Monthly Archives: October 2017

Bill Gates Dethroned!

CNN reported (so we know it’s absolute gospel) that Bill Gates is no longer the world’s richest man.

In our younger years, I was not a huge fan of Bill Gates—but then, in fairness, he was totally oblivious with regard to me. My disdain was intentional, while his indifference was due to his ignorance of my very existence.

(Sorry, but a chance to call Bill Gates ignorant was just too tempting!)

So just where is it that Gates’s wealth is disappearing?

Last I heard, he and his wife (and I suspect she is in no way an innocent bystander) were frittering away their fortune on suppressing diseases, improving sanitation, and promoting better agriculture in third world countries. Even worse, either they’ve dragged Warren Buffet in on the debacle—or (shudder) he dragged them.

They are upsetting the natural world order.

The one-percent have maintained a stable world by taking their profits, golden parachutes, stock options, bribes, embezzlements and other esoteric instruments of wealth, and securing them through multiple shell corporations in off-shore tax shelters. They understand the need for yachts the size of frigates and two or three palatial homes on each continent (except Antarctica—it’s cold there without being cool).

Now Gates and his ilk are going to upset the apple cart. The next thing you know, polio and maybe even tuberculosis will disappear—just like smallpox.

All this disorder, because of a few malcontent billionaires.

Well!

Bill and Melinda, I hope you’re happy with endangered species, like polio, being threatened, just because they’re life-threatening diseases; with people seeing their children grow up rather than dying from measles; with dysentery giving way to sanitary sewers; with people in third world countries able to grow enough food to survive.

With all the havoc you’ve created, how do you sleep at night?

Educational Cause and Effect

I realize that people in general, and Americans in particular, have never been genteel when it comes to discourse. Throughout history we attributed it to our pride in rugged individualism and the Protestant work ethic. Anyone can be president; I can achieve anything I set my mind out to do; we celebrate Edison, Bell, Fulton, because those individuals invented things to change the world.

We claimed territory, as our right under “Manifest Destiny,” without regard to who or what stood in our way. Passenger pigeons? Bison? Native Americans? Forests? These speed bumps were quickly removed.

We settled our differences by swordfights or pistol duels. Our politicians—those we elected to represent us—settled arguments by shouting, spreading lies, and even bludgeoning one another with walking sticks in the very halls of Congress.

Not much has changed. Today, if you disrespect me, there’s today’s version of a duel—I drive 60 miles per hour through the neighborhood blasting away and hope that you are one of the people I hit. It doesn’t matter that: a) the bullet most likely will hit someone other than the intended target, and b) there’s a high likelihood that one (or more) of the gazillion security cameras will catch me and be used to send me away for twenty-five-to-life.

Today, there’s a lot of shouting, with nobody listening. It’s far more important that I get my position clearly stated—”I’m right and you’re not only wrong, but also an idiot—not to mention that your mother was ugly and you have terrible taste in clothes!”

Although I just clearly stated my position (the paragraph above, you buffoon!) you can’t tell me what it is. I can’t either, but that doesn’t matter, does it? The fact remains that I’m right and you’re wrong.

[Okay, let’s all take a deep breath, grab a cold one—if you like, and smoke ’em if you got ’em—assuming you can afford to pay eight dollars a pack.]

A theory—presented for you to think about and challenge in a professional, factual manner. Perhaps, when we began to focus on standardized testing, the school systems were forced to teach the correct answers, not how to arrive at a correct answer. What to think, not how to think. Ideas are no longer the raw material used for thinking; they are pre-packaged and ready to serve. No human interaction required.

There are parallels—in a world in which our youth do not know how to interact with others except via social media, we no longer teach etiquette or how to write a letter. They are not taught to introduce their friends to their parents or when a thank you note is appropriate. Civility is at the bottom of the required skills list.

Teachers didn’t make the rules and probably dislike them more than anyone although they have to abide by them.

But we all can teach. What if each of us added the following to our more contentious discussions:

  1. “Why?”
  2. “Tell me more.”
  3. “How would you solve it?”

Then listen—actively, intensively listen.

This just might prove interesting.

Spreadsheets

If you’re reading this, you probably have at least a basic understanding of computers—whoa! Don’t leave! Bear with me for a minute.

I used to communicate with others on NetZero dialup and write articles on a DOS (that’s disk operating system—pre-Windows for you youngsters) word processor. The first spreadsheet program I recall was Lotus 1-2-3, once a powerhouse, but now an answer to some stupid question on Jeopardy. We’re so used to spreadsheets that we have no appreciation as to why they were the first “killer apps.”

No, really! That’s how it was done!

Prior to the 1980s, complex production was tracked on the manual equivalent of spreadsheets. Seriously. We’re talking about blackboards (yes, real chalk boards—not whiteboards; you never got a buzz from chalk dust, just a nasty cough). Businesses would have huge blackboards mounted on the walls and/or wheeled stands—not one blackboard, mind you, but many. The blackboards were set up with grids, and if a change occurred in one variable, the person tracking it would go from blackboard to blackboard, updating the appropriate sections.

Maybe it’s easier with an example. If chairs usually cost $10, but the price changed to $12 and the company had orders for 15 rather than the usual 10, the human Excel operator would go to the place on the blackboard where chair costs were written and change it from $10 to $12. He (the male to female ratio of geeks was even worse back then) would then go to the place where quantity was tracked and change the 10 to 15; it could be the next blackboard or one in a different room. Next, he’d replace $100 (10 chairs at $10 each) with $180 (15 chairs at $12 each). A small mistake (is that 180 or 160? I can’t read my own handwriting) in one part of the blackboard jungle would cascade throughout, and might take days to correct.

Today, almost every computer seems to have Microsoft Office, which includes Excel, an extremely powerful program. I’m told that over 80 percent of Excel users are only able to utilize about 5 percent of its capabilities, but still are able to accomplish almost everything they want to do.

All that on one screen with no chalk dust.

Weekends

So many contrasts amaze me. For example, when I was young and still in school, the weekend gave me the opportunity to work 8 hours—perhaps on both days—then go out on a date and stay up until the wee hours. Again, that was after 5 days of school, homework, and a few hours work after school most nights.

Now, well, let’s just say that Bob Seeger nailed it, albeit subtly years ago, when he sang, “Now sweet sixteen’s turned thirty-one. You get to feelin’ weary when the work day is done.” Thirty-one was a long time ago, but I remember things starting to change at that age. Of course, I was working full time in a hospital, in a job that included frequent call backs at all hours; I was finishing my bachelors at night school; and then, of course there was the family with two little ones. Chores around the house, etc.

Sad to say, at thirty-one I was almost a bundle of energy compared to today.

On the other hand, back then, I was convinced I had all the answers and was going to change the world in some way. Now, I don’t even know the questions.

However, the world has changed in ways far beyond my wildest dreams—but then my wildest dreams expected flying cars.

The Complete Works of Scripture (Abridged)

A year or so ago, we went to one of the smaller theaters and saw The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged).* The play is very funny and takes the concept of “out of context” to new heights

Until you read the daily news.

 

god

I wish I knew who deserves credit. It’s great!

 

No matter the religion, it has become the practice of far too many people to choose one from column A and two from column B that match their personal druthers. It doesn’t matter if you’re speaking of the Bible (and my version/translation is right, and yours wrong), the Q’ran, the Torah, the Sutras, the Orange Catechism, Dianetics, or Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Mechanics. The outcome is the same.

“I like chapter 1, verse 9¾, and the footnote on page 672. I’m going to judge all other people in relation to these sections of my sacred scripture!”

Sorry, folks. It doesn’t work like that.

  1. We don’t understand other humans, much less any deity. For example, in college, an instructor might ask, “What did Plato mean when he said, ‘Love is a serious mental disease’?” The answer is, “No one knows for sure except Plato. The rest of us, including you, professor, are guessing.”
  2. The words of deities tend to be handed down orally for centuries before anyone takes the time to write it down. Now, as one who makes notes to myself, then can’t decipher what I wrote an hour later, my confidence in the accuracy of recording a 300-year-old quote is minimal.
  3. As the words get transcribed, errors creep in. Translations? Some languages just don’t have words to express certain thoughts.
  4. Given that we believe that deities are far beyond our comprehension, how can we also believe that each of us can speak with authority on our god’s behalf?

So, we hold up our sacred documents, pick the 3% of the text that agrees with us and with righteous indignation, expect the rest of the world to fall in line.

Maybe we should make this into a comedy performed by only three actors.

*The Complete
Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) (also known as The Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged)) is a play written by Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield that parodies the plays of William Shakespeare with all of them being performed (in comically shortened or merged form) by only three actors.

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Complete_Works_of_William_Shakespeare_(Abridged)

My Life in Guitars – Part 8, Finally—The End (Up till Now)

Every guitar has a story.

My wife had given me a Fender baseball hat for Christmas. For the record, for work and church, I wear a fedora (why get old if you don’t get a hat out of the deal?). When I’m just me, I wear jeans, polo or tee shirts and ball caps. Back to the Fender cap. My lovely wife had taken my Peavey six-string acoustic to a proper luthier who told her that there was only so much you could do when a guitar aged, and it would never sound like it did in its prime. (Sigh).

Soon, another birthday was looming (how quickly they pop up anymore), and in light of the prognosis for the Peavey, my wife suggested (after I begged, whined, and otherwise debased myself) that maybe I should pick out a guitar for my birthday.

Off to Guitar Center!

Now, you have to realize that when my family visited my brother-in-law’s family, or his family visited us, Bill and I would drag out the guitars. He was a huge Taylor fan (the guitar, I’m not sure about his opinion of James Taylor or Taylor Swift). The first time we did, he pointed out that although the guitar had been untouched for over a year, it was still in tune. I was impressed. In any case, I thoroughly enjoyed my guitar encounters with Bill.

When I got to Guitar Center, I picked up Fender after Fender, but none really fit me. It’s kind of like when I was still able to jog and Nike was the cool brand, but it didn’t fit my foot. The store clerks suggested various brands that I had never heard of. No luck there, either.

Taylor 110

Now, to put things in perspective, I was not willing to pay as much for a guitar as my first (EXTREMELY modest) house cost. That is the price range for the good guitars. I knew I was going to spend several times what I had ever spent on a guitar before, but that was just above the best of the bargain guitars and just barely at the cheapest of the good guitars.

At the time, I was playing guitar at Sunday Mass, and realizing my limitations, was happy to go with an acoustic, so my errors and shortfalls were obvious only to God and myself. I figured that God looked at me as parents look at their kids at a recital or concert and ignored any missed notes.

The Taylor guitars began to call me. I tried several modes Taylors that were priced in my range. I then tried equivalent guitars from other brands. Then I tried the Taylor again. I could continue, but you’ve probably already figured out how things ended. I took home a Taylor 110. I added a guitar strap that was black with white crosses—perfect for church—but then my wife pointed out that it also had coffins and headstones.

I never suspected that I was secretly goth. It just goes to show you.

I hope you enjoyed this series. Now I have to figure out what I’m going to write about next! My wife pointed out that I’ve been writing this blog for ten years. Wow! Hard to believe. I hope I won’t run out of ideas!

My Life in Guitars – Part 7 (the Penultimate Entry)

I confess, I often act under the delusion that if I get a certain type of guitar, talent will somehow rub off on me. It’s kind of like Arthur pulling the sword from the stone—KAPOW! He’s king! Therefore, if I pull a certain guitar from its packing crate—KAPOW! I’ll be an awesome musician!

Alas, it doesn’t work that way (dammit!).

Having always enjoyed Queen, I was lusting over a reproduction of Brian May’s “Big Red” guitar. Brian (Dr. May to you astrophysicists) designed his guitar and with his father, built it. The body was cut from an old (and in England, old means something different than it does here) mantel piece. He apparently designed and built the pickups himself. The best part—at least to those of us who are geeks who love music—is that there are three pickups and six slide switches.

With most multi-pickup guitars, there is a single switch that lets you choose each pickup, or a combination, thereof. In other words, they are added together. Brian designed his so that he could either add any pickups OR put any one out of phase so that one is subtracting tones from the other(s). I cannot tell you how cool I find that.

However, I couldn’t justify it at nearly a thousand, once you add a case (Sigh).

Fathers’ Day arrived one year, and my wife took me to Guitar Center so I could choose a gift. I was worse than she is in the handbag department; I tried this guitar, that guitar, another, etc., ad nauseum. I told them that I wasn’t a soloist; I was a rhythm player (at best). However, I did like that “spooky” sound from Big Red.

The guitar I kept coming back to was an Epiphone SG. The luthier at the shop, noting my comments, mentioned that if I wanted that sound on the SG, all I needed to do was reverse the polarity on one of the pickups.

Epiphone SG

Being electronically inclined, I knew I could do it, so the SG was duly adopted and brought home. I did reverse the polarity on one pickup, but within a couple of weeks, I had rewired everything back to normal. Sorry, I’m no Brian May; I play rhythm.

However, the SG is a great guitar to play. Mine’s solid body, unvarnished red. I’ll leave Brian May to handle Big Red, I’ll play rhythm, thank you.

P.S. Speaking of Queen, if you bump into John Deacon, ask him if he ever did anything further with electronics (his major at university). Being a geek, I often wonder about that.