in the name of one god or another.

But even though we can’t see the big picture, the coming of the Messiah has changed things. While it seems like battles are being lost, we know through faith how things will turn out.

Victory never comes easily or cheaply, but God’s will is paramount.

In the meantime, hang onto your faith, let hope reinforce that these things will happen, and love one another as He loved us.

Slavery & Murder in Religion

The Islamists are telling us infidels that their religion includes slavery and murder.

At first this infuriated me.

But somehow the Holy Spirit always manages to put things in perspective for me.

My religion also includes slavery and murder, but there’s one huge difference.

Instead of being encouraged to inflict these things on others, it was our savior, Jesus, the only Son of God, who was murdered—crucified—the execution reserved for slaves.

 

 

 

Almost Christmas

It’s almost Christmas.

How does one express in words what this time of year means?

Christmas marks the promise of God fulfilled by Himself – in person.

A promise He made to his chosen people, the Jews.

A time when His chosen people, even today, celebrate Hanukkah, the Feast of Lights. Celebrating the re-consecration of the Temple, when the lamp stayed lit for eight days on one day’s supply of oil, giving the Jews enough time to make more kosher oil for the lamp.

It’s the winter solstice, when we have the longest night. Starting tomorrow each day the lighted portion of the day will be longer.

Making cookies or other special dishes we never make at any other time of the year.

Even the mercenary portions of the holidays has its own blessing; it’s the time of year when we worry about what other people like and want; what would someone we love find special?

It’s almost Christmas.

 

Foreverness*

I know where I am, or perhaps it’s better to say I know where I’m not. I know I’m not dead.

Being not-dead is not all it’s cracked up to be. It was my choice, but I can’t say that it was a wise one.

When I was alive, I paid a lot of money to have my body cryogenically preserved so that when science figured out how to cure whatever it was that killed me, I could be brought back to life. I even careful financial investments to ensure that upon my return I would live in a grand style–an obscenely grand style.

I can’t see back to where the living are, so I have no idea how science is advancing, or how well my investments are compounding. Even though I can’t see the living I can see the dead.    They look translucent–not faded–kind of like they’re here and somewhere else  at the same time. Occasionally I feel that one of them senses me, or even almost sees me, but is not able to figure out just what that something–me is. Now I know how ghosts in all those horror stories supposedly feel.

The dead are happy—very happy. It’s like they’ve finally gotten to where they want to be. They smile. The laugh. They’re always in groups sharing something or another. I can even see the dead celebrating the various religious holidays.

I envy them.

I remember being taught to live like a spiritual being passing through a material world. I remember in Sunday School being told that Jesus said that there were many mansions in his Father’s house. As near as I can tell, what’s supposed to happen is that each of us lives our life on earth and then moves on. All of the dead that I see appear to have done just that.

I, on the other hand, by choosing to be cryogenically preserved, never completely died, and am held to my past life by the thinnest of threads. Maybe someday science will bring me back; but it’ll be to a world in which I have no friends or family—to world into which I will not fit. A world to which I do not belong. It’s like a fourth dimensional and near-eternal Man Without a Country.

The best I can hope for is a cataclysmic disaster or an unscrupulous worker to disconnect my cryogenic pod so my body can thaw and finally die. Until then, I just wait.

*Since I’m on vacation, I pulled up the unpublished drafts I had written (turns out there were 30 of them) and decided to make life easy and use one of them.

New Laptop–My Discussion with HP & Microsoft

In the middle of my last on-line class, both my desktop and laptop computers died. I scrambled, and I first purchased a laptop while rebuilding the desktop. The desktop stays on my desk, the screen is larger (important for old eyes) and is closer to the printer (important for old knees). Both computers have their place, along with my weather computer (http://wx.com/ke8yn), my microcontroller and ham radio programming computer and my tablet. Having this pompous opinion of myself and my knowledge of computers, I thought that the mega-giant-oligopolistic-corporate-executive business typhoons would appreciate a customer’s honest reaction to their products.

The review I wrote was straightforward. I sent it to Meg Whitman, CEO of Hewlett Packard, and to Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft. I told them that I would be printing my letter and their response in my blog in a week. Actually, it’s been slightly over a week.

Here’s what I wrote:

An Open Letter to Microsoft & Hewlett Packard:

My old computer (a hand-me-up from my wife) started having issues. It began to claim that its CPU usage was too high; guess what? So is mine.

So I purchased a new HP Computer using an Intel CORE i3 with Windows 8.1. I found one computer online, but it wouldn’t be delivered in time. So, in order to get the computer in a timely manner—in other words, so I could complete some work before I got in trouble for being late, I stopped at the local store. The computer I was originally looking at was an online item only, and they had nothing similar, so I ended up spending twice as much as I intended. Mechanically it is sort-of, kind-of a nice computer with touchscreen, reasonable battery life and everything.

So, given that I ended up with a new toy, why am I not totally jazzed?


Windows 8.1.

When Windows 8 came out, I paid for 4 licenses, all of which I eventually removed, returning the computers to Windows 7. One computer did not have Windows 7, so I had to spend between one hundred and two hundred dollars to get a copy of Windows 7. If you have to do that, might as well get Windows 7 Ultimate—the top of the line.

The new computer came with Windows 8.1, and I did not have time to find, purchase, and load Windows 7, so Windows 8.1 it is.

I have tried to use Widows 8.1 as intended, using the tiles and applications. Unfortunately, the applications in Windows 8.1 apps are much, much slower than accessing things directly on the Internet. This does not seem like progress.

Incidentally, I have a Kindle and a cheap Android tablet, both of which I use regularly and neither of which operates so slowly.

Now I’m sure you can give me a thousand reasons why this happens. I’ll save you the trouble – I don’t care.

If something is inconvenient, I don’t like it. I don’t care whose name is on it. I don’t care that Bill Gates is still alive and Steve Jobs is dead. I wouldn’t even care if Grace Hopper, Ada Lovelace and Alan Turing reached back from beyond the grave and were the primary authors.

I know that Windows 10 is coming out soon. However, after paying for copies of Windows ME, Windows Vista and Windows 8, I can’t help but wonder if you release lousy products on a regular basis, just to force us to upgrade to something that works.

I’m getting better at Linux, but is it too much to ask for Microsoft to produce a customer friendly product and not charge and arm and a leg for it? Are huge corporations like Hewlett Packard held hostage to Microsoft and unwilling to either seek out an alternative or to pressure Microsoft into producing a quality product?

I anxiously await your reply.

Sincerely,

Steve Nowak

steve@sfnowak.com

http:sfnowak.com

 

Ms. Whitman did not personally reply, but one of her people did. The original reply had a small typo, as opposed to my note which was rife with typos. They corrected theirs. Here’s the response from Hewlett Packard:

Hello Steve Nowak

Hewlett-Packard Executive Customer Relations received your message along with the attached letter providing feedback about your experience with Windows 8.1 plus other operating systems you’ve used in the past, and your disappointment in the functionality and performance of the current software that was preinstalled on the HP notebook you recently purchased.

Thank you for your communication. We appreciate input from our customers. Your concerns and comments will help as the company makes marketing, service, or delivery decisions in the future.

To get assistance for a product/and or warranty related situation, the phone number to call HP’s support division is 1-800 474- 6836 or you can refer to HP’s website via www.hp.com

For other company inquiries, the phone number to reach our office is 1-800 756-0608 option 7 Monday-Friday from 8:00am-5:00pm Pacific Time and our agents will address or direct the matter accordingly.

Kind Regards,

Yun Sil

Hewlett-Packard Company

Executive Customer Relations

Email: email.ecr@hp.com

The response from Microsoft, on the other hand was, ” .”

Regarding the Police

I read an interesting editorial in today’s Virginian-Pilot by Coby W. Dillard addressing the interaction between the police and the citizens. It got me thinking.

My father was a police officer, although he threatened to disown me if I followed his career path. As he approached retirement, he commented that too many of the younger officers thought they were Starsky and Hutch. After retiring he told me that he was proud that in over twenty years on the force he never fired his gun except on the training range. Not even once.

He had his biases, as we all do:

  • People in the richest neighborhoods look at the police as beneath them—almost as servants, and inconvenient ones at that.
  • There are other neighborhoods in which the occupants believe the way to settle any dispute involves using firearms.
  • No matter what you catch someone doing, it’s not their fault, they’re innocent and it’s all a misunderstanding.

I remember when cops walked a beat, and really knew the people. I remember my father stopping home for dinner when his patrol area included our neighborhood. We lived on a dead-end street and all the neighborhood kids would pile into the police car for a ride to the end of the street and back. He didn’t run the siren and lights all the way, just for a few seconds, to the delight of every kid in the car.

What changed?

These are my opinions, biases, and suggestions. I’ve never been a police officer, but as a veteran I’ve borne arms in dangerous areas among people who weren’t to be trusted and were intent on hurting or killing me. I’ve seen death up close and personal a hundred times over. I’m old enough to perhaps even have a little wisdom.

  1. Everyone—both police and non-police—has forgotten that police officers are citizens. It is not police OR citizens. We are all in this together. It’s us; there is no “them.”
  2. Our country has an excellent military. On the other hand, people who are not in the military but who tromp around in military-like regalia don’t impress me. This ranges from the open-carry self-appointed militia bubbas to small town police with government surplus MRAPs (mine resistant ambush protected vehicles) and grenade launchers. By the way, MRAPs get about six to eight miles to the gallon, paid for by us taxpayers. They weigh about eighteen tons, which tends to collapse small bridges, crack roads and even collapse the sewers and pipes buried beneath the roads—requiring repairs also paid for by taxpayers.
  3. We’ve forgotten how to communicate. Chanting slogans makes great video for the twenty-four-hour-news monster but does nothing to support a dialogue. By the same token, no one “exits their ve-HIC-le.” We get out of the car. We need to talk with one another, not at one another.

Life is hard enough as it is. Let’s not make it harder.

Those Voices Ringing in My Head

W. C. Fields Yes, indeed. Yes, indeed.

W. C. Fields
Yes, indeed. Yes, indeed.

When I was younger, there were many movie and television stars that had great voices. Impressionists like David Frye and Frank Gorshin could make us laugh by using those distinctive voices in unlikely scenarios. I’d like to compare some of those great voices of yesterday to the great, or at least distinctive voices of today.

YESTERDAY

Ed Sullivan: “Tonight, right heere on our shtage, we have a really big shoe!”

Groucho Marx: “This morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got into my pajamas I’ll never figure out.”

W.C. Fields: “Yesh indeed, yesh indeed. Anyone who hates children and small dogs can’t be all bad!”

Chico Marx: “You can’t fool me, there ain’t no sanity clause!”

Jimmy Stewart: “Well, uh, uh, uh, now that’s an interesting question, you see, uh, …”

Harpo Marx: ” ”

Burgess Meredith: “You know what you ain’t got, Rock? You ain’t got management!”

Marlon Brando: “Why do you come here on the day of my daughter’s wedding?”

Mae West: “Is that a pistol in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?”

James Earl Jones: “The Force is strong in this one!”

Rodney Dangerfield: “I get no respect—no respect at all.”

TODAY

James Earl Jones: “This is CNN.”

Gilbert Gottfried: “Aflac!” [“You’re fired!]

Fran Drescher: “Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!”

 

The Simpsons don’t count because I’m only including real people’s real voices.

Spam I Am – A Tribute*

Imagine what Sam or the Cat in the Hat could do today!

Imagine what Sam or the Cat in the Hat could do today!

I do not like to get this spam;

I do not like it, Sam-I-am!

I don’t want money from a prince,

Nor my [BLANK] to grow an inch.

I do not want spam on my phone,

I want my email left alone.

I bought my computer to be for me,

But spam is all I seem to see.

I will not stand for all this spam,

I will take action Sam-I-am.

While others may say I’m a nut,

My Internet cable I have cut.

 

* With apologies and fondness to Theodor Suess Geisel – “Dr. Suess”

It’s Time to Come Together

Sometimes only a few words are needed to say a lot.

Wordsmith's Desk

Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand: (Matthew 12:25)

~~~

It’s a time for prayer…not politics; it’s a time for healing, not hurting; it’s a time for unity, not division…for a house divided against itself cannot stand.

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