Monthly Archives: September 2015

Oatmeal Boxes



I guess most people get flavored instant oatmeal in the individual, instant packets these days. That’s a bit too sweet for me, so I use the “old fashioned” kind; it takes about the same time—45 seconds to one minute in the microwave, and I can add just a smidge of brown sugar.

We finished one box of oatmeal today, and I looked at the empty box. I felt just a little sorry for the current generation of juvenile oatmeal eaters. They have no idea what they’re missing.

In my grandfather’s and father’s time an oatmeal box was perfect for winding a coil when making your own radio. Such radios were often assembled on a piece of wood with the components screwed to the board; when the wooden breadboard split, this was an ideal base. To this day we refer to experimenting with a circuit on a temporary base as “bread boarding.”

When I was a child, for the preschooler, oatmeal boxes made great drums—and were much quieter than pots and pans. Later, when dioramas were a fact of life for students, oatmeal boxes were perfect for towers of a castle, a grain silo, the body of a steam locomotive, or one of the stages of the rocket used to launch Apollo and Gemini astronauts.

Today it’s just an empty box.

The Name Game

I bought an RCA portable television a few years ago. RCA (the Radio Corporation of America) was once a powerful name in electronics, with RCA Victor tied to the Victrola (early mechanical record players). Their logo featured Nipper the dog listening to the Victrola horn for “The sound of his master’s voice.” RCA went on to form the National Broadcast Corporation (NBC) which was later split into the Red and Blue networks; the blue network ultimately became ABC (The American Broadcast Corporation).

In 1986, RCA was purchased by General Electric (“We squeeze life from good things”) and the RCA brand name is now used by Sony, Technicolor, Audiovox, and TCL Corporation (whoever they are). Have your lawyer call their lawyer, do lunch, and you can probably use it too—for a fee.

In any case, this brand name RCA television, which I had purchased to use primarily in case of power outages, needed a battery replacement. With my electronics background, I figured no problem—just unplug the existing battery pack and order a replacement lithium polymer battery.

Whoa! Not so fast, there.

This particular RCA product was manufactured by Intertek (a company every bit as well-known as TCL), so contacting RCA resulted in, “Sorry, we didn’t make that product.”

Intertek, apparently trying to emulate the “big boys” said, “Sorry, no battery available,” after all it was at least five years old.

There was a time when a name meant something, whether a family name or a company name. The House of Windsor. Angus Beef. Beefeater’s Gin. Rolls Royce. Luke Skywalker. Darth Vader. Imagine Harry Potter without Ollivander’s Wands or Bertie Bott’s Every-Flavor Beans.

Today names are just a commodity to be bought, sold, rented, or loaned as the market dictates.

So, thousands of electronic devices, full of hazardous materials (as well as recyclables, such as gold) end up in landfills because you can’t buy a replacement battery. Why? Because the name brand company neither manufactured nor stands behind the product; they merely accepted a fee to allow their name to be emblazoned on it.

It just might be something to think about when deciding whether to buy the name-brand item or the generic.

Getting the Bird

Am I a bird person?  More than some, but not as much as others; there are some birds in my neighborhood with 3 white stripes across the wings whose name I still haven’t figured out. On the other hand, Alex (my parrot) and I are on a first name basis. I call her “Alex” and for some reason she calls me “Daddy.” (I think my wife put her up to that.)

We have various birds in this area that have adapted to the environment, one example being herons. They have long legs and long necks, so they can stand in the water and grab creatures smaller than themselves and eat them. I blame Darwin, and then I blame PETA for not correcting this particular practice.


Notice the heron in its natural habitat, shopping for clams, oysters, frogs, or other seafood delicacies.

But when they fly, they fold their necks. Excuse, me, they fold their necks? How weird is that? Giraffes, don’t fold their necks. Ostriches don’t, either. With snakes, you’re never sure what’s neck, belly, tail or whatever, so we won’t even consider them.

Courtesy Kristine Quandee

Courtesy Kristine Quandee

If my best friend told me, “Here, let me show you how I fold my neck,” I’d be weirded out. The next time his name came up on my phone’s caller ID, I just might let it ring and go to voicemail.

This neck-folding thing that herons do makes them weird.

On the other hand, there are mornings when I’m running late; if I could just fold my neck rather than shave, I just might try it.


Is this a game or is this real? Wargames

Is this a game or is this real?

Psst! Over here! Under the desk!

Yeah, it’s me.

With all the hackers, worms, Trojans, spam, and who knows what, I have to protect myself.

I’ve got the latest virus protection and firewall. I never click on hyperlinks. I’m suspicious of every e-mail, CNN, Fox News, and talk show.

But, still, every time I turn around, I’m told to change my password. Most of the time it’s because I changed my password the last time around and forgot to write it down. Of course, you’re not supposed to write passwords down, but then I have more passwords that Greece owes Euros.

Honest—I have passwords that are just to protect my passwords. Which I am going to change as soon as I finish this blog.

So, from now on, I guess I should write everything on parchment with a quill pen and have it hand delivered for security’s sake.

Which makes blogging very, very difficult.


I had to give some extra thought to this blog, if my count is right, this will be my 1,000th post, so it’s kind of special.

I thought it might be interesting if I presumed that such productivity, tenacity, or whatever actually makes me wise, and offer some advice and suggestions for all of us. Feel free to join in, or not.

  • Sit down with a copy of the United States’ Constitution and seriously read it. As written, it was not perfect (slavery, being the most flagrant example), but most of the amendments have improved it over the years. It’s really an amazing set of ideas.
  • Put down the smartphone, tablet, PlayStation, or whatever and look at the real world; talk with real people—don’t text them, actually have a friendly interactive conversation. Engage in a real game or undertake a real adventure.
  • Listen to a viewpoint that is different from your own on a subject that you feel deeply about. Really listen—with an open mind. It may not change your belief, but don’t you wonder why some people have such different ideas?
  • Take some quiet time to examine yourself with regard to Faith. What do you believe? How important is it to you? How much does it impact your actions? Why?
  • Finally, go help someone, just a little. Volunteer an hour a month with the Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, the local food pantry or soup kitchen. The list of organizations that depend on volunteers is long, and your participation can make a difference.

“Let’s Roll!”

“Remember the Alamo!”

“Remember the Maine!”

“December 7, 1941—a date which will live in infamy…”

Memories fade—it’s part of human nature. As the generation that experienced Pearl Harbor dies off, December 7 is becoming just another day.

President Abraham Lincoln’s words at the dedication of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg, were perhaps a warning: “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.”

September 11, 2001, four planes were hijacked. Two planes hit the World Trade Center, completely destroying the twin towers while another hit the Pentagon. Nearly three thousand were killed in those buildings.

The Americans in the fourth plane became aware of what had happened, and prevented United Airlines Flight 93 from hitting its target, now believed to have been either the White House or the US Capitol. The passengers didn’t know what the target was—they just knew that the hijackers planned on hitting one more.

The pilots were dead; the passengers knew that they couldn’t land the plane, but they wanted try to keep it away from as many people as possible. In the rear of the plane, the Lord’s Prayer and the Twenty-Third Psalm were shared; then, with the call, “Let’s roll!” they stormed the cockpit—repeatedly. The terrorists fought ruthlessly to keep the passengers out; they tried sudden maneuvers to throw the passengers off balance. The passengers did not give up.

The plane did not reach Washington, DC, but instead crashed into a field east of Pittsburgh. The passengers won, knowing it was the last thing they would ever do.

That’s what makes a hero.

Remember them and their answer to the call, “Let’s roll!”

The Plight of a Blogger

For several years now, I’ve been writing this blog. My original intent was to stir up debate—to encourage people to think and respond. Sometimes, I’d write strictly to get a reaction, because I LOVE critical thinkers. Somewhere, deep inside me is a teacher, but one who unfortunately lacks patience with young people.

However, even though I speak of great thinkers, I confess, if I could, I’d be the next Dave Barry, except that he and I are almost the same age. I love his ability to look at any normal situation and point out how it’s actually insane. Well, maybe not insane, but nevertheless, totally funny.

So, after careful analysis, I’ve concluded that real people—like you and I—are too tired at the end of the day to engage in meaningful Sophratic intercourse, because we’ve used our last pathetic brain cells to tell our children why they must (X) or cannot (Y).

So, the best I can offer is that after work today, both my teenagers came out and helped me repair my ham radio antenna, which had been downed by a very large dead branch. I tried out the radio and lo and behold, everything worked! Neither is fond of ham radio, but neither complained about helping.

My antenna. Can't see it in the trees? How about that!

My antenna. Can’t see it in the trees? How about that!

Life is not usually about the grand victories, just little, precious, and important ones.

So—thanks, kids. You made my day.

(If you were expecting great thoughts—re-read the above. Kids helping parents is a great and wonderful thing.)

Another Birthday

Alas, another birthday has come and gone. Gone are the days when I felt smart and confident. I no longer have all the answers—I have teenagers, instead, and no one is better at reminding me how little I know than my kids. Apparently I have more in common with Forrest Gump than Albert Einstein.

The worst part, though, is rewriting the songs I like to play on the guitar:

The Beatles: “Now that I’m old and losing my hair, standing here and now.”(When I’m 64)

The Who: “They say cool is awful cold. I refused to die, so now I’m old.” (My Generation)

Queen: “She keeps all her medications, in a pretty cabinet. ‘I can’t eat cake,” she says, my doctor will get so upset.” (Killer Queen)

Of course, Phil Collins, “Land of Confusion” says it all.

Now hand me my inhaler so I can blow out the candles on my cake.

The Taylor Swift Effect and Democracy

It’s over twelve months until the next presidential election, and we’re already growing weary of the process—and we can’t blame all of it on Donald Trump, no matter how much we may wish to. I’m tired of reruns, and don’t see the need for another Adams, Roosevelt, Clinton, or Bush in the White House.

However, does it really matter?

Taylor-Swift-Performing-in-Toronto--05 Courtesy


The president has the bully pulpit, from which to claim accomplishments not due solely to the president and make promises, which the president lacks authority to keep.

Congress—even with all its gridlock—passes far more laws than anyone needs or can follow. These laws are generally written by lobbyists, who pass them to carious politicians’ staffs. Staff members then brief their bosses; this is actually what the staffer believes the bill means, occasionally based on actually reading the bill, but often just a rehash of the lobbyists’ explanation. This saves our elected officials from actually having to read the bill.

The election arrives, and in America, only about 61 percent of those eligible vote exercise the right. The parties’ hardline supporters are about equal; the conservatives almost always vote Republican and the liberals almost always vote Democrat. There are also who vote for the most attractive looking candidate, a name they recognize, or some other silly reason.

So who determines the outcome of an election?*

Let’s ask it another way; who determines that Taylor Swift should be popular? Who determines that NCIS should stay on the air for at least another season? Who determines it’s time to open a convenience store and hire a handful of people? Who determines that we need a new gadget, gizmo, smartphone app?

These key decision makers are the ones who are open to ideas, evaluate their merits, and then act. Proponents provide them with data—everything from National Public Radio to Wired magazine to negative campaign ads. Some data these people reject, some they accept as valid, but it does not impact their decision, while some makes its way into their decision-making process. Taylor Swift and Barack Obama owe their position to this group of people.

And there’s nothing wrong with that.

*Check out “Who Votes, Who Doesn’t, and Why: Regular Voters, Intermittent Voters, and Those Who Don’t”

Medical Abbreviation$

When I sleep, I use a CPAP, which is an abbreviation for, “I’m buying some doctor a Jaguar to drive.” There are several sound medical reasons for the CPAP:

  • First, I suffer, from chronic healthcare insurance. As long as I have insurance that pays for treatment, the medical industry will find things wrong with me.
  • Second, I have sleep apnea. This mainly means that when I sleep, I snore. Technically it means that I stop breathing while snoring, but I’ve never noticed this. Perhaps it’s because I’m always asleep when this happens.
  • Third, I’m gullible. I actually believe it when someone says, “Here, wear this facemask every night and you’ll sleep better, lose weight, and have a better sex life.” (The preceding is actually true; those were the words of the sleep specialist).

I realize I’m older, and to paraphrase Indiana Jones, “It’s not just the age, it’s the mileage,” but it’s amazing how every trip to the doctor leads to a battery of expensive tests, followed by an expensive prescription. Once, when the doctor couldn’t find anything specific wrong, he wrote me a prescription for a drug specifically formulated to treat a patient with a lack of symptoms.

And so it goes as we get older, yet there’s nothing we want more than to get even more olderer.