Category Archives: Culture

License Agreements

When we download software (since many computers don’t have optical drives anymore) the first thing we see is the licensing agreement, which is very long and complicated. Here’s what all that legalese boils down to:

  1. You are obliged to send us money.
  2. We have the right to keep it.
  3. We are not responsible for the software failing to work, containing malware.
  4. In fact, we are not responsible for anything.
  5. We have the right to sell your personal information to anyone.
  6. We have the right to rewrite the software so you have to buy it again.
  7. We have the right to limit the time you can use the software.
  8. If there is a dispute, you will not sue; the dispute will be settled by arbitration.
  9. We reserve the right to pick someone we like and who likes us to act as arbitrator.
  10. When you lose (and you will), you will be responsible for paying any and all expenses for said arbitration.
  11. We paid one or more lawyers a lot of money to write this agreement, so we have included that cost in the price for this product.

How much money does the software industry spend each year on lawyers? Probably more than they do on software engineers–but tha’s just a guess.

Feel free to add “whereas,” “heretofore,” “hereinafter,” etc., as many times as you like.

Perception

Perception is a strange and wonderful thing. Many people live with the perception that “it will never happen to me.” Objectively this sounds foolish, if each of us included everything that could, indeed, happen to us, we would  be paralyzed with fear and spend our lives quivering under our beds in a fetal position.

However, since we are not data driven, realistic, computational intellects, we take totally unnecessary chances that make no sense and what do we have to show for it?

  • The ability to fly
  • Transplanting organs from a dead person to a living person
  • Automobiles, with gas stations full of highly flammable/explosive fuel located throughout the world
  • And a very humongous, etc.

On the other hand, a logical, realist would be naked and cold, banging stones together outside his cave because fire is just too dangerous.

 

Sears

So, Sears is in big trouble. That’s a shocker.

When I was a child, there were various stores that were ubiquitous in my part of the world.

F.W. Woolworth’s, founded in 1878, was a so-called “Five and Dime,” which was also noted for its lunch counters. In 1962, management decided that it needed to be a superstore, which it named “Woolco.”  It died in 1983.

S.S. Kresge was another five and dime; it was founded in 1899, and, also in 1962, its management decided that it too needed to become a big-box superstore, which operated under the name of K-Mart. K-Mart filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2002. When it emerged from bankruptcy, its business geniuses decided that it should purchase another retailer, Sears, in 2004.

Sears & Roebuck was founded in 1892 and after malls became popular in the 1960s, it was often one of the “anchor stores.” Sears had a reputation for not reinvesting in its core business but focusing, instead on shareholder dividends and purchasing or starting other businesses, such as Allstate Insurance, Dean Witter Financial, Coldwell Banker Real Estate, creating the Discover Card, etc.

Today, Sears is showing dismal performance, which it blames on its requirement to pay for the pensions that its retirees earned. My mother worked for K-Mart and with the bankruptcy and merger, she lost her pension, so we’re not talking about every Sears/K-Mart employee, only some.

Incidentally, most of us who get a paycheck have money deducted each payday for Medicare, Social Security, and possibly some type of retirement plan and/or other savings. Shouldn’t Sears have done something similar and invested money over time so that they wouldn’t have to pay pensions out of their operating budget today? However, their priority was shareholder dividends and purchasing other companies. They apparently were neither interested in their future, nor their people.

COincidentally, today retail is shifting to remote purchases that are then delivered to the consumer, usually by US Mail. For many years, Sears was known for its mail order catalog–during my childhood, it wasn’t Christmas without the Sears catalog and its extensive toy section.

By today’s standards the mail order catalog process seems a little slower with sending in an order by mail, but it was the same basic concept. In other words, it’s just possible that if greed were not so huge a factor, Sears could have been Amazon rather than on the verge of collapse.

The Storm Before the Calm

Hurricane Florence is going west–no, south–no, east-notheast, no—hell, nobody knows.

So, as things develop, all of the usual suspects (cue Casablanca–roll film) are behaving in the the way that all the usual suspects do:

  • Some television meteorologists are standing in knee deep water or out in the wind.
  • Other television meteorologists are predicting where the storm will go based on satellite fed, computer generated wild–ass guesses.
  • Elected officials are assuring people that: a) everything will be fine, or b) mandatory evacuation is necessary (“Abandon your posts! Run for your lives!” Denethor, Return of the King). [Flip coin here]

I’ll keep you posted.

 

 

Whatever Shall Be Will Be

Hurricane Florence is getting closer. The eye of the hurricane will be about 250 miles to the south of where I live, but, it’s not the eye that causes problems.

Hurricanes–cyclones–rotate in a counterclockwise direction. (Cyclonic means counterclockwise.) This means that if one’s location is above the eye, the hurricane is going to push the water in (deja vu–didn’t I say this yesterday????). So being above the eye is not necessarily a good thing.

Florence is now a category 4 hurricane, which means it moves faster and inevitably covers more territory. It may become a category 5. In any case, I’m going to get wet.

My wife, being much smarter than me, is taking our children to safety, far west and uphill from here. After all our years together, she knows that I live to help, so she understands (but does not necessarily give explicit approval) to my plan to stay here and provide emergency communications.

I expect to be successful, but this could be my last rodeo. After this, I may have to hang up the emergency communications hat and satisfy myself with the more sedate aspects of amateur radio; maybe I’ll take an occasional cruise, or whatever.

Actually, I look forward to that.

Major League catchers eventually succumb to their knees. Superstar quarterbacks succumb to traumatic brain injury. I suspect that, after this storm, I’ll succumb to whatever affliction affects disaster junkies.

Maybe I’m due to have some fun instead of a having one more additional fulltime job.

What do you think?

Pick at the Peak of Ripeness!

florence_tmo_2006257_lrg

September is when the hurricanes off the east coast of North America become ripe enough to be harvested and truly enjoyed. Like grapes or tomatoes, there are a few outliers that ripen earlier, but also like tomatoes and grapes, early hurricanes lack that full-bodied flavor that literally knocks you off your feet–sometimes permanently. Like tomatoes, hurricanes are best when picked fresh off the vine and tasted immediately.

If you don’t live in an area that experiences hurricanes, it is difficult to truly share the experience, but, I shall try. First, although the wind looks impressive on television, it is the storm surge of water that kills the most people. In Virginia, where we have been assured that there is no climate change, the sea levels have inexplicably risen and the land has subsided–a fancy word for “sunk.” The land sinks because industries such as paper mills pump so much water out of wells that the land actually sinks.

Evacuation is an option, but if you are not on the road at least three days before a hurricane makes landfall–with a confirmed reservation at a hotel well inland–you are going to bounce around in your car stuck in a 200 mile traffic jam in high winds heavy rains, and other cars tunning out of gas.

As the storm approaches, the water comes into the rivers and tributaries at high tide, the wind tends keep the water trapped inland, so the next few high tides keep adding. Then, there’s the rainfall. Yesterday–long before the hurricane is due, we got between 3 – 5 inches of rain. Since the most important thing around here is real estate development, all the low-lying wooded areas have been elevated so that instead of the water flowing into those areas, it flows the other way, into mature neighborhoods. Since electricity is also lost early in the game, the sewage treatment pumping stations fail; the water flowing through the streets tends to exhibit wads of toilet paper and worse.

The loss of electricity also means, given that there was never any global warning, everybody gets to enjoy the 90+ degree temperatures and 80+ percent humidity sans air-conditioning. Plus, ATMs, gas pumps, cash registers, etc. don’t work without electricity, so forget your debit or credit card. It’s exact change, cash only.

Afterward, the streets are lined with soggy wallboard and furniture from houses that were flooded. These sit, bake in the sun, grow mould, get rained on, wash the mould into the watershed, repeat. But, hey, Katrina barely bothered Louisiana and Maria was no problem for Puerto Rico, so what, me worry

It’s not a complete picture of what you may be missing, but hopefully it will help you share in our experience.

 

Oops!

I got into a fenderbender on the way home from work today.

I’ve always believed that all traffic engineers are related to body and fender shop owners.

The intersection where it happened is notorious for exactly these type of accidents.

Oops.

There’s a reason they call them accidents. No one intended for it to happen, but it did–by accident.

Oops.

John McCain

I rarely meet famous or important people, but I did meet John McCain.

The US Navy had committed to providing Sailors to fill in US Army combat support and combat service support roles in order to free up Soldiers to do what they had been trained for. Sailors are very adaptable–when one is at sea and a barber is needed (or a damage controlman, or a firefighter) there isn’t the opportunity to wait until someone trained and certified arrives. One of the Sailors will learn how to fill the gap, until relieved by someone better qualified. However, a nineteen year old Soldier knows more about ground combat than most Sailors ever will, so the two are not interchangeable.

US Sailors were serving, boots on the ground, in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kuwait (alphabetical order). When they returned home, I believed that they deserved to be met at the airport by someone in a US Navy uniform, even if it was just me. Many came back through Thurgood Marshall International Airport in Baltimore, MD, so I made regular trips to that airport.

In 2008, while waiting for a group to return, John McCain happened to be in the area. Apparently someone alerted him to the return of the Sailors, and he, his bus, and everyone on it showed up. This was not a political photo opportunity–John McCain knew all too well what it means to come home from war. He was there to welcome the Sailors, the Soldiers, the Airmen, the Marines, and the Coast Guardsmen home. It s an open, honest, and heartfelt measure.

I have a picture of myself, a fellow officer, who is a wonderful person (but I don’t know if she wishes to be identified) and John McCain. This was after he had graciously greeted the returning service members of all branches as they entered the terminal. In the picture, his expression makes it obvious that he had more important things to do than be photographed with me–and that’s what makes the picture so special. He had greeted the returning American warriors, and even though I was there for them too, it was not about me–it was about them. Now it was time for him to move on to his next task.

I respect that. I respect a man who knows what’s important and especially respect a man whose moral compass is incorruptible. In McCain’s case, he did all this while maintaining a sense of humor. He was rare, which to me qualifies him as a treasure–a National Treasure.

Eternal rest, grant unto John McCain, Oh Lord, and let Your perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace. Amen

The Story

I’ve been working on a story for a while, but writing it keeps getting in the way.

I’ve always admired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes,” which was published as a serial in the Strand magazine, a monthly publication. My story–“The Story”–has been under development for a while. Like most writers, I d-r-a-g things out far too long as I write them. It’s a case of “Wait! It was a small dog, not a puppy!.”

As George Lucas supposedly said, “Movies are never completed, only abandoned.” The same is probably true of stories, so I’m going to publish–on this blog–at least a chapter a month. I make no promise that a particular chapter (including one that I may publish) will not be removed or eliminated.

Welcome to the wonderful??? world of writing. You may have the chance to experience my dreams, frustrations, pain, and stupidity, as I try to write a story.

I’ve already changed at least five chapters, but, interestingly, all of the characters remain, although their experiences might be different. If I share, I’ll try not to be too confusing (I’m not responsible for confusing myself).

If it’s worthwhile–I hope you enjoy.

Chapter One is coming soon.

MOM

Today is my mother’s birthday. If she were still here, she’d be 91 (as would my dad, whose birthday is earlier in the year). They were a matched set who belonged together. Mom died first, after a fall, and Dad grieved until he joined her. Now that they’re back together, all is right in their world.

If your parents are still alive, cherish every day you have with them, even if–especially if–they don’t measure up to your expectations. As we get older, and gain a modicum of wisdom, we begin to understand and accept people for who they are, not who we think they should be.

Happy birthday, Mom.

Professionally Broken

Broken-Ham-Radio

A friend of mine once sent a radio transceiver (transmitter and receiver) to a reputable company for repair. When he was told it was finished, he picked it up and was very pleased at how well it worked.

A couple of days later, the reputable company called him and told him that they had given him a radio of the same brand and model as his, but the one they gave him belonged to another customer. Would he please return it and pick up his own, which was now repaired.

He brought back the radio, and they showed him his (now repaired) radio–exactly the same brand and model. However, the price they wanted to charge him for repairing his radio was outrageously high.

He told them that: a) the price was ridiculous, and b) he had done them a favor by returning the radio that had been given to him. After all, he was under no obligation to return it, and it was identical to the one he had brought in.

Their response? “Tough.”

He asked what they were going to do. They informed him that if he didn’t want to pay for the repair, they would have the technician return it to its previous condition. He was incredulous and asked, “So after the cost of repairing it, you’re willing to pay again to have my radio professionally broken.”

“Yep.”

Needless to say, that company is now out of business.

However, that was years ago. Today, as near as I can tell, high-tech equipment is pre-broken at the factory. The symptoms won’t show up immediately, but definitely will be fully developed just after the warranty and/or extended protection plan expires.

I call it frustrating. Manufacturers call it progress.

Good, Better, Worst

1957_Ford_Thunderbird_white

I spent a good portion of the weekend trying to work with several computer programs that defied both logic and me. There’s a reason for that.

When I was young, automobile companies would design and produce a very popular model, such as the Ford Thunderbird. It started out as a two seater sports car, similar to European sportsters. The hardtop version, in the earlier years, had two small round windows that had no other purpose than to look cool.

Every year, they “improved” it by making it larger, adding rear seats, and making it generally uncool. This practice has been continually refined since then so that good products are improved until they fail. It’s the product equipment of The Peter Principle–the cream rises until it sours.

One explanation is that the enemy of good is better. Actually the Perotto Principle applies; it takes 20 percent of the resources to achieve 80 percent results. It then takes 80 percent of the resources to achieve the final 20 percent.

Such was the case with these programs. The original versions did a few things very well. The current, new and improved versions do many things, but only those who wrote the computer code understand how to make them work.

There’s nothing wrong with “good enough.” If it gets the job done, that’s all that is required; it doesn’t need chrome fender dents and a two-way sneeze-through wind guard.*

 

*Ralph Spoilsport Motors–Firesign Theatr

Scandal!

zebra

Although we’re jaded by laundered money, gangland murders, fake news, and politicians, some things just go beyond the pale. A zoo in Cairo is suspected of painting a mule and passing it off as a zebra. What the . .  .?

Where is PETA when you need them?

It was only a matter of time.

I knew that body painting people wasn’t as innocent as we were supposed to believe. The “skinny jeans” that were painted on never fooled anyone–the number of nearby males copiously drooling immediately gave it away.

jeans

Artificial zebras–what’s next? Adding artificial necks to mules and passing them off as giraffes? Stapling horns on horses to sell as unicorns? A Monty Python world in which dead parrots are nailed to the perch in their cage to pass them off as Norwegian Blues? (Although Norwegian Blues do have lovely plumage.)

Next we’ll be making people believe that dinosaurs can be retrieved from their DNA. And as long as we’re doing dinosaurs, why not clone Fred and Wilma Flintstone?

It’s a sad state of affairs.

PLEASE! If you are thinking of buying a zebra, run it through the local car wash several times, just to be sure. The mule (or zebra, if it is authentic) won’t like it, but you must protect your investments. Otherwise Caveat Emptor!

You’ve been warned!

I’m No Angel

With apologies to Gregg Allman . . . .

At work–or even worse, at home–I sometimes get so wrapped up in my own ideas that I never give a thought as to whether or not I’m even close to correct. Fortunately, from time to time, I remind myself that when I shave in the morning, if I need to turn the lights on, that means there is no glowing halo to illuminate the room–therefore I’m still an imperfect human being.

There’s nothing wrong with that.

As humans, we have free will, make choices, and while some might be great, others are flat-out mistakes. That goes along with free will. We try and succeed and pat ourselves on the back. We try and fail and blame it on someone else, the conditions, the weather, or whatever.

But then we quietly admit to ourselves that it really wasn’t anything except a well-meant decision that didn’t work out. It might have been the right decision one minute before or two minutes after; it might never have been the right one, but it was not the best choice for that time and place.

We don’t have the answers in this world–hell, we’re lucky to figure out a few reasonable questions. But that’s okay; that’s our lot in life–to face challenges and respond in the best way we can.

And, when we succeed, it’s glorious.

Interesting Facts

I try to stay out of politics for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that I have a hiatal hernia and gaastro-esophogeal reflux disease. However, from time to time, I come across facts that are just too interesting to keep to myself.

However, beware, for as John Adams said:

Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.*

Anne Frank

—–Every western nation seems to be wrestling with the issue of immigration these days. Interestingly, there was a recent discovery by the Anne Frank House and the Holocaust Memorial Museum that Anne Frank’s father had applied–twice–for permission to move his family to the United States, but was turned down due to  “American bureaucracy, war, and time.” ** As everybody is probably aware, Anne Frank spent much of the war hiding in a secret room in the attic, was eventually found, arrested, sent to a Nazi concentration camp, and died only a few weeks before the British Army liberated the camp.

911

—–NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, is an organization formed among western nations in 1949 for their mutual protection. Article 5 of the NATO treaty that essentially says that an attack on one member nation would be viewed as an attack on all the NATO members.  Interestingly, Article 5 has only been invoked once, with the other NATO nations coming to the aid of the United States after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.***

 

* Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/john_adams_134175

** https://www.click2houston.com/news/national/anne-franks-family-tried-in-vain-to-flee-to-the-us

*** https://www.nytimes.com/2001/09/13/us/after-attacks-alliance-for-first-time-nato-invokes-joint-defense-pact-with-us.html

 

Waiting for Something Good

bad dog

I haven’t been blogging much lately, because everything in the news, on the internet, etc., is portrayed as bad–some/much of it for cause. It makes me feel like I’ve been whapped with a rolled up newspaper and sent to my bed (subtle hint above).

I looked under my bed for a book and found several bad news stories crawling around–if there had been dust bunnies, they would have been able to hide–but unfortunately for them, there was no cover. They were out in the open. One news story involved a celebrity who is a celebrity because she is a celebrity (or is it the other way around?). I bravely grabbed that story (kicking and screaming), held it an an armslength, bypassed the trash cans, and tossed it into the creek into which the stormwater drains. That was a mistake.

I didn’t think that one small story would have an environmental impact; I heard the splash, but it was followed by a dozen paparazzi, several cable news “reporters,” and at least 200 sycophants. The surface of the creek looked like the oil slick from a supertanker leak.

Sorry about that. It was unintentional.

So, if I don’t comment on everything in the news, please don’t think I’m ignoring it. I’m probably, well, feeling like I’ve been whapped by a rolled up newspaper.

 

The Whatth of July

800px-USA_declaration_independence

The Declaration of Independence was adopted on 2 July 1776, which is why John Adams expected the celebrations to take place each year on the second.  Unfortunately, the Founding Fathers were politicians, so the wording wasn’t finalized until the fourth of July. (If it had been the founding mothers, they would probably have been more practical, organized, and less egotistical. I’m sure the Declaration would have been completed much earlier.)

Not everyone who signed the Declaration did so on the fourth of July.  There’s no complete record as exactly who signed when. It’s probably safe to say that John Adams, Ben Franklin, John Hancock, and Thomas Jefferson all signed on that day (Hancock signed first and large–so King George could read it without his glasses).

The last signer was probably Matthew Thornton from New Hampshire, who wasn’t elected and seated in the Continental Congress until November; he asked for and received the privilege of adding his signature at that time, and signed on November 4, 1776.

So, two things:

  1. The Declaration of Independence set us on the path of the most improbable and radical experiment in civilization. The hereditary monarchy thing failed, as did leadership by military conquest. Our experiment is still running with its ups and downs, and will take forever to perfect. However, as Winston Churchill is credited with saying, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”
  2. We should never be surprised if politicians do not deliver in a timely manner.

Given the importance of the event, maybe it would be better to celebrate Independence Month!

 

 

 

Show Me the Data!

Too many decisions are made with questionable–or worse, self-serving–data. Even worse, they are made for us rather than by us.

In Washington, DC there is a five cent charge for each plastic bag you use at the store. I, like almost everyone else, am tired of seeing those bags stuck in trees, fences, etc. My family recycles about 95 percent of the plastic bags we receive, including the ones in which the newspaper is delivered. The other five percent are repurposed as litter bags, to wrap shoes before they go into the luggage, and for many years, to separate one string of Christmas lights from the others when the season was done.

The idea, I guess, is to use reusable bags, which require energy and raw materials (look–there goes the carbon dioxide into the atmosphere) and reusable bags have microbes delivered  by the fresh fruit and vegetables. The microbes that remain in the bag have nothing better to do that to wait for the next shopping trip. Drop in an orange or two, a banana, and some grapes and the microbes are off on a reproductive orgy.

So, the answer, apparently, is to wash the reusable bags, but water is also a precious commodity in short supply. Is washing reusable grocery bags more ecologically sound than single-use bags that can be recycled?

I’ve yet to see definitive data on any of this to guide me in my decision. However, I do believe that there is a segment of the population who will discard the plastic bag, along with the various wrappers, skins, or bones of the initial contents inappropriately (i.e. on the ground somewhere outside the store).

They say you can’t legislate morality. Likewise you can’t make stupidity or callousness punishable acts. The people who care, will continue to care. The people who don’t, won’t.

In the meantime, can someone show me the data thata will tell me the magic combination for carrying groceries home?

Ummmmmmm?

I haven’t been writing much lately because it’s hard to find an interesting topic that won’t piss off someone, somewhere.

Politics? Absolutely not!

International relations? Nope!

Helping the poor? Puhleeze!

Religion? God, no!

And so on and so forth, etc., etc., etc.*

In the musical album Thick as a Brick by Jethro Tull, one of the first lines is “I can make you feel, but I can’t make you think.”

I endeavor to make people think, not to cause eruptions of angst, fear, repulsion, or whatever. Emotions are a beautiful thing and when I write stories, I count on connecting with people’s emotions. However, this blog is to elicit thought.

Why do I differentiate?

When I’m angry, concerned, anxious, stressed, or, whatever, I do not think clearly. When I can at least control those emotions, I can think clearly. I do not wish to disrupt others’ ability to think.

 

*Ben Franklin and John Adams in 1776

Good Idea Faeries

Star-Fairy-mystical-women-5864993-1024-768

Some of the most dangerous statements begin with the words, “All you have to do is . . . .”

This is the mark of a Good Idea Faerie. Their approach has a number of advantages:

  1. I get the responsibility off my shoulders and onto yours (sometimes referred to as “the monkey on your back,” or more crudely, “flipping a booger onto someone else.” If you’re disgusted–good.
  2. If you do it, I can take credit for it being my idea.
  3. If it doesn’t get done, I can say that I told you, but you wouldn’t listen.
  4. If it gets done, but fails, again I can say that I told you, but you wouldn’t listen.

Good Idea Faeries never lose.

There’s only one way to handle them. Respond with, “That’s a great idea!” as you take a notebook or smartphone out of your pocket and ask, “How long will it take you to do that? I’ve made a note of it for my calendar and will check with you periodically to see how you’re progressing. This will be great, and I can’t think of anyone better to make it happen. Thank you so much.” Look at your note, “How about I check back with you on [fill in the date].

At the first available opportunity, announce loudly to the rest of the group, “Hey, everybody! Let’s have a round of applause for [Insert Good Idea Faerie’s name here] who is going to [fill in their idea] and has committed to having it done by [insert date here].”

A word to the wise–don’t let them interrupt you while you’re doing this. If they try to, feign deafness, and just keep on talking.