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.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Retirement Circus

I am starting to understand why some people do not retire. No, I am not getting bored or feeling unnecessary. I am getting frustrated. Aggravated. Intensely angry at the treatment by the company who bought out my former company and by the company/companies which handle the administration of my retirement and benefits.

Next month (November), for a period of some 14 days, I will have the opportunity to choose a different health coverage option then my current one. If there is an alternative option. There might be. There are indications that there might be. But I don't know for sure because...

I don't have all the information.

I don't have that information because they have not sent it to me. They have not sent it to me because... well, I don't know why.

They believe that I am an "eBenefits Participant". No, that wasn't a typo. there is a lower case "e" in front of the upper case "B". I know this because I received a postcard in the mail (US Mail, "snailmail", USPS, etc) calling me that.

I have never received one email from the company or the companies handling the administration of my retirement benefits since my retirement. I have never been able to log in to any retirement website.

But because I really disliked the health plan, administered by Aetna, that was dumped on me two years ago when SBC took over ATT (and started using that name) I decided I had best see if I had some choice in the matter.

Now, my choices are always going to be limited. I live in a small town and I may be the only ATT retiree in the county. So my health plan may not be known to the medical folks around here. I can expect that. I suspected I might have trouble when the last time I called Aetna for information about what doctors were in my network, they couldn't find my ZIP code and had no idea what, or where, Sebring was.

So, I go to the web site suggested in that postcard. I find I cannot log in. Probably because I have never logged in before. But, oddly enough, I could not establish a log in because they had some information about me they had somehow gathered from the ether. I located an email contact where I could request assistance and emailed my plea for assistance.

They complied with a reset of my password and left me to guess at my login. But I eventually figured it out and got logged in. This was a "Global Login" which turned out to not be so global. It got me into a page from which I could presumably link to other web pages where I could get information about my health benefit options and choices.

But I had to log into those. With a different login. I found the right login name (different than my first one) but had no idea what the password might be. Surprisingly, I was told I didn't have one. Password, that is. And then I managed to register for what may have been the first time.

Yet, after registering and logging in, I found I had a profile. In that profile, I found I had an "other email address" which was the one I had before retiring and moving here (ie, three years old!). I had no "preferred email address" nor could I find a way to add it (though I was informed that I could do so while viewing my profile). They did have my current, correct, postal address.

Anyway, within these web pages, I was continually told I could review my choices for health coverage for 2010 and even get a glimpse of how I would be entering any changes, if I so chose to change anything. But that never materialized. Each link would take me to another page which had no information except generalized info but which would offer me a link to another page which they promised would provide the stuff I needed. Except those links either brought me back to the original page or reported a Page Not Found error.

I sent off another email to another email address asking for assistance and was directed to a toll free number and the first web site address.

Any bets on which path I will take?

Friday, October 30, 2009

A Benefit of Reverse Psychology

I notice some things seem to have the opposite effect than what was intended. When I was a teen, I found that dates with girls whose parents were strict and watched over them like hawks was likely to be the most enjoyable. These girls were screaming inside to do the things their parents said were "wrong." And I was very willing to assist them in their goals.

Risk taking seems to add to the pleasure of any undertaking. And anything taboo carries a guarantee of risk. This is the real story behind Adam and Eve and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Not the Fall of Man but that temptation starts with the word "don't" (ok, maybe two words... "do not"... I refuse to quibble).

As parents, we quickly learn that telling a child "no!" doesn't really work. It just makes the child more determined to do... or touch... or eat... whatever it is that the "no!" was for.

And now? Now when someone tells me I need this, or that, or some other thing, I immediately decide I do not.

I have found this attitude has been most useful during this downturn. Salesmen can be easily turned away. Commercials can be ignored (not that I watch many of those since I got that DVR).

And the other thing I have learned? The more you do not want something someone is selling, the more they will lower the price to get you to buy it.

Life is sweet.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Turn it off!

When you Google "cell phones", you get around 78.5 Million hits. They are everywhere. Most are duplicates and "buy it here" links... with one important exception.

Cell Phones on Hip May Weaken Bone

Hmmmm... if it weakens hip bones, maybe it also weakens skulls. Perhaps while frying the brain inside.

What else explains the behavior of the cell phone user?

Not so many years ago, it seems to me anyway, we had no cell phones. We barely had cordless phones in our home that could be used beyond the back or front door. A few brave (and rich) souls had "car phones" (which were really radio telephones).

The cell phone industry in the US started up in the years following the breakup of ATT though it got its start in Japan and then Europe a bit before that. A great convenience, they started proliferating. Like rabbits in Australia. Like Tribbles.

They are now virtually everywhere you'd rather they weren't. In restaurants, on golf courses, in the hands of teenagers, in the hands of bad drivers everywhere, even in restrooms.

They have shrunk from large, clumsy devices that required a large briefcase to conceal and carry and morphed into units the size of credit cards and almost as thin.

While the sound quality has improved, it still is terrible compared to land lines. Yet we pay more for the service. In the 70's, we complained that there was static on the line. Outrageous! When it cost $8 a month for flat-rate service! (San Diego, CA) Unbelievable!

So, a couple of decades later, people are paying by the minute, racking up $200+ monthly phone bills, getting barely audible connections, and dropped calls, and they are ecstatic because they can have a conversation while not paying attention to driving.

And, now, there is nowhere one can avoid the blasted things. We have to be subjected to one half of conversations (usually spoken quite loudly) in restaurants, at sporting events, while walking down the street, and at the golf course. People get these little Bluetooth thingies latched onto their ears and walk about jabbering. We used to be able to identify the nutcases by that behavior. Not anymore, could be a businessman, or a lawyer, or a nutcase.

And they have added features. First, it was games and then internet access and then, of course, an MP3 player was built in... and texting (don't get me started on texting!)

And now you can get turn by turn instructions on how to reach your quarry while harrassing them on the phone (See Nuvifone).

Well, turn them off!

Back when we had only those land lines, we could take off for the day and the world didn't come to an end because we missed a chance to chat with a friend, business associate, or an enemy for a few hours. It was expected that we might be out of touch from time to time.

Turn it off! Unhook the leash! Give those of us who do not want to listen to your conversions a little peace. Give yourself a little peace.

I feel like such a Luddite.

But in a Good Way.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Time on my hands

If time were not a moving thing
and I could make it stay
This hour of love we share would
always be, there’d be no coming day
to shine a morning light to make us
realize our night is over.

["It's Over", 1966, Jimmie Rodgers]

Clocks. I have a dozen clocks in my house. I have a clock in the microwave, in the oven, on the wall in the living room, in each computer (4, counting the laptop), even the phones show the time in their little CID displays.

None of them agree. Oh, the ones in the phones all agree with each other but that's it. The rest are a minute or two, or more, different.

I don't like clocks. Never have. I have had wristwatches, still do, but I cannot stand to wear them. So the two I have now sit in my nightstand drawer. And they don't agree with each other either.

Yet, I often need to depend on clocks. I mean, I have to be somewhere at a certain time. An appointment, a tee time, dinner with friends, various important things. So I do need to know what time it is. But how accurate does it have to be?

What does it matter if the clock I look at is off by 5 minutes? Since I always allow plenty of time to spare, it won't make me late. Yeah, I am that guy. The one who is always there early. On the other hand, I am often found sitting in my car in the parking lot waiting 5 or 10 minutes for the store to open.

So it annoys me, too.

My clocks are the most accurate twice a year. In the Spring and the Fall. When we set them back or forward one hour. Which is a bit stupid when you think about it.

I mean, that's all about saving daylight. Really? The sun provides that daylight and the length of time the sun is shining on any part of the world depends upon where the earth is in its orbit around the sun. It's not like you are changing that by adjusting clocks and disrupting sleep patterns.

So, come Sunday my clocks will all agree... mostly... again.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Charade

I just got through reading an interesting Reuters' article on Kim Jong Il of North Korea that says, essentially, that he is “crazy like a fox.” The theory is that he is not actually crazy but that he wants everyone to think he is. That theory, based on Game Theory, says he acts like he does in order to keep his perceived enemies off balance and willing to believe his threats are credible.

The purpose of this is to exert more power than he actually has when it comes to negotiations with foreign powers, especially those in the West (which is actually east of him, oddly).

An interesting theory.

Ever watch those poker tournaments on TV? The game is all about projecting an image, fooling your opponents into thinking you have more or less than they do, and seeing through their own ruses.

Do we do this in everyday life? Do all of us do this at one point or another in our lives, maybe more often than we realize?

I think we do. I think we learn to do it at a very early age. And that it is a useful tool.

Salespeople use it all the time, of course. They are expected to.

It is used by people meeting for the first time. Especially when looking for someone to date. You establish an image, a facade, that you think will attract the type of person you wish to impress. Expensive clothes, for example, project the image of success and prosperity. A nice car, the name casually mentioned in conversation. These help in certain places with certain people. They can be handicaps in other places, like a “grunge” bar.

We do it when applying for a job.

We did it in high school in order to fit in with whatever crowd we thought we'd like. I watched people change like chameleons as they drifted from clique to clique in high school.

We sometimes do it because we do not like who we think we are and think others will not like that person either.

At the same time, those who know us best say, “Just be yourself!”

After awhile, you begin to wonder who that is.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Of Cabbages and Kings

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--
And why the sea is boiling hot--
And whether pigs have wings."

I was having an intellectual exchange of ideas with another blogger via email. Not especially weighty matters but still some intensity involved. Philosophical differences. After the last exchange, I started thinking about that and blogging and philosophy and wisdom and so on.

It's what many of us do when we blog. Some of us do not realize it, thinking we are just trying to entertain, but impart wisdom just the same. We learn lessons from each other while learning about different parts of the world or country, about different cultures and backgrounds.

There is Braja, who teaches us about India and Yoga and life. And entertains us so easily while doing so.

There is Pearl, who spins stories about her adventures in commuting by bus or dealing with those things that arise in families or neighborhoods or at work. And makes us laugh at the same time. Pearl could have named her blog "Pearls of Wisdom" but that might have been too obvious and serious. She chose a much better name.

There is Inspector Clouseau (nee "the Logistician") whose blogs probes culture and intellectual matters that we should all consider from time to time.

There is Miles Per Hour who gives us great insights into relationships.

And Michael, young and adventurous and full of teenage angst, now in London (or thereabouts) for university, fresh from Hong Kong and promising us some lessons in anthropology.

Alan gives us visual stimulation reflecting on human oddities and foibles.

And way too many to mention here. Just browse my blog roll to the right or the blog roll on any blog. So much talent, so many brilliant minds.

We have moms and dads, small business folks and entrepreneurs, and all sorts of people giving us glimpses of life as they see it.

We read these blogs and giggle, snicker, and guffaw. We feel sadness and sympathy. Shake our heads at the apathy and indifference described.

And then there's me. Who am I to talk about the right and wrong of things? I am not rich, or famous, or even infamous. I have not accomplished great things nor am I likely to. I am not especially witty or clever. Some might say I could even do away with the "especially".

I have just drifted through life, enjoying my journey as much as possible, making the almost catastrophic mistake from time to time along with the little errors in judgment we are all subject to. I am not especially witty or clever nor great with prose. I have no special wisdom to impart. I have no great stories full of drama and pathos and humor.

Still, that doesn't keep me from trying. Sometimes too pompously. Sometimes unclearly. Wondering if people get the point. Wondering if I get the point. Wondering if there is a point.

There is, you know. A point. At least I hope so.

But I did get Fran's computer up and running and got her connected, once again, to the internet.

And I did find this for your amusement...,0,5437321.story

Introduced in the United States two years ago, electronic cigarettes are no longer a novelty item but a popular option for many smokers -- especially those who want to quit. Inhaling on the cigarette-shaped device activates a built-in battery, which heats up a mixture of water, nicotine and propylene glycol to give the "smoker" a vapor hit of the addictive substance found in cigarettes -- but without the smoke. It even lights up at the other end, mimicking the tip of a cigarette.

I wonder if they make a pipe? I think I'd look good with a pipe.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

A Time of Reflection and Contemplation

In the Boston Globe today there was an article regarding a sex offender freed by a judge and who later perpetrated a violent attack on a female worker at Massachusetts General Hospital. Underlying it are questions about the Fourth Amendment, societal safety, and human nature.

Freed by Judge, sex offender goes after MGH worker

On the Google News page, under the "Spotlight" header, there's a link (and teaser) to an article at It was written by Susan Klebold, mother of Dylan Klebold. Dylan Klebold was one of the two teens who wreaked such devastation at Columbine High School 10 years ago.

I Will Never Know Why

Maybe somehow related is Part Three of a series called "Held By The Taliban", found at entitled "You Have Atomic Bombs, But We Have Suicide Bombers".

Held by Taliban, Part Three

I think these are all related. Somehow. I cannot yet articulate the relationship but I strongly feel it is there.

I suspect it may be that we all live inside our own skulls. And we cannot really know what is going on in others' skulls, can we?

Quick update on that computer setup project:

The computer came with no manual. No oddly worded manual explaining what gets plugged where, no warnings about electrical shock, pages of glowing prose about what a great choice I made in purchasing the product, no elaborate step by step procedure. Just a single sheet of glossy paper that said, essentially...

1. Plug it in.
2. Turn it on.
3. Follow the prompts. several languages, including English.

So, not knowing what else to do and knowing where to plug in monitors, keyboards, and mice, I proceeded to move the cables from her old computer to the new one. Step 1 completed.

Then, I turned it on. Step 2 completed.

I followed the prompts (of which there were only a few). Step 3 partially completed. I say "partially" because I still have to get her hooked up to the internet which will require answering a few more prompts which I had deferred.

That's it. It worked. No frustration, no aggravation, no confusion.

How odd.

Friday, October 23, 2009

A New Arrival

A few days ago, Faye and I ordered a new computer for Frances. Frances is Faye's sister and she lives with us here in pseudo-paradise. She had been using a "hand-me-down", an old Win98 machine of mine I replaced with a Vista machine some time ago. This new one has Windows 7 installed, a rather large HD, and should be quite useful to her. Even though she primarily uses it to play mindless games. Much like the rest of us.

I will also get her hooked up to the internet because I have finally figured out what I have been doing wrong. Maybe. Or not.

The machine arrived today.

Therefore, the rest of my day will be eaten up with setting up this new machine and getting some files moved over to it.

I look forward to this. Honest. Primarily because I will get a chance to see what Windows 7 is like. But also because I am a masochist who enjoys the frustration and tedium that comes with setting up a new Windows based computer. If I didn't, I would have gotten her an Apple of some kind.

Maybe tomorrow I will regale you all with my trials and tribulations or bore you with how easy it was. Or some combination thereof.

Now, where did I put those blank DVDs?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Saving a Little Cash

I was going to write about the difference between men and women today. But I got sidetracked and, besides, it can be summed up quite easily...

Men are simple, women are complex.

Let's just leave it at that.

Instead, I want to offer you something. There is something we do in this household that maybe a lot of you do yourselves. (Other than that, get your minds out of the gutter... or the bedroom) We toss our spare change into a coffee can we keep in the closet. Then, about once every month or so, we (and by "we", I mean Faye) take the accumulated change to our credit union where they happily (presumably) count it up for us and exchange it for paper money or it deposit it in our meager account. It has gotten (or is that "got"?) to the point where I carry no coins at all unless I am expecting to pay cash and then I pick up a nickle, a couple of dimes, a quarter, and 4 pennies* off the top of my dresser. Every so often, I clear all but a few coins (including 4 pennies) off that dresser and toss it all in that coffee can.

By the way, I swear by credit unions. I used to swear by savings and loan institutions but that was before the debacle back in the 80's. If you have a credit union near you (and you do), join it. Before they, too, are ruined by greed and government regulation (or lack thereof) and mergers.

Back to my offering. My nephew, who shall remain nameless at this point, sent me a book by one Neil Boortz. If you know who he is, please ignore it for the moment. Who he is is unimportant. It's what he wrote in one chapter of that book that I want to talk about.

The Dollar Bill Savings Program.

It's simple. It is just like that change in the coffee can thing except the can weighs less and is worth more. You come home at the end of the day and put your extra dollar bills in the can and then forget about them. But there is a bit more to it. During the day, you use nothing smaller than a $5 bill to pay for stuff. When you get change, you stick the singles in a different pocket (or part of your purse if you are of that persuasion) than the usual one. When you get home, the dollar bills get stuck in that can, or in a shoe box, or whatever you have designated as the storage.

Boortz suggests you wait until the end your second month before emptying the depository and then monthly after that. This is to show you how much that adds up.

I like this idea.

There is another thing I like to do and that is have a "cash stash." I started doing this while living in San Diego. It worked two ways. One was I would put away $20 in my dresser drawer each payday. Just take a $20 bill (or two $10's) and stuff it under my semi-neatly folded underwear on payday (which was Thursdays at the time) when I got home. When I started doing direct deposit, I would withdraw my weekly cash on the way home and do it.

Later, I began sticking a $50 or $100 in a odd place in my wallet before heading to Las Vegas. This meant, no matter what happened in Vegas (which stayed in Vegas along with most of my money), I would still have gas money to drive home on or taxi money for when I got off the plane. Being slightly frugal, even in Vegas, I usually found I didn't need that "stash" to help me get home. But it would come in handy at other times. Like for that new golf club...

* The four pennies means I do not have to get any additional pennies in change.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Tolerance and Me

I have posted a couple of items about prejudice and bias. And, because of something I recently read elsewhere, I thought I would address the subject again. From a slightly different angle.

Tolerance. There are a number of definitions for the word but, for our purposes here, these from will suffice:

1. a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one's own; freedom from bigotry.
2. a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward opinions and practices that differ from one's own.
3. interest in and concern for ideas, opinions, practices, etc., foreign to one's own; a liberal, undogmatic viewpoint.
4. the act or capacity of enduring; endurance: My tolerance of noise is limited.

There is one more, which my brother-in-law made me aware of. He was a career officer in the US Army and he had a peer who was black (or, if you prefer, African-American). This black officer, he says, once told him he did not like the concept of tolerance as it used in terms of viewing minorities. It seems he viewed tolerance as toleration which implies the allowance or sufferance of conduct with which one is not in accord.

In other words, it perpetuated the idea that someone, a member of a minority, was inferior.

I am not often impressed with my brother-in-law. And he is not what I would call tolerant in terms of the first 4 definitions. But this story is one I happened to like and the lesson one with which I agree. When we speak of being tolerant, we ought to agree on what it means.

While doing a little research (being lazy, I only do a little research), I came across a method of testing for bias on the website. So, of course I took the offered test.

At first, I was a little surprised at the results. After all, I consider myself fairly tolerant in terms of the first four definitions I offered. And, especially, when it comes to religion (which this test was concerned with). Mentally, I took issue with the methodology used. After all, testing methods can biased in their own way and reflect certain feelings the test-maker holds. But, after more consideration, I decided it was not so far out of line and its methodology might be useful in determining sub-conscious tendencies.

I won't reveal the results of my test but I will say it gave me pause.

I recommend it to anyone who is curious about his or her own feelings and about whether he or she really knows what they are. This link will take you to the test...

You might be surprised at the results.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Shopping Trip

Any day you wake up is a Good Day. Well, that's the way I see it anyway. I have to presume that since I have not ever, to my knowledge, been dead.

And today was definitely good. I had to make a Wal-Mart run (which can go either way) and I figured, since there is an inexpensive car wash on the way, I'd get the car washed while I am out.

Imagine my surprise when my usual " $5 basic car wash" turned out to be only $3. I like it when that happens. Anytime I can save a buck or two, I leap at the chance. But it is especially sweet when it is unexpected, when you just fall into a bargain. As opposed to falling in a hole.

I do not look forward to shopping trips. I dislike parking lots. I especially dislike crowded parking lots and Wal-Mart always has a crowded parking lot. As hated as Wal-Mart seems to be, it is very, very popular. Yet, I found a space not too far from the doors near the grocery section. Amazing.

Our local store has a nasty habit of moving things around. Wherever you found something the week before, you can be reasonably sure it will be somewhere else today. Not to mention that whatever it is you came for will be out of stock.

Today was no exception. I wanted Gatorade. The original type, not the blue or red or orange, the one that looks the same going out as it did coming in. Lemon-lime. In the handy 20 oz plastic bottles. In an 8 pack.

Not there. All the other colors/flavors but no lemon-lime. Bummer. I did find the larger bottles and bought two of those to mollify me.

We found all the other things we wanted with one unimportant exception and most were near where they had been the last time I was there.

More evidence of a Good Day.

I noted when I arrived back at the car that no nicks, no dings, no scratches had been added to the exterior.

I can die happy now.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Ways that Golf is Like Life

The Born Loser

How you start out can affect the rest of the game but you will have numerous chances to make up for your mistakes.

The rules do not allow for "do overs", you must adjust for your mistakes as you go forward. (that's right, mulligans aren't legal)

There are traps and hazards along the way that you must avoid.

There is an out-of-bounds area which, if you cross into it, will cost you heavily.

The path/course is not hard to follow but you often find yourself straying from it.

It's not hard to get lost in the woods.

It is a series of goals.

Success is measured in personal terms.

There are standards to follow.

Even though others may be watching, you are the only one who can make sure you follow the rules.

It seems so simple but is actually very complex.

It is much easier when you are young and strong.

It has moments of great pleasure and satisfaction randomly spaced among the frustration and angst.

Your fate is in your own hands.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

I Dunno

I am a pretty smart guy. At least, I like to think so. According to the teachers I have known throughout the years, my IQ score is above average. Far enough above to impress them, apparently. They would tell me this repeatedly. It almost was the standard introduction to whatever lecture on my behavior I was about to receive. And I received quite a number of them throughout the years I tolerated school. I also received a few outside of school (both before and after I left it behind).

I came to the conclusion some years ago that I was a Brilliant Idiot.

All that means is I could learn but chose not to use that learning for Good, for the benefit of myself or others. According to certain of these others. And, sometimes, according to me. I also like to describe this as meaning "I test well."

Throughout my early life, like any kid, I got into trouble from time to time. The question that was most often posed at those times by adults was "Why?"

The answer I most often gave (like any kid) was "I don't know." (by the way, that was always pronounced as a single three syllable word... "aye-dun-no") And I didn't know. At least not in any way that made sense to me (at that moment) or would make sense to an adult (at any moment).

The real answer was almost always "It seemed like a good idea at the time."

And that's how we all get in trouble, isn't it? We do stuff that seems "like a good idea at the time" and which, way too often, turns out to have been not so good. Like my first marriage. Like some investments. Like seeing if my `55 Buick would do 100MPH on that stretch of road that really didn't have enough room to slow down before arriving at the traffic light at the end of it. Like driving my Studebaker onto the beach one night. Like punching that window. Or petting that German Shepherd.

Or the hundred (or more) other stupid things I have done over the years.

I have found that we do less of those stupid things over the years. I suspect that it is not because we get smarter but because we get less impulsive.

We're just as dumb as we ever were. We just get less in a hurry to prove it.


Friday, October 16, 2009

Reflections on a Friday Afternoon

I don't have any ideas to write about today. And I am tired. Pleasantly tired because I played golf and did not make a fool of myself doing it. In fact, I played well (not great, just "well"). But tired nonetheless. It is difficult to be creative when one is tired, isn't it? I mean, it is hard enough being creative (or faking it, as I do) when you have a lot of energy to burn.

And, right now, I have no energy at all.

So I'll ramble.

I wonder if you, like me, were almost mesmerized by the saga of the balloon flight yesterday. It was real life drama. Was there a 6 year-old boy in the little space at the bottom of the balloon? Would the balloon crash into something? When would it come down?

Was it a hoax?

I knew almost immediately after the balloon came down that the boy was not in it. It was clear from the struggle they had opening it. If it was secured that well, how could a 6 year old have opened it and then secured it? A bit before that, I began to notice the balloon was not acting like it had 35-40 pounds of ballast in the little area at the bottom. So I was already suspicious.

All through it I wondered how this tethered balloon could have gotten loose.

But was it planned or was it just a publicity opportunity taken when the balloon got away?

We'll find out eventually, I suspect.

But we all watched, didn't we? Even the folks on the NYSE floor were captivated, according to Neil Cavuto. Trading didn't stop but people were watching the drama unfold.

I thought it was a great example of how the news media operates. If you watched, there was constant speculation, incorrect "facts", rumors flying about, misinformation and more speculation.

It's why I tend to read the reports made well after the fact. The first reports are almost always wrong. They aren't lies, just wrong. Even well after the event, when all the facts are in, the reports are full of errors, it seems, but much more accurate than in the first few hours (or even days, in some cases).

Makes me wonder about history books.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Idea Zoo

There are so many things to write about that I am sometimes overwhelmed by them. Until I sit down in front of the keyboard, pull up my word processor and then my mind goes as blank as the screen before me. Well, that's not quite correct. the entire screen isn't blank, just the window where I am supposed to type.

I have written about Writer's Block before. So let me continue to bore you with my troubles with it. There are many forms.

In most instances, mine takes the form of "I Have an idea but cannot adequately express it." This is the most frustrating form for me. An idea in my mind is like a caged animal. It wants to get out. It flings itself at the bars, it roars and hisses and snaps with incredibly sharp teeth as I reach to open its cage door. A magnificent creature, I fear it and admire it. I know I am afraid of what it might do if it gets free of confinement but I also want to see all of its power. I open the cage and the tiger becomes a kitten afraid to leave the warmth of the towel tucked in the corner by the bowl of milk.

In other cases, it dashes out with great speed and disappears around a corner and out the door I foolishly left open behind me... never to be seen again. Frustrating because it was exciting and I wasn't fleet enough to keep up with it.

At least it was exciting for a time, it had potential.

The very worst is when I go in that room and examine the cage and there is nothing penned up. Only the emptiness and the lingering scent of previous occupants.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Backstabbers, Scalawags, and Work Credit Thieves

Contrary to popular belief, I was once a person who worked for a living. My ex-wife may argue differently. She thought I disappeared each day for 8 or 9 hours to have fun. She also assumed that, when I worked the midnight shift, that I just slept. After all, that's what she was doing.

It is true, however, that I was not only employed but I did put in several hours a week doing actual work. I started my career (I hesitate to call it that) back in 1970 with Southern Bell That company was later called BellSouth and is now a part of ATT which is really not ATT but a company called SBC (formerly a subsidiary of ATT) which bought ATT and decided to use the name. I could write an entire series of blog posts about the recent history of the phone company known as Ma Bell. But that would be boring. For me. And, I am sure, for you.

One of the first things I learned in the phone company was that someone else will steal credit for work you did. This is somewhat different than "stealing your thunder."

There were two main types of work credit thieves. The first would work with you, usually as a "hanger on" who accomplished nothing of import, and then claim "I repaired that" when the boss showed up. The other was more clever. He would get you to do the work he was assigned and then simply omit your part on the completion report.

I tolerated these folks. You see, I never cared who got the credit so long as the work got done right. And most of the bosses knew who really did the work anyway. These thieves never really fooled anyone. Besides, the more work you got credit for doing, the more work you were expected to do.

On occasion, I would suggest one of the thieves for a project or a needed repair. This meant I did not have to do it and that they would show just how poor their actual work was. Yeah, it was a form of revenge. There was a little danger in this since I could be tapped to clean up any mess left behind. Still, it was often a way of getting a chuckle out of otherwise boring work.

And any chuckle was well worth any possible blowback.

One of my most pleasant memories is of when a notorious work credit thief got promoted and found himself in a staff assignment. He called in one day to complain about how none of his new peers seemed willing to share their ideas or help him on projects.

Needless to say, I was very sympathetic. It was, however, a good thing we did not have a video link in those days.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Bright Shiny Things

Tuesday morning and life goes on. I started out with some interesting ideas about what to write. No, that's not true. I had those ideas last night. Should have written them down. My codger brain doesn't hold things overnight. The stuff just leaks out somehow while I sleep.

I might have recalled some of it but I start reading my email or perusing the news and that just fills up the empty spaces and there's nowhere for the lost ideas to return to.

Sucks getting old.

The rest of this post has some interesting links. I don't know if you, like me, get side-tracked easily but I love to click on links I find on blogs and also open extra tabs to do research on names, events, and phenomena I come across.

I got sidetracked by a story from the Boston Herald which talked about a former college basketball star, Rumeal Robinson, who ended up cheating his adopted mother out of her home in Cambridge and is dealing with federal fraud charges, civil suits, and lack of money to pay for his stripper addiction. Your basic rags to riches to rags story.

That took me to a bunch of blogs that I never knew about, all local to Florida. I realize I am late to this blog thing but is there anyone left who doesn't have one?

I ran across a story about a 15 year-old in Broward County (think Ft. Lauderdale if you don't know that county) who was doused with a flammable liquid and set on fire, allegedly because he interfered with a bicycle theft the day before. The weird part is all I could think of was the boy is 15 and a 7th grader? I have lost my humanity.

I also sidetracked myself with questions about the earth's rotation (and why it does not affect the speed of air travel), the jet streams (which do and what causes them), and other Bright Shiny Things.

Like cracks in nuclear power containment buildings. Lots of jokes could be made about this one.

So, naturally, when I got an email from an old friend about an aqua-car, the Python, I had to check it out.

I'm tired again and ready to go back to bed. But I can't, I have to go see a lawyer at 11 and you cannot be sleepy when talking with lawyers.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Let Me Back Up a Bit

The big story today is about Microsoft subsidiary Danger losing all T-Mobile Sidekick customer data from their servers.

While I sit and ponder the loss of data on a vast scale and wonder just what that means, I also get that nagging feeling that I have not done enough to protect my own data. I suppose it is only natural to have such stories trigger such emotions but I try so hard not to be just another human being. And often disappoint myself.

We all have stories of loss of data at some point in our technological lives. When Faye's hard drive bit the dust very unexpectedly a decade or so ago, it cost us big time to recover the data from it. More than the cost of 2 new large (at the time) hard drives. It taught us a lesson... Important stuff has to be backed up in the Real World also. It is not yet a paperless world.

I had already been backing up various things we stored on our computers but it was haphazard. Mostly just the main programming and not on a regular basis. An annoying chore I often put off.

I am one who has journeyed through the transition from the time when micro-film was cutting edge to Cloud computing's emergence. While it didn't make a cynic of me (I was born one or born to be one, I am unsure) it did nothing to dissuade me from that path.

In the late 60's, Ma Bell looked out upon the digital landscape and murmured "We should do that". She was already moving toward electronic switching systems and away from the old electro-mechanical stuff. Instead of clanking, whirring, humming, clacking mechanical devices connecting and carrying analog sound waves amplified by electricity, all sound would be encoded into bits of digital data and eventually into impulses of light (and across that spectrum) quietly and efficiently sent across the world.

I was a part of that. A small part, mind you, just another cog in the great machine. A rather unimportant one. But one who found a new task at work. Backing up data. We had not really done that before. Oh, we kept multiple copies of customer records but nothing like this. Boxes of daily paper printouts, weekly magnetic tape backups, duplicates of each. We now kept records of what our switching machines were doing.

This is the true legacy of the digital transition. Repetitive redundancy. The world of data had now become more fragile. I am wondering if the first scribes were ordered to make copies of the clay tablets they etched of the king's edicts.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Whither Fido?

I know I said I would no longer be doing a Sunday blog but this is something I had to pass on.

Porky replaces Fido?

For the full story, click on this...

Micro Pigs with a hefty price tag.


Saturday, October 10, 2009

No Catchy Title Here

Saturday, for me, is a day of rest. Well, another day of rest, I suppose, since I don't do much on the other days either. But I play golf on Fridays so Saturday is a recovery day, a day where I use Friday as an excuse a reason for laying about on the couch.

Each day, we should set goals. This gives us a purpose for getting our lazy carcasses out of bed beyond avoiding being wrapped up in the bedding and tossed in the washer. My goal on Saturday (as on most days) is to avoid any effort that could remotely be called "work." I take pride in the fact that I have been overwhelmingly successful in achieving that goal over the years. Even when I was not retired and had to make an appearance at my place of employment on a Saturday.

I did have things to do today. First, I had to finish the last few pages of the third novel in a collection of Raymond Chandler Philip Marlowe mysteries. Second, I had to return that book to the library in order to avoid late fees. Third, write this post. If you are reading this then I have accomplished my goals and I am watching golf or the shows we recorded last night but were too sleepy to watch.

In between, I dropped by the local flea market since it wasn't far from the library. Very disappointing. The 90+ degree weather we persist in having makes any outdoor event less than enticing so the turnout was poor. Poor turnout means fewer vendors to choose from and fewer items to peruse. Aside from having no fleas (again), which I wasn't interested in purchasing anyway, there were no bird feeders to peruse and perhaps purchase.

I am considering putting a bird feeder in the back yard because I noticed the cardinals were flitting about in the three empty lots which abut my property. I am not a bird watcher, I hardly know a thing about birds. My earliest experiences with birds consist of keeping a young woodpecker alive for a few weeks while his leg healed and being attacked by a flock of Blue Jays after rescuing one of them from being trapped under the school fence. Since then, I have only been interested in avoiding being buzzard food.

However, I find I have a strange urge to spy on these birds while they feed. The odds are that the squirrels will steal all the food and wreck any feeder I put out but I am determined to try anyway. If nothing else, I will end up with a tale to tell. I already have a title...

The Saga Of Squirrel Gulch


Friday, October 9, 2009

It's News To Me

I try to avoid politics in this blog. There are a number of reasons for this but the primary one is that it quickly deteriorates into name-calling, accusations, lies, spin, and general mayhem. But I do want to bring up a subject that may tinge upon politics.

News sources.

I stopped getting a daily newspaper many, many years ago. Stopped reading one at work (free there, usually) about 5 years before I retired. And, even when I did read it before that, I limited my reading to the comics and Op-Ed pages (concentrating on a couple of entertaining columnists and on the letters to the editor). At home, I stopped watching network news around 1991. At that point, I came across CNN. I still watched some local news but stopped watching that because it was full of unimportant fluff or national news which I had already seen on CNN. My wife became a Gulf War junkie. I was a little less avid.

I was hooked on KTLA in 1995 with the OJ Simpson trial. Yes, I admit it. I was a Simpson junkie. I watched the trial, I taped what went on while I slept (worked midnight shift) and watched it later. It was a real education, let me tell you. But I could answer almost any question anyone had about the case and the trial. Who the witnesses were, how they were involved, why they were important.

I have since forgotten most of it... so don't ask.

When the internet started growing, I found new sources for news. I also found alternative takes on the news. I found perspectives from foreign countries. I found perplexing differences along with almost sycophantic similarities.

Over the years, I have pared down my sources and now use Google News to filter through the overwhelming number of news sources. I see some bias in Google News. After all, they have to select the top headline and the next few that you see first. They have to decide what will be the primary 5 stories for a category. It is very difficult to prevent some personal perspective from affecting those choices.

Still, I can search through the news articles to find stories about specific subjects or people and this is very useful. I worry, though about the number of blogs that seem to be being used as news sources.

I find myself carefully reading the headers of the news stories. I mean the headers of the web pages. Too many times, I have found myself on an opinion page of a newspaper's online pages. Or reading a blog.

And, after reading, I now tend to do some research on who is reporting, the place the news is about, the people involved, and tangential information that might be referenced as a part of the news story.

In other words, I no longer trust what I read.

I do not see conspiracies, mind you, but I do see laziness. One site reports something, others jump on, and it spreads like wildfire. They say it has "gone viral" in the web. But it may turn out to be completely bogus or mostly untrue. It may be distorted or the result of poor investigation.

I need some new reliable news sources.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On

Some months ago, I wrote about some activity on the Ring of Fire.

Well, there has been more activity of late. A lot. And very powerful activity. Something is going on. All in the region just north of Australia and west toward (and into) Indonesia.

I am not talking about little shakers. I am talking about things in the 7.0 and higher magnitude. And these often produce a side effect called tsunamis. You may have read about one recently in American Samoa.

Now, in that article I wrote back in June I mentioned that I subscribed to a service by the USGS (United States Geological Survey) where they email me about seismic activity. I woke up this morning to find 6 emails about events in the region I described above with magnitudes ranging from 6.9 to 7.8 between about 4:20 PM and 9:15 PM.

That's quite a cluster. And that area had been pretty quiet for awhile. The activity actually started with a couple of quakes (one big, one aftershock of reportable size) near American Somoa on the 29th of September.

We worry about the environmental impact of our own activities; the smog we produced, the levels of CO2, how much trash we are trying to bury, deforesting rainforests, water usage (and pollution), over-fishing, and the like. All of it would mean nothing if something like the Ring of Fire got as active as it once was millions of years ago.

We are a resilient species but our civilizations are very fragile. I don't think they could handle a period where the Ring became very active.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A Special Day

Today is important, a milestone. I am not sure why we humans (I have long given up hope of being something other than that) value such days, celebrate them, rue their passing number, or otherwise give them power, but we do. We call them anniversaries.

As adults past a certain point, we both dread and celebrate anniversaries of our birth date. As children, we always looked forward to them. Much the same happens with jobs; as years go by we celebrate service anniversaries. At first, happy that we may have found a career and, later, wondering if we had taken the right path or worrying about whether we still have enough years ahead to reach our goals (or if we can hang on until we reach that retirement date).

We measure our lives in time. Wedding anniversaries, high school and/or college reunions, the age of our children, our cars, our houses (our mortgages!). We marvel at long lasting marriages, long careers, and hope we can do the same. When we do, we look back with a warm glow (hopefully, at least without regret) at how far we've come.

We take these moments, these special days, to look back and wonder if we we made the right choices. We look back and wonder how so much time seemed to pass so quickly.

And vow to savor the coming years.

It has been one year since I introduced myself here...

A most enjoyable year that has brought me new friends, knowledge, comfort, and joy.


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Invisible Man

I have a superpower. I can become invisible. Less so than I did when I was young but I can still do it. The problem is that I could never control it.

Before you start thinking "Douglas has consumed a bit too many adult beverages", let me explain about this superpower.

I first noticed it when I was in my teens. I would walk into a dance, or a party, or a classroom and no one would notice. I'd walk down the hall at school and have to dodge people constantly, even those looking directly at me as they walked. It wasn't all the time, of course, just randomly. I know what you are thinking, that this happens to all of us from time to time. Other people are simply involved with other things and don't notice you. I thought so, too. For awhile. I also thought I just tended to blend in with the background. So average, so bland.

In the Navy, it was understandable. Most of the time, you are entirely un-unique. Large groups of people are dressed the same, few stand out. And, when they do, it's because of size, rank, or trappings. There is a reason for all the gold braid, the flags on cars, maybe even the shiny buttons on the officers' uniforms. Among the enlisted, there is virtually no difference. You are simply a drop in the ocean.

But I began to notice it when I was in civilian clothes and later when I was a civilian. I still thought I was just blending in. Or being deliberately ignored because I was scruffy, bearded, and long haired.

It was at restaurants that I began to realize what was really happening. Being not exactly overflowing with money, I patronized cafes and chain restaurants. You are rarely seated at these places, you just pick a table and sit. A waitress or waiter drops by and hands you a menu, maybe along with a glass of water. Not for me. More often than not, I would be sitting for a long stretch of time before an approach by any staff. And something would happen in my vicinity just preceding it. Something to draw attention toward where I was sitting.

Sometimes, I would have to make that something happen. I would stop a waitress walking by on her way to attend to someone else, someone who had sat down only minutes before (and several minutes after I had). There would be a look of shock in her eyes, more often than not, and a quickly mumbled "Oh, I didn't see you there, I'll be right back."

It was then I realized I was invisible at times. I began to notice it in stores while waiting for someone to ask me what I want, or take my payment for an item, or help me find something.

The most memorable incident happened in Columbus, Ohio. In a bar called The Wharf. An odd name for a bar in the middle of a mid-western state, far from any ocean, even far from the only large body of water, a Great Lake... but I digress.

I was to meet a couple of friends there and we were headed to somewhere to eat and drink. We were students at a training facility for telephone companies in nearby Dublin. I came into the place and found my friends at the far side of the horseshoe shaped bar. It was not crowded but far from empty. I took an empty seat to the left of Rick and waited for the barmaid to ask me what I wanted. Rick seemed not to notice I had come in but he was deep in conversation with Bob on his right so I didn't think anything of it. It was only when the barmaid came over and asked Rick if he wanted a refill and then asked Bob if he did and ignored me looking right at her that I realized what had happened.

I had become invisible. Still, I wasn't sure. I waited, I even spoke, she passed by a couple more times, even looked my way but through me, if you know what I mean. I decided I needed to take some action or I would remain invisible. I pushed the plastic ashtray gently toward the inside edge of the bar, toward the area in te middle of the horseshoe shape. Toward the ice machine just a foot or so below the bar surface. I did it slowly so I could stop it if she noticed me.

She didn't. She was passing by again and was just a few feet away, her back turned toward me when the ashtray hit the metal panel of the ice machine and made a rather loud noise. She jumped about a foot in the air and spun around.

I was visible again. She spotted me and said, "Did you do that to get my attention?"

"It seems to have worked," I replied. "Could I have a draft, please?"

Monday, October 5, 2009

Science and the American Public

I'd like to talk about science. A fellow blogger notified me of a C-SPAN Book TV show of interest. He does this on a regular basis. We don't agree on many things but we seem to share a lot of interests.

Anyway, he sent me this link and the time of the show (last evening at 10 PM EDT)...

While I was watching, the author spoke of a disparity he found (though he kept saying "we", it wasn't clear who "we" were) in the American public's understanding, and acceptance, of science. One of the things he mentioned was the influence of religion in that disparity.

He brought up the debate between creationism and evolution as an example. Now, you must realize that most scientists and virtually all those involved in the science of biology and anthropology accept evolution as an absolute. And probably the majority of us accept it without any deep consideration about what it means to those who have strong religious beliefs.

Personally, I cannot understand why it is such a contentious issue. Not because I believe it is a reasonable explanation of how modern man came about but because I do not see how it impacts anything of importance in daily life.

It seems to me that, if you are strongly religious and your religion rejects the theory of evolution, you aren't likely to end up in any scientific field which depends on it as a foundation.

If you are an average person, the debate has no real impact on your life. Whatever you believe to be the origin of man, you can still be a mechanic, a salesman, a secretary, a nurse, even a doctor or nuclear physicist.

So why was that important to the author (and the collective "we" of which he claimed to be spokesman) in explaining the disparity he was concerned with?

I have known many strongly religious people who totally rejected evolution but had no problem with understanding science and who even used the scientific method in their work. Just because they rejected evolution it didn't mean they rejected all the advances that science has made.

Why would it?

Saturday, October 3, 2009

First Saturday of October

Today was not a normal Saturday. You see, I played in a scramble today. Now, for those of who do not know much about golf, a scramble is a game where all players in a team play their next shot on each hole from the position of the best previous shot made by a member of their team. Teams are usually foursomes, or 4 people (or whatever it is one calls golfers).

The occasion was the grand re-opening of the local municipal golf course. This is my home course. It underwent an overhaul of all the greens and many of the tee boxes, a project which took many months. And had mixed results. This is a municipal course, after all, and that means it is run by the city. So it is not going to be country club quality. Still, it was in pretty good shape overall.

Now these events involve a bit of honesty. Teams are divided into groups, called flights, based upon the ability level of the teams. Teams with better players (based usually on a total of the team's handicap) are placed in the "A" flight and there is usually a "B" flight and sometimes a "C" flight. And here is where the honesty comes in. The players tell the match's organizers what their handicaps are. No one checks, no one confirms. This can lead to some "fudging" of the handicaps.

A handicap represents the number of strokes a player, on average, records over par. Par being 72, a player with a handicap of 15 averages 87 strokes a round. There is some calculation of other factors (most notably the severity ranking of the course) that goes into it but, in general, that's what it means. Most handicaps are liquid. That is, they change over time. You get better, you get worse, you get into slumps, you have streaks of great play, etc.

Theoretically, however, handicaps allow the poorest player to compete with the best. In reality, that's just theory. A good player will beat a poor player way more often than theory suggests.

Most golfers claim handicaps in casual conversation that are lower than their actual ability might merit. It's a bragging rights thing. However, the reverse happens when it comes to reporting said handicap when entering a tournament. A practice often referred to as sandbagging. I have no idea how that term came about.

That wasn't a big issue today. We had only two flights and I never did find out the criteria for each. And our team was remarkably honest in reporting our handicaps. With two flights, and a wide range of ability levels, things tend to even out overall. We ended up in the "A" flight.

We did not win, however. We did not even place third. Still, our score was 10 under par or 6, only 4 shots worse than the winning team's score of 58. And that was good enough to tie for 4th which got us exactly nothing in prizes. We felt we had done as well as we could.

That, in the end, is all that matters. Well, and having a good time with friends.

Which we did.


Friday, October 2, 2009


I'm going to bounce around a little today because... well, because my brain is bouncing around a little anyway.

I had a few thoughts hit me the other night. Each was worthy of an entire blog but none needed that much.

Here's those thoughts...

I have decided that Mother Teresa was an egotist. Don't get me wrong, she did wonderful things and was worthy of all the praise she garnered. But I believe her greatest works were done in obscurity. Once fame adheres to a person, it takes control and the works take second place behind the celebrity. Once you are renowned as a great humanitarian, you can offer simple platitudes and it is taken as profound wisdom. But what courage and self-sacrifice at the beginning! The greatest deeds are done when no one is watching.

On a similar note, I suspect that activists are extremely egotistical. Especially those that advocate for peace, or the environment, or for whatever various political or social causes they target. They want to convince you to think like they do. They believe in the rightness of their perspective to the exclusion of opposing views. And they want you to also believe that. This is never good, not matter the worthiness of the cause. They might compromise on detail temporarily but eventually, the ego will win out. And the cause will become less important than the spokesperson. In fact, the cause may start as secondary to such a person.

There is one thing, one invention of man, that has bothered me most of my life. The bow and arrow. I could understand most other tools evolving from nature. The spear, the sword, the hammer, the knife, the lever, even the wheel. But the bow itself is amazing. It does not actually exist in nature. Not in a form by which it acts in the weapon. A branch may bow and show energy stored. But the transference of that energy into the string? No, that's not readily apparent. And virtually all cultures developed the bow and arrow in almost the same form (though not all continued its use). The bow and arrow appears to be at least 60,000 years old. That is based on the finding of flint arrow heads in Africa dating back that far. Primitive knives and spears are undoubtedly older. And the arrow itself is easily a modification of a spear. But the bow... a piece of wood, bent to store power to be transferred to a string, which would then transfer it to the launch of a mini-spear. Ingenious! True abstract thought.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


I am exhausted, pooped, worn out, dragging my behind, yadda yadda. To the left is the route I took home from Biloxi. It is 9 hours of driving. It would have been longer if I had taken a more scenic route than interstates. But, let's face it, the interstates are so tempting. No traffic lights, no annoying cross streets, no pesky 35 MPH speed limits. Just clear sailing at 70 MPH (effective speed is 75 MPH) all the way. If I had taken the more scenic route, I'd have stopped for an overnight stay at some seedy motel (since the nice ones are all near an interstate) because it would have taken closer to 14 hours to make the trip. So I took the easy way out. And paid the price. When I was much younger I took the trip in the opposite direction and on the more scenic highways and byways. I left from a little further south and at 4 in the afternoon. I arrived in Pensacola sometime around 8 AM, stopping only once for coffee near Tallahassee and finally getting on the interstate (I-10). I left Pensacola after an oil change and breakfast and didn't stop until I reached Deming, NM the next morning around 1 AM.

There are things you can do at age 24 and alone that are unheard of at 63 with a wife in the car.