Category Archives: Education

Memorial Holyday

Memorial-Day

The word holiday was once just a different spelling for holyday, but has come to mean something quite different to many people. That’s unfortunate, because we tend to remember the specific meaning of our holydays; we do not confuse Passover with Christmas or Eid al Fitr. On the other hand, we do confuse holidays.

In the United States of America, today is Memorial Day. I observe Memorial Day, but do not celebrate it, since it is dedicated to those who gave their lives in the defense of our country. Veterans Day, on the other hand, recognizes all who served or are serving in the military.

It is an ancient custom to honor the dead by placing flowers on their grave. After the American Civil War, this practice became an annual ritual and was originally known as Decoration Day. There are a number of people and organizations who have been credited with initiating it from both the Union and Confederacy.

To me, Memorial Day, is when I remember when I was deployed and we lost someone. The theater–which was also used as a chapel–would have the inverted rifle, helmet, boots, and dog tags representing the lost warrior, and too many times it was not just one. The building was packed by men and women in camouflage uniforms; under the seats, the pre-staged boxes of tissue were intermingled with rifles. Friends paid tribute, and no one was too proud to cry.

Military rituals are often misunderstood, but the link provides a good explanation. One misunderstanding is that at a military funeral, the honor guard fires a 21-gun salute. Actually, they fire three volleys, a 21-gun salute is reserved for heads of state.

Except for Memorial Day.

On Memorial Day, those who, as Abraham Lincoln said, “gave the last full measure,” are accorded the same honor as a head of state. On Memorial Day, the fallen are recognized with a 21-gun salute.

From Rocks to Fails

In the absence of honest journalism, the media (plural for medium, as “in the middle” such having a C average in school) have resorted to various gimmicks to attract readers–especially if someone is paying for clicks on the web page. Among the traditional gimicks is the unfinished headline, where they try to make it look like they ran out of space:

Political analysts caught by surprise when president signs bill making 

Then there’s the shock/tease headline:

If you thought this starlet was cute in the 1960’s, you’ll be shocked at how she look today!

Gradually we ended up on the rocks:

Fifty year old movie star rocks bikini!

Of course, ending up on the rocks, is another term for failure, so now the media is into fails:

Biggest fails at the gala awards program!

Actually, they might do better if they just made up words:

You’ll absolutely snarzl when you see this!

Us vs. Me

 

illustration-of-human-evolution-ending-with-smart-phone-resize

“Wait, I need to take a selfie!”

Far too many events today are due to decisions by people who think only of themselves.

This is unnatural.

The hermit, alone in his cave, has always been an idiosyncratic caricature. The word hermit is derived from the word for desert or desert dweller. Deserts are not particularly attractive to people who depend on hunting and gathering. Deserts are more successful as after the invention of are air-conditioned houses and refrigerated food trucks. (Casinos, although optional, seem inevitable.)

Humans from earliest times sought out one another.  Our ancestors, the Homo erectus, (stop thinking dirty thoughts–it refers to having the ability to stand upright) or Homo sapiens neanderthalensis  tended to keep their families together, eventually becoming tribes. Some believe that the reason that there are no identifiable descendants of the Neanderthals is because the two groups combined and interbred, ultimately resulting in us, Homo sapiens.

We belong together, but sometimes are reluctant to admit it. As such, in order to survive and prosper, we must look at things in terms of the common good. Life is not a zero-sum game (if I win, you lose). It is a life-or-death struggle in which WE win or lose.

I could wax poetic for another 300 pages, which I might enjoy, but WE, as a totality, would not, so I’ll stop.

* Links courtesy of Wikipedia. If you use Wikipedia, then use PayPal to send them a few bucks–better yet, a few bucks a month.

Magic with Numbers!

SONY DSC

Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawkins were rank amateurs because they were handicapped by their pathetic math skills.

The real math pros are accountants.

As the old joke goes:
A businessman needed to hire someone who knew math. For the interview, he had written on a white board “2 + 2 =.” The mathemetician wrote “4,” as did the physicist. When an acountant arrived, he looked at the whiteboard, locked the door, checked to make sure the window was locked, and pulled the curtains. He leaned close to the businessman and whispered,
“What do you want it to be?”

Creative accounting requires more mental gymnastics than figuring out how the universe began or will end. Here’s a great example:

Forestt Gump, the movie, cost $55 million dollars to produce. It earned nearly $680 BILLION, but according to the accountants, it lost money. Some of the contributors (like author Winston Groom) had agreed to a percentage of the net profits. However, since it never made a dime, their share was zero.

Let’s review the math:

$679,850,637,000
–        $55,000,000
             ZERO*
* After depreciation, marketing, amortization, title, and dealer preparation charges–and other “Generally Accepted Accounting Principles”.

I didn’t include taxes, because if it “lost money,” I’m not sure whether or not they had to pay any.

Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking, eat your hearts out!

 

 

My How Things Change

The United States Constitution is a marvelous document–a framework for what was a radically new form of government in 1787–but a living document that has changed with the times.

TheNationalArchivesholdstheUnitedStatesConstitutionOriginalDocument

And the times have so changed.

Legend has it that, during the war, a British military commander sent a note addressed to ‘Mr. George Washington.’ General Washington accepted the note and placed it in his pocket saying that he was aquainted with Mr. Washington, who was a planter in Virginia, and he would deliver the note after the war. The next day, a similar–and possibly identical note–was sent, addressed to ‘General George Washington.’

After the war, General Washington appeared before the Continental Congress to return his commission to them. He had done his duty, and no longer needed or wanted the rank of general and handed the paperwork that had made him a general back.

Initially, there was a populist movement to make Washington king. He would have no part of that. There is a place in the Capitol Building that was intended to be his crypt, but he had left clear instructions that precluded his internment there.

Often, he closed his correspondence with “Your obdt (obedient) servant, George Washington.”

Regardless of your political views, it is reassuring that our nation is not based on birthright, caste, or class, but on a set of ideals laid out in the Constitution. It is a set of ideas that bonds Americans together.

 

Tithing

In ancient times, the Israelites, or if you prefer, the Jews, were expected to set the first ten percent of their harvest aside as an offering to God. Many of us–Jewish, Christian, or Muslim, have roots reaching back to that same practice. Of course, back then, they slaughtered animals, the priests took a portion for their services–after all, they did not farm or own herds–but the rest was burnt on the altar as a sacrifice.

Most churches today, wouldn’t know what to do if someone placed a lamb in the collection basket. Even worse, the children in the congregation would be traumatized by the idea that a cute little lamb (although they really are dirty and stupid creatures)  would be slaughtered (even though they might very well enjoy that same lamb–with mint jelly–if it were packaged on a Styrofoam tray covered with shrink wrap at the grocery store).

It’s a different world. Today, very few of us raise sheep (my friends in New Zealand excepted, of course), so that’s not what we bring as a sacrifice. So what do we offer?

  • Church goers often donate cash to their church.
  • Many people donate money or goods to various charitable organizations.
  • Some people donate time to soup kitchens or shelters for the homeless.

But their are other opportunities to contribute to the good of all, even if you can’t help out at a soup kitchen and wouldn’t know which end of a hammer to use for Habitats for Humanity.

You can donate computer time. and it’s painless.

When you are not using your computer, you can let it work for others. Calculations that once required a supercomputer are now divided up into byte-sized (sorry about the pun) chunks and sent to thousands of personal computers. Each personal computer is limited; a hundred personal computers has possibilities; a thousand personal computer is awesome.

A million personal computer working on a problem might just solve it.

If you participate, you can set your computer to work on such issues whenever you aren’t using it. There are sites working to track asteroids that threaten the earth, the cure for various diseases, the global warming issue–does it exist? What causes it, and what should we do?

There are a variety of other questions to be answered. Curious? Check out

boinc.berkeley.edu.

 

The World Stage

First_Folio,_Shakespeare_-_0212_(All_the_world's_a_stage)

William had a way with words, but more importantly, a way with thoughts. Most of us, unfortunately, didn’t enjoy Shakespeare because in high school literature class we read his plays, not as plays but as stories. They’re great plays. They’re TERRIBLE stories.

It’s like trying to sing a blueprint or mime an equation. It just don’t work.

However, he had some great thoughts.

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”

If we are the actors (players), to some extent we get to choose–or at least imagine–our audience. As the curtain opens, for whom are we performing? Facebook? Snapchat? The 24-hour news cycle? Reality TV producers? Our moral compass? God? The choice is ours.

On a real stage, the lights are so bright that it is almost impossible to see the audience. Since we don’t know who’s out there, we should play our parts as we believe they should be played.

The curtain is opening. Put your heart and soul into whatever role is yours to play.

Teenagers Are Cheap?

As a newly acclaimed Philosopher-without-portfolio, I have taken my responsibilities seriously, to think about whatever needs to be thought about–without restrictions. I recently completed and submitted my income taxes. Naturally, that involves a great deal of thought, usually such things as, “I need something for my headache,” or “I don’t usually drink hard liquor, but it’s beginning to sound better and better.”

I use TurboTax, which is causes mixed feelings. Yes, it is helpful and yes, it’s about 1/10 the cost of having someone prepare it for me; however, it’s parent company, and all the companies that have anything to do with tax preparation, were the ones who lobbied (a polite term for hiring and unleashing high paid but unscrupulous experts) to prevent the simplification of the tax code. After all, if taxes were simple enough to submit on a post card, these people might have to get honest jobs.

But I digress (it’s a philosophical thing).

One of the many oddities in the tax code is the child tax credit. This is means you can reduce your federal tax by up to $1000 per child. The criteria include that the child lived with you, is your dependent, you paid for their support (food, clothing, etc.). It also requires that the child be younger than seventeen.

Now, I’ll reserve my opinion about politicians, the Internal Revenue Service, lobbyists, etc., but do they have any idea as to how costs change as a child gets older. I could clothe both my kids for a year for the same amount of money as I now spend on their shoes. Once they hit that magic age to get a driver’s license, auto insurance increases.

With two teenagers with drivers licenses I spend as much on car insurance in two years as what my first house cost. One of them is away at college, can’t have his car on campus, but since it’s less than 100 miles, the price stays the same. Add in the class photos, yearbooks, formal dances, etc., and those incidentals for college, like books, tuition, room and board, and you get the picture.

But someone has decided that kids must be cheaper after they turn 17 and included it in the tax code. They must be in one of those states where recreational marijuana is not only legal, but can be written off as a business expense.

New Title

I have a day job, I write this blog, I do some community service, I have children, I write various other works, so in many ways, I’m a jack-of-all-trades, but a master of none. The last part is okay, because no person ever really masters anything.

All the things I do require a lot of thought. Many–but not all–include writing, but all are more mental than physical. I have decided, therefore, to acknowledge that with an appropriate title. George Carlin listed his occupation as “Foole,” so it’s not an original concept.

Therefore, I do now declare myself as a Philosopher, without Portfolio. In a nutshell, that means that it is my job to think, but I am not assigned any particular area of responsibility, so I can think of whatever I desire.

 

Radio – STEM Applied

Too many things today, in my opinion, are observer activities rather than ones that encourage participation. The term “couch potato” was coined to describe the sentient state television induced on humans.  Commercial radio and television behave the same way whether we’re involved or not; I’ve never intentionally watched a soap opera, but they are broadcast nevertheless.

However, there are participatory activities; you can probably guess where this is going.

My favorite means of interacting with radio is Amateur Radio; why “amateur?” because ham radio operators, by law, cannot charge for providing communications via ham radio. Why “ham” radio? No one knows; there are dozens of theories, but none of them can be proven.

So why does amateur radio even exist, and how is it different from CB, Family Radio Service, or, for that matter, cellphones?

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Samantha Cristoforetti (Amateur Radio Call Sign IZ0UDF) is an Italian European Space Agency astronaut, Italian Air Force pilot, engineer, and Star Trek fan. 

Amateur radio is a service, defined by federal law (the Code of Federal Regulation, Title 47, Subchapter D, Part 97). As a service, this places certain obligations and requirements on those who are licensed. The first portion of the law explains its basis and purpose; I’ll give you the condensed version.

First, amateur radio is valuable because it provides noncommercial communications, particularly during emergencies. As a friend used to say, amateur radio exists to support emergencies. If there’s no emergency—have fun.

When Puerto Rico got hit (twice) by Hurricane Maria, virtually every mode of communications was disrupted, and that means cellphones, internet, wired telephones, television, etc. FEMA (The Federal Emergency Management Administration) and relief organizations like the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, etc. relied on amateur radio operators for communications. (one of my colleagues provided communications and has an excellent brief, if you’re interested.)

Second, amateur radio is intended to advance the art of communication. Make no mistake, it is an art; in far too many places,  it is a lost art.

The purpose of communications is, and should be, the means to share ideas. Far too often, though, it has been replaced by people who talk just to hear their own voice.

Third, the law addresses advancing skills for both communications and technical capabilities.

While ham radio uses voice for communications and Morse code, there are dozens of digital data modes, several ways of sending television, and some that use technology originally developed by a Nobel laureate astrophysicist, who just happens to be a ham.

Fourth, to expand the number of trained operators, technicians and electronics experts.

Amateur radio requires a license. However, having proven an understanding of electronics theory, rules, regulations, and proper operating procedures, hams can design and build their own equipment, able to transmit up to 1,500 watts. (By comparison, CB is 4 watts and cellphones 0.2 watts.)

Fifth, Continuation and extension of the amateur’s unique ability to enhance international goodwill.

Unlike the trolls on social media, hams are licensed and therefore not anonymous. In fact, standard practice is to follow up a radio conversation with a “QSL” card to confirm the contact. The card may be a physical post card, or it may be electronic; in either case, it includes the ham’s full name and address plus technical details. Hams collect this information and are proud of how may other hams in other countries they’ve contacted. .

Incidentally, the International Space Station has both a Russian and an American ham radio station. When their workload permits, astronauts schedule time to talk with children at their schools to encourage interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). Unfortunately, with the shuttle traveling at 17,500 miles per hour, conversations are short. At that speed, the shuttle is overhead for only about 8 minutes. However, to a seventh grader who gets to talk to an astronaut, what an exciting 8 minutes they are.

Want to know more? Try the American Radio Relay League , email me (steve@sfnowak.com) or add a comment; I’ll try to give a good answer that we can share with others.

All th best, or as we hams say, “73!”

Still Thinking about Radio

Why, you are probably asking, am I so fascinated by radio? While the media’s use of radio, television, and social media sensationalizes and encourages controversy, argumentativeness, and even violence, I find that focusing on the technical application of physics is far more enjoyable.

Back in the day, you could take things apart to see how they worked, and even try putting them back together. A mechanical alarm clock that was headed for the trash is a perfect example–all those gears. It was expected that when you tried to put it back together, there would be pieces left over, but it still gave you some idea as to how it worked–and that was without a Youtube video to explain it. Then there was the other direction–building things–anything–not huge projects, but small and interesting ones.

cat whisker

Did you ever  build (or even see) a crystal radio? A length of wire for an antenna, a second wound around a tube (such as a toilet paper tube), another wire connected to a ground—such as the center screw in an electrical outlet a galena crystal, and a set of headphones. By moving a flexible wire around the crystal, it is possible to tune in a station. In the Second World War, soldiers would build a “fox-hole” radio using a razor blade as the crystal and a pencil lead for the cat’s whisker. When I built my first crystal radio, I began to understand how a basic radio receiver works and was hooked.

I built my first computer, which arrived in the mail and consisted of a circuit board and a plastic bag full of parts. It initially had 256 BYTES of memory and had to be programmed using hexadecimal numbers (that’s where you count 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, A, B, C, D, E, F, 10). By the time I was done with it, it had 8 kilobytes, stored programs and data on cassette tapes, used a mechanical teletype and I programmed it using “Tiny Basic.”

Could I build a smartphone? No, I cannot, but then neither can you. I do, however, have a conceptual understanding—and can explain—how the various parts of a smartphone work and how those parts are integrated. When I’ve asked my kids if they understood how theirs worked, their expression seemed to indicate wonderment as to why anyone would ever want to know.

There’s hope, though, through the MAKE movement, which encourages young people–especially girls–to build, modify, and experiment. I hope they enjoy it. Al I can say is that over the years, my interest in radio and the electromagnetic spectrum has caused me to learn, but more importantly, to think.

I Like Radio

I like radio.

In fact, I’m fascinated by the entire electromagnetic spectrum. Some consider it overreach to include direct current, like the electricity produced by a battery, but the AC electricity that powers most homes and offices definitely belongs. AC power oscillates, changing direction and then back again in some approximation of a sine wave.

sine

For most AC power in America, this occurs 60 times per second. For years, this was to as 60 cycles per second until the late 1960s when it was changed to “Hertz” (Hz). This name change was to honor Heinrich Hertz, the German physicist who proved the existence of electromagnetic waves. Unfortunately, since Hertz had been dead since 1894, we was totally unaware of the honor. Perhaps the living physicists put their sliderules and partied to songs like John Mellencamp’s Hertz so Good. [I know the song was recorded at least ten years later, but physicists are not big partiers, so it may have taken them a while to pull things together.]

spectrum

There are radio waves as low as 3 – 30 Hz, referred to as “Extremely Low Frequency,” but most of us don’t notice them until somewhere around the AM Broadcast band. The spectrum continues through shortwave, or high frequency (HF), very high frequency (VHF), which includes television*, FM radio, and aircraft communication. Ultra high frequency (UHF) include a number of other radio services, including cell phones. Microwaves, which are useful for radar and reheating leftovers start around 1 gigahertz (GHz) up to about 40 GHz, are next.

Going up. Next stop includes infrared through ultraviolet; smack dab in the middle is visible light. I think it’s safe to say that visible light was the first segment of the electromagnetic spectrum to which humans were aware. In fact, to many people, “spectrum” is what you see with a prism or in a rainbow.

Once you get above ultraviolet, there are X-rays and Gamma Rays, which have the ability to pass through matter and create an image that can be recorded. However, they also have an additional characteristic—they become ionizing, which means that they can change the electrical charges in matter. Ionizing radiation can cause cells to mutate. While comic book storylines propose that mutations result in superpowers, that’s just a STORYline. In actuality most mutations are bad; however, bad mutations can be useful, if applied to a confined area, such as a cancerous tumor. When the cancerous cells mutate, they often die.

To the best of my knowledge, the only thing above gamma rays are cosmic rays, but who knows what remains to be discovered.

Don’t touch that dial. I’ll be back soon with even more.

* I find it disappointing that many people do not know that with a simple indoor antenna your HD flatscreen smart television will receive the local television stations without cable. Picture quality is almost always better, because the signal doesn’t have to be compressed the way it is for cable. In addition, when television switched from analog to digital, they each ended up with three channels that fit in the same bandwidth as the old analog system. Since it’s “use it or lose it,” the other two channels tend to rely on shows that are far less expensive—so you may find Soupy Sales or Mr. Ed. Finally, since a smart TV connects to the internet through your wireless router, you can still access Netflix, Amazon, etc., all without the television being connected to the cable.

A Topic! A Topic! My Kingdom for a Topic!

I try to focus on the upbeat or at least the intellectual. Lately, that has been difficult. I have a wonderful blog written about my failure to get my Lowe’s extended warranty Whirlpool dishwasher working on a more than occasional basis, but who wants to read about that?

Then there’s politics—enough said . . . .

Don Quixote–Pablo Picasso 1955

So, it’s not that I’ve been ignoring everyone, it’s that I, like Don Quixote have been seeking something; he sought dragons in the windmills. I seek humor in today’s world. Cervantes gave Don Quixote Sancho Panza and the Golden Helmet of Mambrino, but alas, I have neither plucky comic relief nor magical accoutrements to find the humor in today’s world.

But, then again, Don Quixote saw Dulcinea—the perfect woman within Aldonza. Maybe, as we approach Hanukah, Christmas, and the Winter Solstice, we are being called to find, if not perfection, at least that glitter of gold in one another.

Now THAT would give me something great to write about.

It’s Different for Some People

Nice shirts!

I noticed that the story about the UCLA jocks who were arrested for shoplifting in China disappeared pretty quickly. Some stories stay on the Internet news sites as “Breaking News” for weeks, but not this one.

I wonder why.

You had to love the press conference that was arranged for their public apology where they were all wearing matching UnderArmour shirts with the UCLA logo.

Do you think they all might have stopped to buy those shirts together at the campus bookstore? I’m not saying the company gave them to the school, who then gave them to the ball players. But, then again . . . .

What if, instead of jocks, this incident had involved science, technology, engineering and mathematics students? Would the President have gone to the Chinese leader and asked for them to be released?

Silly question:

  1. Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba would never invite boring science, technology, engineering, and mathematics students for an all-expense paid trip to China.
  2. Those are the kind of people who know that it’s wrong to steal sunglasses from anybody on any continent for any reason.

Good Old Virginia Politics

Greetings from post-election Virginia, the state commonwealth where gerrymandering isn’t merely a despicable political ploy, but a lifestyle. But then, when you’re home to the longest continuously running political fiasco legislative body, what do you expect?

Some of us wonder if the English who disappeared from the lost colony of Roanoke did so on purpose. They likely moved in with the Croatoan nation when they found out that these Native Americans did not engage in political campaigns. It can’t be proven, but no one has ever seen a Croatoan political poster, billboard, or campaign button.

I’ve enjoyed several days of not having to listen to negative campaign ads–Alleluia! The weird part is that all of these ads seem to be recorded using the same female announcer. Is she just so angry at the world that her voice is perfect for negative ads? Maybe she’s pissed off because negative political ads are the only type of gigs her agent can get for her? Maybe she’s angry at the world because she wanted to be an actress, but instead, the best she can do is to record negative campaign ads.

I think her friends ought to take her out for a few drinks and help her sort through her feelings; of course, that presumes she has friends, which, given her demeanor, may not be true. Now that I think of it, it may not be a good idea to take her drinking, anyway. She might be even more obnoxious after a couple of skinny margaritas.

In any case, the negative ads are over until the campaigns for the 2018 elections start cranking up.

In a week or two.

In the meantime, the worst I’ll have to listen to are those ads that run every three minutes for the personal injury lawyers as they promise to get the victim every dollar possible from the insurance companies. Less their cut, of course, and after tax, title, fees, and the dealer preparation charge.

Maybe that’s why I listen to so little radio and watch even less television. Give me a book; if I don’t like it, I can take it right back to the library—neither the book nor I any the worse for wear.

(Yes, I know the picture is of Huey Long from Louisiana–but he just so perfectly embodies the spirit of politics, yesterday and today.)

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.

My Life in Guitars (Part 3) – the Desert

I’d been quite happy with my Peavey Predator, so although I looked—and occasionally drooled, I didn’t seriously plan to buy another guitar. I became a geo-bachelor in Oakland, California, and had my Peavey, but no amplifier. In my teeny-tiny one room apartment, I could hear my playing well enough to keep my sanity.

Then I got the word that as a reservist, I was being recalled and would soon be in Southeast Asia. Obviously, the military pretty much dictated what would go on the plane, so the word was—mail yourself the survival gear you’d need in a plastic footlocker, with the fiberglass reinforced packing tape in every direction. Contents included books, electronic games, civilian clothes (sometimes referred to as “mufti”), and, in my case, a small ham radio station. If the footlocker was shattered, the tape would keep everything together.

What? No guitar?

No guitar. I did not want my Peavey damaged, and, besides, the military exchange system was there to take our money and send us whatever we desired. I’d just order a new guitar once I got there.

I did.

The order was cancelled.

I placed a second order with AAFES (Army and Air Force Exchange System)—the store for our men in women in uniform who are deployed.

Cancelled again.

I called the AAFES command—I mean, why be a senior officer if you can’t call the military’s retail headquarters? As a civilian I can call Radio Shack headquarters—never mind.

When military are deployed their mail is routed through a system to an FPO (fleet post office) or an APO (Army post office) so that mail to overseas bases is treated—and costs—like it’s within the continental United States. However, AAFES claimed they didn’t ship to APOs or FPOs.

Huh? Isn’t that why the Military Exchange System exists?

I suspect that items like musical instruments are “drop-shipped” from the manufacturer directly to the customer. If the manufacturer was not located in the USA, then it couldn’t be sent as US mail to a US APO/FPO address. (Damn bean counters!)

Fortunately, I realized that the horse was dead, so I should stop whipping it, and went over its head, straight to . . . . . .

eBay!

Peavey Acoustic

I found a nice used acoustic guitar in the “Buy it now” section. I even talked with the seller (if you could dial back to a US base via the military system, you could then use your prepaid WalMart 5 cents-per-minute account to make a prepaid call elsewhere within the US). The seller was a nice guy who told me that he had changed out the bridge from white to black for a customer who changed his mind. Did I want it changed back?

No—just send it to me.

The vendor was either Music 123 or Musicians’ Friend—it doesn’t matter, they’re all part of the Guitar World now. The neat part was that for deployed military (you know, those with the dreaded APO and FPO addresses), these vendors, replaced the shipping cost with “Thank you for your service.” (To this day, they’re still my primary source for anything and everything musical—thanks, folks!)

For my new guitar, oddly enough I had picked a Peavey acoustic (imagine that). It arrived in short order in perfect condition. When I was “home” I tried to practice regularly and I also played at church. St. Augustine said that “He who sings, prays twice.” If you sing at a service at which I’m playing guitar, your prayers are probably worth a hundred-fold. On the other hand, one could always count dealing with my playing as penance.

After Mass one evening, Rubin, a fellow officer, approached me and asked if I wanted to play in a Beatles band. I laughed and pointed out my general (if not total) lack of talent, but Rubin (and I’m spelling his name the way I THINK he spelled it) said, “No problem, it was just for fun.” I thought about it, and figured that at the very least I’d get free guitar lessons out of the deal, so I agreed.

We didn’t get a lot of USO activity at our location, and what little we did always happened when I was on the road. There was a fair amount of excitement when a women’s volleyball team stopped by (so I hear) and Charlie Daniels performed, after which he autographed the guitar of one of the other Beatle band members. He had a black guitar with a mother-of-pearl Statue of Liberty inlay on the fretboard that had been custom made when he was stationed in Korea. Charlie signed it with a bold silver marker of some kind. The final result couldn’t have been more awesome.

But I digress, although I’m digressing about guitars, so it’s okay.

Just before Christmas, after weeks of rehearsing in a warehouse, WE became the USO show and did about 30 minutes of Beatles music for a crowd of fifty or so (after all, there was not much else to do if you weren’t on duty). However, a good time was had by all, and I had my 30 minutes of fame.

Next—a different guitar for an encore presentation.

Autumnal Equinox

Throughout the year, the time allotted to daylight each day changes. Longer times of daylight coincide with summer, which is different north and south of the equator. Summer is when the earth’s tilt favors one hemisphere or another.

Near the poles, summer daylight gets so long that at its peak there is no night; the sun just makes a circle above the horizon. Of course, in winter, that means that there are l-o-n-g nights. Even here in North America, within the lower 48 states, the difference between sunrise in Maine and sunrise in Florida on any given day can be significant. Add the difference at dusk, and you find that sunny Florida gets a shorter amount of daylight than chilly Maine.

But there are two days a year, the vernal (spring) equinox and autumnal (fall) equinox during which the amount of daylight and dark are approximately equal—approximate because you have to allow for variations due to refraction, etc. It doesn’t happen on the same date each year; the autumnal equinox, for example occurs anywhere between 21 September and 24 September.

Incidentally equinox is constructed from the Latin words for equal and night. I have to wonder why they didn’t call it equal day. Perhaps day was time for work, but the parties and other fun happened at night.

Friday, 22 September, is the autumnal equinox, when light and dark are pretty much equal. Maybe we should take some inspiration and focus on where we could be pretty much equal. For example, spending the same amount of time listening and thinking about what was said to match thinking of what we’re going to say and talking. (Don’t forget to include the time to think).

If everyone did this, it could be a celestial event of astronomic proportions.

Newspapers

When I was growing up,  it seemed that every city had several newspapers—often a morning paper and an evening paper. In Toledo, they were owned by the same company, so there was not a lot of divergence of opinion—the biggest diversity was in the comics.

In the 70s and 80s, many cities began to lose newspapers, only offering one. (I remember reading Sherlock Holmes—written during my grandparents’ lifetimes—in which there were multiple editions of multiple newspapers. Wow!)

Over time, in many places, local reporting waned and most of what they printed came from the news services to cut costs. (Sorry Peter Parker and Clark Kent, we’re not hiring.)

The number of news services dwindled as Associated Press overtook and bought part of United Press International. Today, much of what you read in the morning newspaper you already read online.

Newspapers got smaller, and the cycle continues.

Is it better or worse than when I was young? Probably neither—just different. However, I appreciate a well-written article. After it was written, the author probably re-read it and made some changes. An editor tweaked it—or sent it back to the author for another rewrite. Written news is polished, at least a little. It took a significant event to “Stop the presses!” and change the headline—an expensive operation.

A news video, on the other hand, has no style and certainly no cachet. It’s kind of thrown together, with too many stories labeled as “Breaking News.” To add insult to injury, the talking head’s intro, repartee, and smile, of course, is as much a part of the story as the content.

More’s the pity.

I think I’ll go listen to Don Henley’s “Get Over It.”