The Random Comic Strip

The Random Comic Strip

Words to live by...

"How beautiful it is to do nothing, and to rest afterward."

[Spanish Proverb]

Ius luxuriae publice datum est

(The right to looseness has been officially given)

"Everyone carries a part of society on his shoulders," wrote Ludwig von Mises, "no one is relieved of his share of responsibility by others. And no one can find a safe way for himself if society is sweeping towards destruction. Therefore everyone, in his own interest, must thrust himself vigorously into the intellectual battle."

Apparently, the crossword puzzle that disappeared from the blog, came back.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Seed is Planted and Grows...

Every so often, a thought comes to me while reading comments, either the ones on my blog or on one of the fine blogs I follow, that ends up a post all its own. Most times, that post will take a few days or more to grow from that seed of a thought into a full blown post.

Not this time. I was replying to comments made by several people regarding books and how the feel of them in our hands is important to the act of reading when I decided that a simple comment in reply was not enough. (whew! That was a long sentence!)

So, here is the result: a comment as post.

In the short comment, I said that two things were consistent in Man's history: story telling and the desire to "feel" the words. That led, in my mind, to the novel "Fahrenheit 451" by Ray Bradbury. The story was seen to be about censorship, about denying people books, to keep the public ignorant. But people fought back, they "became" the books that were being destroyed. They became the "story tellers" by memorizing a book so they could retell it and each would teach the book to others so they could retell it elsewhere. These groups became the "libraries".

But Bradbury said he intended it to be about the advent of television reducing knowledge to factoids by destroying interest in books. To be honest, I think he was saying that in hindsight. He wrote the short story, "Bright Phoenix" (from which rose "Fahrenheit 451"), in 1947 and television was in its infancy at the time. No, I think the "seed" of the novel was in the book burnings of Nazi Germany. [A digression: Think about Oskar Werner being cast in the role of the "fireman"]

I would relate the plot in more detail but I think most of you have read it (if you haven't, please do so!). And the story is much more complex (which is why it has become a classic) than just this aspect. What brought it to mind is we are facing another era in which books are perhaps being supplanted by electronic images, where knowledge is being reduced to what we find on the internet, where we read Wikipedia synopses of books rather than the books themselves, where books online (though available) are not read. It's easier to get the gist of a book than it is to absorb it in total.

The responses in my commentary about libraries and books says we aren't. It says that there will always be enough of us to keep the physical books alive. There will always be people who write and tell stories, spark ideas. There will always be people who will inspired by the "story tellers" and who will, in turn, try to inspire others along the same lines.

Will books eventually be replaced by electronic tablets? I don't think so. After all, we still have people telling stories orally; parents and teachers would read to children, professors who lecture on history and philosophy. Books did not replace them, only made them more available to the public. So I think books will go on.

Pandora's Hope is still alive in the world.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Quiet Please!

I was reading a new novel the other day, "Genesis" by Poul Anderson, and a main character, Laurinda, considers why she reads in a time of great technological advancement. Though it wasn't mentioned, I inferred that she read real books rather than computerized, or electronic, ones. Naturally, that set me to thinking about why I read physical books rather than electronic ones.

I have tried to read online. There is an amazing amount of literature available to anyone, free of charge. The Gutenberg Project has over 27000 books free to read, free to download in eBook form or in other forms for other electronic devices. It is a huge electronic library, available to all. And they are not alone. Many other sources are out there.

But I never get more than a few "pages" into anything available online. I am at a loss when I cannot hold a book in my hands, feel the pages as I turn them. I must see and feel the printed page in order to immerse myself in the book. I am not sure how Laurinda reads, I only know how I must.

Fortunately for me (and for the most lovely Faye who reads much more than I do), there is a library cooperative in our little town. They share resources with three other libraries in nearby cities. We can look up whatever is available and put a request in for it. If our local library has it, a hold will be put on it. If it is available at another, it will be sent to our local library and we will be notified (by a human being calling on the phone!) when it arrives. This was never available to me when I was growing up.

As a boy, libraries were huge, forbidding places unless they were in my school. Even there, they were places with extra rules about quiet and decorum. Yet, they were also places where almost anything could be learned without having to wait for a teacher to speak it, to write it on a blackboard, to conduct some kind of exercise and for it to come up in the lesson plans. A library was unfettered learning, limited only by my own curiosity's boundaries, by which I mean no limits at all.

A book is a magical thing. It unleashes your imagination by paradoxically tying it to the author's. You soar through space to distant galaxies, wander under the earth or seas, fly over mountains and plains, travel back into history or forward into the future. But I cannot do any of that unless I can hold the bundle of paper in my own hands. It isn't real to me until then. It's like the words don't just come into my brain through my eyes but also get absorbed through my fingertips.

If you have a library available to you, use it. If you can, volunteer to help out (they will undoubtedly appreciate it). Support it in any way you can. Take your children to one, take your grandchildren to one, encourage others to explore the ones in your area.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Myth of Pandora

Before we start, I'd like to clear up any possible misconception about yesterday's blog post. I did not actually make that puzzle. All I did was embed it, which was easy enough to do, from a site called JigZone. I am not that talented to create something anywhere near as entertaining as that. I do heartily endorse that site, however, and urge you all to become as addicted to it as I am. Try different cuts, immerse yourself completely, forget food and drink and sex, just keep solving those puzzles...

Now, on to our story...

According to ancient Greek mythology, Pandora was the first woman. Before she was created by the gods, at Zeus' direction to punish the family of the Titan Prometheus for his giving fire to Man, there were only Men on earth. So Pandora was actually a stealth weapon of the gods. Pretty effective one, too, you might say.

Before Pandora, Men had it pretty good. They could sit around in their boxer shorts (or the ancient Greek equivalent) on the sofa watching the Olympic Games (which, oddly enough, consisted mostly of naked men wrestling) drinking beer (or mead, I suppose), making rude noises and giggling about it (in a Manly Way, for sure) without having to worry about wives or girlfriends bothering them.

On the other hand, there was no one to fetch them another bottle of mead or fix the goat meat the way they liked it. Still, it was paradise for Men. Even if they didn't have anyone to pick up that old underwear or deal with the ever present dust bunnies.

Zeus knew from experience that women would be a problem for Men. After all, the gods had both sexes and the female gods were always causing all kinds of problems for him. Sure, Hera blamed him for his roving eye but what's a god to do when some sexy goddess in a diaphanous nightie wiggle her little rear in his direction? Ignore it? Was he the King of Gods or not? Hera definitely did not understand him. Just as he often told those young goddesses that hung around Mt Olympus.

In any event, Prometheus messed up the Grand Plan by providing Man with fire that he stole from Zeus. He couldn't exactly smack Prometheus down since the Titan had saved his godly chestnuts by fighting on his side when the War between Titans and Olympia was raging. Though he did have him bound and set an eagle to feast on his liver (which grew back daily) repeatedly. Apparently, that wasn't enough so he had all of his gods create Pandora, making her beautiful, clever, skillfu, and alluring and introduced her to Epimetheus, Prometheus' less clever brother.

Epimetheus was smitten, fulfilling Zeus' plan, and married her even though his brother had warned him not to accept any gift from the gods. This would make Epimetheus like any other male faced with a babe who made goo-goo eyes at him. Zeus made sure the gods gave Pandora a little wedding gift which she was instructed not to open. In some versions of the story, this is a jar (which made sense in ancient Grecian times) but which later became a box - probably because women cannot even open jars and have to ask men to do it. Pandora, having promised not to open the gift, tried very hard to resist temptation. But, come on, she's a woman and she had this pretty gift. Why shouldn't she open it? It was her gift, wasn't it?

So, she figured it would be okay is she just lifted the lid a little. You know, just to take a teensy little peek. Surely that wouldn't be cheating on her promise. It wasn't like she was going to open it up completely or anything. So she did. And all the creatures representing the ills and woes of the earth were released and spread throughout the world. She slammed the lid down tight but it was too late. Just to be sure, she opened the lid one more time (she was a woman after all) to see if it was empty and found that one creature was still inside. This creature was Hope. And women have been holding out Hope for men ever since.

[Thank you, Vikki, for putting this in my head]

Saturday, December 27, 2008

A Look Around Before the New Year

Here it is, only a couple of days after Christmas, and the world is a much better place. Let's see what's in the news for today...

Pakistan and India are threatening each other tacitly and, occasionally, in diplomatic terms. India is political turmoil over poor intelligence prior to the Mumbai attacks, Pakistan is in political turmoil because its "democracy" is falling apart from rising militancy and a weakening economy.

Russia is trying to re-establish itself as the power it once was when it was the Soviet Union. Unfortunately, the rapid and steep drop in oil prices has seriously undercut that effort. Still, it is there and we are reminded of the days of the Cold War.

Hamas groups have been shooting rockets into Israeli territory close to a week and Israel is now retaliating in force. After warning Hamas for several days now. With 155 dead in Gaza, according to Reuters, Hamas is threatening to unleash "Hell" on Israel. (The image of a mouse holding up a single finger as the elephant brings his foot down comes to mind.)

They claim they are all ready to die for their cause. Israel seems willing to help them along.

Guinea is under a military junta while it sorts itself out after the death of its long time leader. The usual events: leader dies, military coup by some mid-level officer (in this case, a captain), a bit of chaos, surrounding nations choosing up sides, various powers demanding an election where there is obviously no ability to run a clean one, and infighting between the coup members and the old military hierarchy.

Every country's economy is on the skids, it seems. The boom of the last ten or so years has faltered into a bust.

Global warming is now being blamed for record cold and freezing weather.

There are pirates plying their trade in the Indian Ocean.

These are just a small part of the global troubles.

Yet, we continue to hope, continue to see the possibilities. The Pope does. Each year at this time, he calls for peace, he prays for goodness to prevail. Each year, we get more war, more trouble, more evil. But the essence of man is hope and each year we stand with the Pope in saying now is the time for man to change his ways.

When has there been a better time?

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Eartha, baby!

The world lost a great lady on Christmas Day. Maybe the sultriest voice to ever tickle an ear. Eartha Kitt was 81. Some of you might remember her from movies, some from her role as "Catwoman" on the TV series Batman. But you all should know her from her singing. Her vocals were the most distinctive and sexiest I have ever heard.
I highly recommend you visit Youtube and search for the videos featuring her but especially these two:

I want to be Evil

Santa Baby

She was a fine actress who enjoyed her naughtier roles. She was unashamed of her sexuality and made no effort to hide it.

Goodbye, Eartha, there will never be another even remotely like you.

Merry Christmas

Monday, December 22, 2008

Taking a few days off

It's December 22nd and I have done little to no shopping yet. You probably have lots to do yourself. So why are you here? Go. Shop. Enjoy the crowds. Spend money and revive the economy. Or make your own gifts. I think the last is best.

I may have nothing much for the next few days because I always wait till the last minute to deal with this particular holiday.

So, I will just say it now...

Merry Christmas to all.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

I spit on your shadow

What is an insult when the recipient is either unaware of its significance or oblivious to its existence? Yesterday, I wrote about the "shoe man" who tossed a couple of loafers at President Bush and created a firestorm of support and amusement. Today, I want to examine the concept, or maybe the art, of insult.

A number of years ago, I was working at a drapery and window dressings company as a "jack of all trades". I cut material for wooden shades, I built valances, I painted, stained, moved carpet with a forklift, occasionally assisted in installations and repairs of window treatments, and discussed the deeper meanings of life under Richard Nixon with my co-workers.

One co-worker was a young man about my own age (at the time). He had been hired to replace me as janitor (the job for which I was first hired). For some reason, he didn't seem to like me. I never found out why. Even though his English was very good, every now and then he would say a few words in Spanish while talking to me. I didn't know a lot of Spanish, still don't, so I had no idea what he was saying.

At some point, a woman who worked with me told me he was calling me names and otherwise insulting me in Spanish. She thought I might want to be aware of that. The next time I saw him, we had a little exchange. I asked him a simple question...

"What do you accomplish by calling me names in a language I don't understand?"

He seemed a little embarrassed, a little awkward. He had been caught in his little game. He said nothing, a grin that managed to be both sheepish and smug on his face.

I smiled and said, "Seems to me that it doesn't take much in the way of courage to insult someone who doesn't know he has been insulted."

And I walked away. He never did it again and, while we didn't become friends, we got along well enough from then on.

That incident was recalled when I started reading all the various reports surrounding the shoe throwing incident. It is a great insult in the Arab world to be hit with a shoe or to be called a dog. Here, the insult is more important if someone's foot is in the shoe at the time it hits you, tossing it at you reflects badly on the thrower. And women here call men "dogs" as a matter of course. In some cases, it's almost a compliment. Like when a friend is commenting on your ability to juggle two girlfriends without getting caught

Our culture regards insult as an art form. We praise those who can do it in a witty manner. We savor quotes that were intended to degrade the subject. We make comics rich whose stock in trade is the embarrassment of members of their audience. We engage is something called "Roasts" when the guest of honor is routinely, and unmercifally, insulted by his friends. Growing up, we enage in something called "Dirty Dozens" where we happily insult each other, and our mothers, for hours.

Bush found the incident mildly amusing. Most of the western world did. In a sense, we were insulting the Arab world by dismissing the impact of Mr. al-Zaidi's act. I wonder if they are aware of that subtlety?

Laughing at insults is possibly the best insult of all.

As the old Chinese curse goes... May you live in interesting times. I say, enjoy them.

A couple of links that might amuse...

Insult Graphics

Saturday, December 20, 2008

"Shoe" Fly Pie

I don't like to discuss politics on my blog. It inflames passions which are best left to others. My passions are about the incongruities of life and politics is just too big an incongruity to deal with in the few words of a blog post.

I am going to talk about the "shoe thrower". One Muntadhar al-Zaidi, a reporter for the Al-Baghdadiya TV station.

There have been some conflicting reports the last few days, he was beaten, he apologized for the incident, and, now, he has only apologized to Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki. According to this report, he doesn't regret his actions and would do it again.

Apparently, the shoe thrower would bare his sole again if given a chance. But he also stated that he thought he would be killed by Bush's bodyguards before he could throw the second shoe.

If true, and it may not be since this is a report out of an Iranian news website, it reveals how little we understand of the Middle Eastern mindset and how little they understand of us. If he had been able to throw a shoe at a visiting head of state with the former President of Iraq, one Saddam Hussein, the guy would have been been dead in a day, his family would have disappeared, and the TV channel (which would not have existed anyway) would have been a pile of rubble. No one would be allowed to speak of it again.

In other words, there would be no stories about an apology that may not be one.

Regardless of what you think of George Bush or the war in Iraq, would you ever think the guy would have been killed for throwing a shoe or two? In the US, you can shoot the president and there's a chance you could be walking around free someday (John Hinckley, Jr).

In the west, we have news media that do this:

from UK's Daily Mail Online

On another note, there was a story on the CNN site about experiments conducted back in the 60s regarding the willingness of average people to do evil. Reading the CNN article, I recalled reading about them back then. I was not surprised then. I am still not surprised. I recommend reading it... Charting the Psychology of Evil

Sometimes I think we are all insane and it's just a matter of degree that separates us from those we think of as mad.

Friday, December 19, 2008

I've been thinking...

Sometimes the weirdest ideas pop into my head. Occasionally, they keep returning. Consider this:

Does the day go by faster at the north and south poles of the earth?

Time is a relative thing. We measure a day as a complete rotation of the planet. An "hour" is 1/24th of that rotation. At the equator, that would be the time it takes to move about 1000 miles. But at the pole there would be no distance at all. So what happens to time there?

What do animals dream about? Animals do dream. Just watch a sleeping dog sometime; his paws will twitch, he may bark softly. Perhaps he's chasing something. I've watched cats sleep and they do it also. When I was a child, very young, the conventional wisdom was that animals operate on instinct, not independant thought. Watching them dream tells me that isn't so. You cannot dream without some abstract thought process involved.

Following the above, do insects think? If so, is it collectively or independently?

A phrase came to mind which was triggered by one of Michael's blog posts. He mentioned that he "rearranged the furniture in [his] room" and I thought about how I think and form new opinions or new perspectives. I came up with "rearranging the furniture in my mind." That pretty much sums up the process. I just move the different perceptions (furniture) around until the arrangement makes sense. Or, sometimes, just amuses me.

I went to bed last night with a rushing sound in my ear. It's like an ocean wave, that rhythmically "shushing" sound as it breaks and then dissipates. I realize it matches my heartbeat and that it is the pulse echoed somewhere inside my right ear. It's actually relaxing, like one of those white noise generators. I slept well.

I play golf a couple of times a week. It's a strange game. Very simple, really, and it should be easy to play. But our minds get in the way. No one plays it perfectly, all golfers mess up, even the pros. The worst days are when you start thinking about the complexity of the swing. The ball is stationary. All you have to do is swing the club in an almost perfect arc down and through so that a 3 to 4 inch club face makes perfect contact with a certain quarter inch of the ball at just the right angle and with just the right amount of power so that the ball is driven through the air the proper distance and in the desired direction. Yes, just a simple thing. The best days are when you don't think at all.

I still haven't mowed the lawn yet.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Why am I not worried?

I'm at a loss for words this morning. I have some articles I am working on but they are all "in progress" and seem to be incomplete. Some are only a few sentences long, others look like they are too wordy and going nowhere. Still others make no sense to me when I open them now.

Still, I like to have something new every day so I am trying a little stream of consciousness. That means this is just tumbling from my brain, down through my arms and out from my fingertips. I am tempted to leave in the typos just to make it more realistic.

I thought about commenting on the economy since it seems to be on everyone's mind these days. I feel a bit out of touch regarding this. As a retiree, I am on a fixed income. That could be bad but I made sure my debts were paid, my house paid off, and my expenses would likely not exceed my fixed income. So, the economic turmoils of the past year or two haven't greatly impacted me. I have only a little money invested in the stock market and I am having fun, actually, playing with that.
Anyway, that's why the Thing to Ponder and the Cartoon are about the economy. Unfortunately, I can't think of anything witty, clever, or acerbic to say about it.

I read an interesting piece this morning, an opinion column on, which basically said the bailouts are like a Ponzi scheme. At least, that's what I got out of it. It made sense to me that way. And then I started to think that economies are just Ponzi schemes.

In case you are unfamiliar with the term, a Ponzi scheme is a clever scam where the older investors are paid with the proceeds of the newer investors. Eventually, the scheme falls apart when the number of new investors is insufficent to support the number of older investors.

Since all economies depend upon growth, it would seem to me that all economies are the same kind of scheme. When the growth disappears, the bottom drops out. Certainly all governments are set up that way. Why else would they promote growth? Businesses are all designed that way. Sell more to pay for the previous investments in product. The stock market especially is designed this way.

The only real difference is there is no underlying value to the Ponzi scheme. Looking at the economies of the world today, I have to wonder whether there is any underlying value to them.

Just some food for thought.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Snippet of Life - Greynolds Park

Life in North Miami Beach for a child of 10 was wonderful. It was warm and sunny most of the time. And, even when it rained, it was warm rain and you didn't mind getting caught in it. I had plenty of free time and a huge park to explore near my house. There were lots of kids my age, or close to it, in the neighborhood and we found lots to do.

Greynolds Park was just at the east end of my block. The fence was no barrier for any of us, not that the park charged to get in at that time (it does now). If we had wanted to, we could have walked the two or three blocks to the official West entrance. It just wasn't necessary. Once over the fence, we usually headed due east through an open field and then through the wooded area to the road which snaked through the park from the northwest to southeast. The park itself was a wonderland of lakes, gullies, small hills, trails, and wooded areas. On the eastern side of the park, not too far from the East entrance and where we would emerge onto the road, was the Boathouse (as we called it) and what would be the Welcome Center. It was on the lake which is fed by the Oleta River on the east side of the park. The Boathouse was where you could rent pedal boats, canoes, and kayaks. The kayaks were more canoe-ish than kayak. They seated two adults easily and were easier to use than the canoes. We rarely rented any of these because we rarely had much money in our pockets. There were also snacks and soda available at the Boathouse, more suitable targets for what money we had.

Just across the road from the Boathouse was The Castle or, sometimes, The Fort. We thought it was the highest point in Dade County. It probably wasn't but we believed it. You did have to climb up to it and you could see far and wide from the top. It was definitely the highest point in North Miami Beach. East of there, the road turned more toward the east, toward West Dixie highway and between the Boathouse's lake and a set of smaller lakes on the south. We fished in those lakes from time to time. Catch and release, of course, because we didn't have a clue what to do with the fish (which were too small to eat anyway).

The park was a great place to imagine being Robin Hood and his Merry Men. Or Frontiersmen fighting off Indians from the Fort. Or pirates. Or be the pirates trying to take the fort. It was magical.

There were trails all over the park (still are, I would imagine) and, once you were familiar with them, you could go anywhere in the without being seen by anyone. Very few people used those trails, it seemed. When I played there, the park was only moderately used and that mostly just on weekends and holidays. Most of the people who visited the park would be at the picnic areas on the northwest side, right around Boathouse and lakes, or waxing cars (mostly teenagers) under the big oaks and banyon trees just south of the Boathouse. Or (again mostly teenagers) necking under the trees in more secluded areas.

There used to be swimming allowed in the Boathouse lake but that was stopped because of alligators. The story that was passed around among us kids was that a kid road his bike into the park one evening and went swimming. An alligator attacked him and nearly took his arm off. He got away but only barely survived by riding his bike down to a tavern south of the park. It was probably not true but it was one of the park legends. It seemed true enough to us because there were alligators in the lakes. We saw them often enough.

We also would follow trails that led along the Oleta River. There was lots of wildlife to see; land crabs, fiddler crabs , exotic birds (mostly people's parrots and parakeets that escaped), raccoons, opossum, and gators.

The park was a whole world where we were free from most adult supervision. We would wander about and have long conversions about all the mysteries of life. We talked about sports, about school, about our families, about our problems, and always about girls and sex. We knew very little about the last two but we were just starting to want to. All the myths and misunderstandings were taken as fact. We swapped tales and told dirty jokes we had heard, all of which were really stupid in retrospect, and began to grow up.

It wouldn't be too long before we'd abandon the park until we were old enough to drive cars and the park became a daytime place to take our girlfriends or hang out while we polished our cars and told lies about how cool we were.

Go to Google Maps and put in this address:

"Greynolds Park, North Miami Beach, Miami-Dade, Florida 33160"

Then click on the blue dot in the center. Then click on Street View in the dialogue balloon. You can then travel around the park. You are at the center of the park, between the boathouse and the castle.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Digital Journey

In the early months of 1977, I was tasked to work on computers. Now, in 1977, there were no personal computers, no desktop machines, definitely no laptops. No, these were massive semi-autonomous processing systems networked with a central processing unit designed to connect a calling phone to a called phone. They were fairly innovative in that the entire system operated in a digital format. (No, that's not me and we didn't wear ties)

I was also tasked to work with , and on, a mini-computer. A DEC PDP-11. This was about as small a computer as they were making in those days. It had a couple of "washtub" hard drive units which maybe stored 20 or 40 megabytes each.

It wasn't until 1981 that I bought my first small computer. An Osborne1 "portable" computer. No hard drive, two floppy drives, a 5" monochrome screen and 64 kilobytes of memory. Wow! State of the art. And then, a few months later, I got my first modem and discovered Electronic Bulletin Board Systems. There was no internet, no DSLs, no cable modems. Just telephone lines and modems that attained the magnificent speed of 1200 bps. Mine only went a 4th of that.

But it opened up a whole new world. The BBSes, as they came to be called, were very localized. You dialed them up and you basically saw text scroll across the screen. It was magic. There were no graphics, no widgets, no online games. But it was magic. You could find programs for your computer. You could leave messages, ask questions of other computer and modem users and get answers.

Along the way I started expanding and building my own computers. Faster ones, more powerful ones, more capacity. I pieced together several from spare parts and a few purchased parts. There were computer shows and computer swap meets where you could buy and trade parts. Computers are surprisingly simple.

As time went on, I got a faster modem, I got a more powerful computer and another and another. The BBSes found ways to link their message forums by transferring the data between them. I started my own BBS in 1989 on January 1st. It ran until 1996 when the internet started making the BBS an anachronism.

For a few years, I got into the forums. Some political flame wars, some technical assistance (mostly on modems), but I got tired of it. Not tired of computers, mind you, I still played with them. And I still used the internet for gathering information and for shopping, mostly for computer parts. I just lost the urge to interact with people on it.

Still, I liked the internet and I like to write so I guess it was inevitable I ended up here as a blogger. So many things have changed over the years; computers are 100 times more powerful, they can store thousands of times more data, and they have all sorts of fancy gadgets and options now. Still, the most fun, the most enjoyable feature, is the ability to connect to other people.

Monday, December 15, 2008

How I used to work

I was a troubleshooter for most of my 34 years in the telecom industry. They called me a "switchman", "central office technician", "communications technician", and a couple of other things over the 34 years but my job was to troubleshoot. Equipment would fail or service would degrade and I would be be expected to determine why and then correct it.

I didn't do this alone, of course. There were support centers and co-workers who could assist me. Sometimes their assistance helped, sometimes it didn't, and sometimes it hindered. I worked mostly in the offices, on site, during my 34 years but also spent a couple of years as support and surveillance in a support center.

I was pretty good at troubleshooting. I found it to be interesting and challenging when a trouble arose. There's a great amount of satisfaction involved in solving a problem. The tougher the problem, the more satisfaction in solving it.

What I did involved a lot of particular knowledge but troubleshooting, in general, doesn't. It helps to have some knowledge about the subject of the problem but I don't think it is always needed. Troubleshooting is simply problem solving. And we all do this every day. According to Wikipedia , there are many methods one can use to solve problems. That's according to experts.

I think there are only a few, maybe two, fundamental methods. The others are simply variations of the basic methods. I once read a Psychology Today article (in the 70s I think) on problem solving that said there were two basic methods:

1. Logical - A methodical, planned, determinate system whereby steps are taken, results analyzed, and the process flows from there.

2. Intuitive - Non-linear, hunch based system. Sometimes called SWAG (Scientific Wild Assed Guess).

Okay, that's not exactly how it was described. I have always used a mixture of the two. I would follow a logical plan until my first coffee break. If no positive results by then, I would try the intuitive method. By the time the second coffee break approached, desperation would have settled in and I would be ready for what we called "The Shotgun Approach".

No, we did not actually use a shotgun. Though I was tempted more than a few times. It entailed swapping large numbers of parts in groups with another unit of the same type, testing between each swap. No attempt is made to associate said parts with the trouble at hand. These parts, by the way, are circuit cards similar to the cards within your PC or Mac. Done properly, this method actually works and helps determine the faulty part or parts. Done poorly and the result is two pieces of equipment in trouble.

If none of these approaches worked, we tried the "Passover" gambit. In other words, we passed it over to the next shift. This last one seldom worked because we invariably got the same problem passed over to us the next shift we worked. And, more often than not, it had become even worse.

When a problem was handed back to me in this manner, I would spend hours just getting the equipment back to the same condition in which I had left it. It would be about that point that I would usually stumble across the solution.

The above methods do not work in relationships.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Blind Date

I was a young man of 17 when I first heard it spoken by a 15 year old girl. I am sure other, maybe younger, girls had used it but just not in my presence. At that time, boys refrained from profanity around girls. Well, mostly. The profanity used was quite mild and never included this particular word. And none of the girls I knew would actually say the word in front of a boy. But she did.

She was a blind date. A pretty girl. Friendly, very friendly. Let's call her Carol (because I don't remember her actual name). It was a group date; three guys, three girls. We went to a drive-in, we talked and joked, we made out, all the normal things one might expect. Then we left the drive-in and I drove everyone home. Carol whispered in my ear a suggestion that I drop off all the others first and then take her home. I liked the suggestion. As I drove to her house she said we should tell her mother we were going to the A&W for a milkshake "but we don't have to really do that." I liked that suggestion too.

We get to her house and go in. The house is dimply lit, it's about midnight. Carol's mom calls from behind a closed door and Carol says it's her and lays out the request for more time, for A&W, the shake. Mom says "No, you've been out enough for tonight." Carol argues a bit with Mom. Mom puts her verbal foot down. Carol takes my hand, turns us toward the front door and says over her shoulder, "F___ you, Mom!" and we leave.

I was in shock. Not so deep inside my brain was the idea popped up at that moment that I was going to have sex that night with Carol. Deeper in that teenage brain, buried as deeply as it could be, where it could be ignored for a few hours, was the idea that there might be a lot of repercussions.

The night was an interesting romp all over town in my brother's little Ford Consul. First to one spot and then another where, each time, something would interfere with what we both wanted to do. We finally made it back to her house about 5 AM and there we saw police cars (yes, plural) out front, lights flashing and all. She had me drop her off a block away and around a corner.

I never saw her again but she slips into my mind from time to time even now, 55 years later. I have no idea why I am sharing this.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

It is a Little Word

I want to talk about it. It is important. It might be everything. It could be. After all, it keeps people awake, it is significant or it is minor. But is it? It might not matter to you but it kept me awake most of the night.

Do we know what it is? Can we get along without it? I might think I have it but then I can't see it. It is driving me crazy. She had it.

Others have tried to be it, too. Sometimes I think I get it. Other times it escapes me.

It might be that but is that it?

All I know is I cannot get along without it.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Farewell, Betty, You will be missed.

This is a time of mourning for all who were boys in the 1950s. Betty Page has passed away. If you don't know who she was, there is no explanation beyond her photos and the drawings of her.

When I was 18, I met a young lady from Massachusetts who had the Betty Page bangs and those eyes. I was smitten. Unfortunately, her father kept a close eye on her and me at a distance.

A Day Off

I really don't have anything for today. Let's just say I am taking the day off. Since I am retired, you might say I have every day off but that's not true. I try to do something every day. Some days less than others, of course. Today, my goal was to get out of bed. I have accomplished that. I figured that's good enough. After all, I am on a fixed income so doing nothing is like getting extra pay for that day. In fact, the less I do, the more I get, relatively speaking.

I will probably have to mow the lawn tomorrow. Which means I will have to get gas for the mower. I saved probably $4 by putting this off for a month. That's a side benefit of procrastination. And procrastination is a great method of practicing laziness. I'll try to convince my wife that I could save even more by putting that chore off for another week. After all, the grass is not above my ankles yet.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

It's the Little Things...

Everyone has a quirk. Mine is detail. I notice little things and these things interfere with my enjoyment. Like reading. I wasn't fully aware of this until I was reading a book and a character couldn't get dialtone on his cell phone. It ruined the book. I could not get it out of my head. No cell phone ever gets dialtone.

So, today, I am reading a book (Lee Child's "Nothing to Lose") and the main characters are riding through town at night in a black car, doing their best to avoid being noticed, with their lights off. They stop when they realize there are people some distance ahead of them. Oh, you think, lights off will prevent them from being seen. What about the brake lights giving them a glowing red aura???

I wish I could turn this off. It's like being told, at a dinner, that people's ears move when they chew their food. From that moment on, all you can think about is people's ears.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Breaking the Mold

Stereotype: a simplified and standardized conception or image invested with special meaning and held in common by members of a group: The cowboy and Indian are American stereotypes.

Or, said another way: A conventional, formulaic, and oversimplified conception, opinion, or image.

Stereotypes. We all know how evil they are. And how no one wants to be stereotyped. But we all believe in them.

Relax and think of what comes to your mind immediately after reading the following words...

Born again Christian
Biker (motorcycle)

Now be honest, you formed pictures in your mind. Phrases popped into your head. You may have fought them but only after they were there.

The truth is, ugly as it may seem, we all carry stereotypes in our minds. They are useful, in a sense, because they allow us to place people in categories. We like a certain order to things. They are a part of the way we view ourselves and our communities. They fit into our concepts of history and the world.

And they are both true and false at the same time. Some people conform to them, some defy them, some accept them; some use them to their advantage, some use them against others. They help us define both ourselves and others. Some people live up to them, some make great efforts to overcome them and succeed. Some people use them for excuses for not succeeding.

Our goals are stereotypes. Our parents either lived up to stereotypes or didn't. We sometimes pretend to be one stereotype in order to make others believe we are not another.

They are only bad if don't understand why they exist. Or if you accept them without thinking. Or how they should be used. Anyone who thinks he doesn't use them is fooling himself.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Snippet of Life - An Interesting Day

When I enlisted in the Navy, I was a skinny, almost tall (5'11") 19 year old who was used to finding himself in new environments. Still, this was an adventure. I was among some 20 young men taking the oath that morning in Miami but the only one who would be traveling to San Diego for Boot Camp. It was November and the only condition I had insisted on when signing up was that I go there rather than to Great Lakes NTC in Illinois. I was not ready to face both military life and a northern winter at the same time.

It wasn't long before I was seeing indications of having made a bad decision. My parents took me to Miami International (whose code is, oddly, MIA) after the swearing in and bade me goodbye. My mother was brave, my father stoic. Or they were hiding their glee, I am not sure. I boarded a Delta Boeing 707 and took my first ever commercial flight, first to Atlanta and then to Los Angeles for a hop down to San Diego. It was then that the impact of what I had done actually hit me. I had just given the next four years of my life to the US Government to do with me as it wished.

The flight to Atlanta was uneventful and we were to be there only an hour before taking off again to L.A. but that hour stretched to 90 minutes before they told us we might want to get off the plane and wait in the lounge until the plane's "minor mechanical problem" was resolved. After an additional hour in the lounge, we were called to the counter to be assigned new flights since this plane wasn't going anywhere. It was another hour later before my new plane began rolling down the runway.

Like the first flight, I had an aisle seat. But the gentleman in the window seat offered to swap with me when he learned that I was headed for Boot Camp and that this was my first trip across the country by plane. Of course I accepted. We were seated just forward of the left wing which allowed me a great view through the tiny window. I spent much of the next several hours looking out the window at the lights of the cities below and wondering at the vast expanses of darkness between. I was mostly quiet, though my seatmates and I chatted from time to time, as I pondered my decision to enlist.

Approaching LAX at night is fascinating. In fact, flying into almost any large city at night is quite an experience. The lights are fantastic and, as you swoop low on the approach, you begin to see the cars moving along the roadways that had been just ribbons of light moments before. When at high altitude, the plane seems almost motionless but now the sensation of speed hits you as things on the ground slip under the plane too quick to concentrate on. All of a sudden, the runway is there and the plane is dropping fast. I always get tense at this point, it's a reflex, maybe because I know this is the second of the two most dangerous parts of flying. The other is takeoff.

This being the first opportunity I had to see the landing through the window, I was watching intently. The tarmac grew closer and closer and I readied myself for that jolt when the wheels touch down. Only this time it was a bit different, the wheels hit and then the plane tilted to the left and I saw sparks, big sparks, spraying out from beneath the wing, some forward but a huge trail of them from the back of the wing. The tires had blown out. There were a few shouts of fear, a scream maybe, I don't recall. I was enthralled with what I was seeing. But I wasn't afraid at all. In fact, I recall being completely calm and relaxed as if I was not involved in any way.

The pilot was a master at his trade, we never swerved or jerked but seemed to just smoothly continue down the runway until we came to a gentle stop. I think they knew something in advance because the firetrucks were there as soon as we came to a stop and immediately started spraying foam on the flames that came from, I assumed, the burning remaining rubber of the tires. It was only a couple of minutes before the door was opened and we were calmly but quickly directed off the plane onto a stairway that backed up to the plane by truck. No chutes for us.

There was a bus waiting to take us into the terminal. In less than 30 minutes I was boarding the short flight down to San Diego. I don't recall dwelling on the landing at LA until much later that night. After landing at San Diego, we taxied up to the terminal. As I entered the terminal, I came upon a CPO (Chief Petty Officer) who asked for my orders and then ordered me (my first order) to go outside and get on the blue Navy bus that would take me and maybe a dozen others to the Naval Training Center.

The ride was a blur, I saw little because it was night, and we arrived inside the gate near a typical wooden military building. We were led to some benches outside the building but under a roof where we spent the next couple of hours listening to a recorded voice droning out apparently vitally important sections of the UCMJ (Uniform Code of Military Justice), all of which seemed to end with...

"Penetration , however slight, is sufficient to complete the offense."

Eventually, there were a sufficient number of us to warrant our being moved to barracks. We were brought inside and directed into a room full of bunkbeds after being given some toiletries; razors, toothbrushes, toothpaste. We were left to choose our beds and told that it would be "lights out" in 30 minutes.

Thus ended the first day of my tour of duty.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Now, wait a minute!

It's Sunday afternoon and it is time to go to our favorite restaurant. A local steak house for an early evening meal. It's a good restaurant. The prices are good, the food is excellent. We get into my car and I back it out of the garage. Because the garage holds two cars and there is no room on the right to open the passenger door, Faye waits outside until I back out so she can get in the car.

As I back up near her, she gestures at me and points to the right rear of the car. I have a flat. A couple of days ago, the car was in the shop for an oil change, a nail was found in one tire and the tire was repaired. But now I have a flat. Completely flat. Since the car has not been moved since I drove it home after the oil change, the car has likely been sitting on that flat tire since Friday evening.

I leave my car in the driveway and pull Faye's car out for the drive to the restaurant. My dinner, while good, is tainted by the knowledge that I will have to put the spare (that little bitty donut tire) on after I get home. It's also affected by the slowly building suspicion that the tire that was repaired wasn't done properly.

When I get home I spend a half hour swapping the flat for the spare. I check the work order from the dealer's service center. It doesn't reveal which tire was repaired beyond "front". But front when? After rotation or before?

This is not over, check back later. First I play golf then I go to the service center.


So I go to the dealer, limping in on the little donut, and explain my problem. I ask him to confirm which tire was repaired. He says it seemed to him that it was a front tire. So I explain that the only way I would accept that, since the patch inside the tire rather than use plugs, would be to take that tire off, break it down and show me the patch. He said they would do that if it took that for me to have trust in them but that he would check with the tech.

He comes back a minute later and sheepishly says, "It was put on the right rear and we will fix it for you right now."

And they did. They said so. It was a poor patch job, they said.

And I will check it again in a few hours to make sure it holds air this time.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

I Worry...

[Before I start today's commentary, I'd like everyone to think about an event that occurred 67 years ago today: December 7, 1941. And take a moment to silently thank all those who answered the call to fight against evil in the world. Then maybe do a little Googling]

I worry about things. Mostly esoteric things and things that I have no control over. Well, the reason for the latter should be obvious; if I had control over them, they wouldn't be a worry since I could resolve them in some manner. This quirk is exacerbated by my having access to the internet. This can be a Bad Thing.

The internet, while wonderful and magical, is also quite dangerous. It allows us to find others who feel the way we do. It also gives us information, maybe too much.

I was curious about seismic activity. Because of the reports about the tsunami a few years ago that caused so much damage in various places in south Asia.
So I began looking around. I knew about the Pacific Ring of Fire and I wanted to know a bit more. That led to wondering about the monitoring of seismic activity. And that led me to the Earthquake Notification Service.

So, now I get notified each time there is a significant earthquake just about anywhere in the world based upon my criteria for magnitude. It started as a curiosity about whether there was an increase in activity and turned into a subtle, constant, paranoia that is triggered each time I receive a notification.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Wrong Number!

Well, if I called the wrong number, why did you answer the phone?
[James Thurber]

When I moved into my house, I had to get a new phone. The local phone company, then part of Sprint, allowed me to pick one so I selected one whose last four digits matched my wife's birthday. She thought that was nice (points made). It turned out it wasn't such a good idea.

A few months, say about 6, before I got that number, it belonged to a wholesale used auto parts company. That's a euphemism for "junkyard". We found this out when we began getting calls from people looking for all sorts of used auto parts. Five to ten a week. One of the two phone books available here still had the company's number listed in its "yellow pages". After awhile, I was getting peeved at all the calls but realized that it wasn't the callers' fault so I tried not to take it out on them.

Because I live in a seasonal area, a place where people come for the winter months, calls increase during those months. I get a lot of people who call using old phone books. I put up with that for the first year. But we are on our third phone book since having that number so that is no longer excusable. I usually respond with:

"[The company name] has been out of business for over two years, it's time you got a new phone book."

That sometimes gets an angry response from the caller. Understandable, I suppose. I don't care. I even argued, briefly, with one gentleman who tried to tell me his phone book was recent... until I made him tell me what year was on the cover.

Some callers seem to think I am at fault for not being the company they were calling. Those people often get a rude response from me. One guy claimed that the owner of that company owed him money. He got an earful when he got belligerent. The truly annoying ones are the business service companies whose reps act like they are old buddies of "Scott" (the former owner of the company). They get blasted... unmercifully.

The owner of the business was pretty savvy, even put his business info out onto the internet. I curse him almost daily for that. I sometimes fantasize about providing his home phone number to those internet sites who list the business.

It has been well over two years now since the company went out of business and we still get the occasional call for them. I am no longer polite. I am angry. I have found that the internet is becoming my worst enemy. It is a constant, frustrating, battle to get the various internet sites to de-list the company. They ignore my emails, the ones who have phone numbers ignore the voice messages I leave. Even when I get the number of listings down to nothing new sites providing business listings pop up and list the old company.

I just went after 3 internet listing companies, for a total 7 sites. They have different domain names but they are all run by the same companies. One of them had only a phone number. So I called it, politely explained the problem, and suggested all they had to do was confirm my information by looking me up on Anywho or by trying to find the company the same way. I asked him where his company got the listing. He claimed the phone company sells them. Since I have the number, had worked in the telecom business for 34 years, and checked on this, I know the phone company wasn't selling it as that business listing anymore. Possibly to telemarketers as a residence but not as that company.

There is a media company nearby, affiliated with a TV station and a newspaper. They have a business listing service on their web site. It had the company listed, along with my phone number. I have been emailing them and calling their Sales Manager (who never answers his phone) and leaving voice mail asking them to remove the listing since this last summer. It was still there two days ago. I called the sales line, like I wanted to advertise through them. The poor guy who answered the line got an explanation of why I was calling and that I wanted to speak with a supervisor. I think he could tell I wasn't very happy.

He forwarded me to his boss and I explained to her the situation. She gave me her full name and seemed happy to help me out until she told me it might take some time. I told her she had 24 hours. I told her how long I had been trying to get her idiot company to remove the listing and I said, again, she had 24 hours. I used my "angry" voice. She said I didn't need to be rude. I said I had been fielding calls for an out of business company for two years because of idiots who fail to verify their listings and ignore complaints and that she hadn't heard "rude" from me yet but would if the number was still there in 24 hours. She said she would get right on it. It is gone now.

I am sure there is some company out there selling CDs full of company business listings and one day I will find them. Then the fur will really fly.

The only recourse I have left is to change my phone number. And there is no guarantee that the next number I get will be likely to be free of similar problems. Besides, I am even having a little fun with the callers.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Time for an Oil Change

I have to take my car in for an oil change today. Routine maintenance. When I was young, we were supposed to change the oil every 1000 miles. Few did, we mostly went 2000 miles. A few years ago, the auto makers suggested 6000 miles and most dealers (and quick oil change places) suggested 3000 miles, they still do. Now my car manual says once every year or 22,000 miles, whichever comes first. So, I try to change it around 6000 miles.

Well, let's be honest, I have it changed. I don't do it myself anymore. I'm too old to be crawling around under my car. And too lazy. Now I complain about sitting around in the service center's waiting room. Can anyone tell me why they have to be so uncomfortable? The chairs are left over from some nightmare of a fast food restaurant, the magazines are two year old People and US issues, and the TV (if it works) is showing a very fuzzy broadcast of a rerun of a Jerry Springer show with the sound turned off (or not working). You can have coffee, free, if you like it really old. Or pay $1 for a tiny bag of stale potato chips.

And it only takes an hour to do that 15 minute job. Unless they forget you told them you'd wait then it takes two hours; the one hour you waited and the additional hour after you reminded them you were waiting.

I am really looking forward to this. But I am bringing a book and my own coffee.

Addendum: It is now two hours later and I am back. It took a little over an hour to do that 15 minutes of work because they found a nail in my left rear tire. If I had changed my own oil, I would not have found that... until the tire got real low.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Sky is Falling!

Everyone knows the story of Chicken Little (aka "Henny Penny") who tried to warn her coop mates when an acorn landed on her head. Well, she was wrong and the usual moral we get from that story is "Don't believe everything you hear" and/or "don't jump to conclusions".

We fret and stress about the economy, the morals of our children, politics, bad movies, blasphemous "art", and Global Warming but none of that is important in the greater context of the world's destruction by an asteroid.

"Earth's geological and biological history is punctuated by evidence of repeated and devastating impacts from space. Sixty-five million years ago, an asteroid impact caused the extinction of the dinosaurs along with some 70% of Earth's living species. A more typical recent impact was the 1908 Tunguska Event, a 3-5 megaton explosion which destroyed 2,000 square kilometers of Siberian forest. A future asteroid collision could have disastrous effects on our interconnected human society. The blast, fires, and atmospheric dust produced could cause the collapse of regional agriculture, leading to widespread famine. Ocean impacts like the Eltanin event (2.5 million years ago) produce tsunamis which devastate continental coastlines. Asteroid 99942 Apophis, which has a 1-in-45,000 chance of striking Earth in 2036, would generate a 500-megaton (MT) blast and inflict enormous damage."

Read more... (warning: you will need Adobe reader)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Random Thoughts

A random thought is a concept I cannot seem to flesh out sufficiently to make a full blog post.

A long drive down an empty road, straight or winding, can put my mind at ease. But traffic ties it into knots.

The best revenge is to smile and forgive.

After I die, I am going to be cremated. There are two reasons for this. First, I think it's a waste of land to be buried. I worry about that. As a young boy, my family would drive into New York and pass by a cemetery that seemed to be larger than the town I lived in. I wondered where we would bury all the rest of us. Second, that way no one can piss on my grave.

I always wonder if the people supporting one party really think their opposites will take their advice about how to run a campaign or improve their image.

My first wife and I used to argue all the time. After a couple of years, I figured out how to cut any argument short. I simply said, "You're right" without any sincerity at all. It drove her nuts.

Newton's Third Law of Motion could easily be applied to human interaction if it weren't for free will and compassion. These divert and diffuse, respectively.

I write because I cannot paint. I add graphics because words fail me.

My desks, like my mind, are messy and cluttered. I'd like to be organized but when I try it, I always feel like I am missing something.

I am smart, according to tests I have taken. The problem with that is that I can recognize what an idiot I can be at times.

We are all suffering from an incurable, fatal, disease. It's called life.

If you could have immortality but it required that you transfer all your consciousness into a computer where you would live in a virtual reality but would be able to communicate with the biological world, would you opt for it? I'm not sure I would. I mean, would it really be me? Or would it be a facsimile of the me at that last moment? How would I know?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

More On Brand Loyalty

There's a phenomenon where a chick, upon hatching, fixates on the first thing it sees. It believes the object, animal, or person, is its mother apparently and follows it around. Well, we do that too, to some extent. We identify with people (family, friends, lovers) and become attached to them. We identify with pets also. Some treat them as substitute children and dote on them. We also do this with objects. We love our cars, they become an extension of our personalities. Advertisers use this in their trade. They do their best to make us identify with the product. In some cases, with some people, they are extremely successful. They call these people "brand loyal". I won't tell you what I call them.

Yesterday I published a little screed that was about commercials and why they might be designed to annoy. In the process, I played a little game of my own. I intentionally tweaked a nerve. In so doing, I managed to make some people completely ignore over half of the post and concentrate on one thing.

I mentioned the Mac.

Just as one might say a Rolls Royce is the ultimate luxury car, perhaps the finest car on the market, it is just a car. Perhaps the Maserati is more your style. A fine piece of Italian machinery. But it, too, is just a car. The discerning car buyer purchases the automobile that he can afford which best suits his needs. It is the man who wants to show off, to "prove" his superiority, that buys something way beyond his needs. Does a Cadillac get you to the mall any faster or better than that Chevrolet Impala or Ford Taurus? Not really. Neither does the Rolls Royce, the Bentley, or the Maserati.

I have known people who would never even look at a Ford when shopping for a new car. Some who buy them every time they want a new car. I know some who adore GM, some who swear by their Toyota.

In the end, the car is merely transportation. All else is just window dressing for the ego.

It is that way for computers. You purchase one based on your needs, not based on your identity. Okay, maybe you don't. But I do. I buy things because they suit my needs, not for bragging rights or to impress. I do not spend my money on things in order to enhance my image (public or self). All I need the computer to do is allow me to type into it (simple word processing), surf the internet (run browser software), and allow me to play a few games that entertain me. I do no engineering or design work. I don't do any animation or create movies. My computer is a machine, a tool, which I use to do certain tasks. It is not an extension of my personality. It is not my religion.

If you wish to pay 3 to 4 times what I paid for my last computer, go right ahead. If it makes you feel smarter or superior then, by all means, do it. But think about this...

If you are really superior, or smarter, why would you care what computer I buy?
Because you know something? I really don't care what computer you own.

Monday, December 1, 2008

And now a word from our sponsor...

Someone, somewhere, ranted about stupid commercials. Since I understand that commercials are not simply slapped together and tossed out without any thought, I took a bit of an issue with the term "stupid commercials". They are not stupid, not even close, but carefully crafted productions designed to induce you to remember the product name. If they fail to do that then you might call them stupid, I'd say they were just failures; somewhere, somehow, the planning went astray.

If you look into commercials and advertising, you will find that advertising firms spend a long time on each commercial and ad. They research the product, they develop strategies, they plan campaigns with more skill than most generals. They do polling on the target consumer; colors, words, graphics. They hire psychologists who help them choose all of the above and guide them on content. They hire top-notch directors to film commercials and renowned artists and photographers to design the print ads. No, nothing stupid about advertising.

Yes, some do bomb. But not because they were just slapped together and no one tried to figure out what would capture the consumers' attention. Some commercials are definitely annoying and seemingly stupid. They are that way by design. For instance, look at the Head-On commercials. Poor cinematography, blaring sound, and annoying repetition. Seems stupid but it gets the product almost burned into your brain so the next time you get a headache, or at the store looking for headaches, you will remember.

Years ago there was a series of commercials with a supermarket worker named "Mr. Whipple". The commercial was for a product called Charmin, a toilet paper. Mr. Whipple, who looked like the stereotypical store employee in his work apron, would pop up looking frustrated and angry while he castigated women shoppers (and the occasional child) for squeezing the packages of toilet paper rolls. The phrase "Please don't squeeze the Charmin" leaked into the public consciousness and became a part of the culture. The commercials were annoying because Whipple was annoying. But they worked.

All of which brings me to my vote for most annoying commercial. The Mac vs PC ad series. What bugs me about them is the snobbery inherent to the Mac guy. The PC guy is the one you are supposed to laugh at, of course, but he is also a bit lovable. The nerdy geek with a kind of silly charm. The Mac guy is supposed to be casually cool; the guy that always managed to glide through school and had the most fun; the guy who was the life of every party; the guy who the girls all thought was cute. I always hated those guys. I'm sure it was out of envy but I don't care. I always wanted them to trip over their shoelaces or spill their pudding on their shirts at lunch or some other dumb thing. So why would he ever induce me to buy a Mac? How could a guy who always managed to make the girl I was trying to impress go all googly-eyed sell me on anything? Even though I know he played a credible Trekkie-style geek named Brandon in Galaxy Quest.

And that is why I won't be buying a Mac anytime soon.