Category Archives: Personal

All about me and stuff I care about

Dear Abby

There are a number of media personalities who define an era. Those of us in Generation X grew up with a few TV networks and a relative conformity in popular culture until the late 1980s. This led to a few names being instantly recognizable, even if they were originally marketed to our parents and not to us. This was, after all, before the rise of child-centered life in America, when we were expected to be seen and not heard and did not get a veto over things in the home. It seems the icons of the Boomer generation are almost all gone now, and so the comfortable feeling of Gen X childhood memories are tainted as well.

My mother has always been a reader, and the books I read when I was a kid (at least between library visits) were frequently hers. Thus, I became a fan of Erma Bombeck, one of the great humorists of the 1970s and 1980s, who could be considered a precursor to the “mommy blogger” phenomenon of today. Erma died far too young in 1996, but I still remember the cover art for “The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank.”

In the days of the Fairness Doctrine, talk radio was not nearly as pervasive and fragmented as it is today. One voice that everyone knew was Paul Harvey. When I attended a broadcast journalism class in the early 1980s, we put together a television news and commentary show. I chose to use the persona of Saul Garvey, which I thought was clever at the time. Paul Harvey died in 2001. And that’s the rest of the story.

We didn’t always have cameras following our every move in public, and we certainly didn’t have YouTube to share our private moments of embarrassment or inadvertent comedy. From 1948 until 1993, we got our dose of schadenfreude from Allen Funt and “Candid Camera.” Rarely mean-spirited, the pranks were hilarious and rather obvious to our older, jaded eyes today. Allen Funt died in 1999. I like to think he was smiling, and in on the joke.

This week, another of the great figures of the latter half of the 20th Century left us. Abigail van Buren was the woman everyone looked to for advice from 1956 until 2002. With wit and empathy, she made us all feel that she could be trusted with any secrets. Pauline Phillips died in 2013. Sadly, she was suffering from Alzheimer’s and was unlikely to be very much like her old self, but we can remember her wit, and her daughter continues the column with some inherited awesomeness.

I don’t think the younger generations will ever know the monolithic nature of popular culture we lived with before 100 channels of television and high-speed internet came along. We have so many more choices today than we did twenty years ago, not to mention the dark ages of the 1970s. Choices are great, and I love the options we have today. But, will there ever again be someone who is going to be remembered as such a pervasive part of everyday life as Dear Abby?

They Grow Up So…well, eventually

The Boy really surprised me this Father’s Day. Part one of the surprise is that he actually remembered the day, although that may be thanks to Kat. The next part of the surprise is how nice a gift he got me. It was relevant and not cheap (Calphalon bakeware to replace some of the cheaper things banging around in the kitchen). Finally, we were at the local media store (books are such a small part of their stock) and he ran off to buy a t-shirt. He used that t-shirt to wrap the pans! Not only generous, but ingenious as well. And the shirt was Doctor Who themed, so bonus points there.

All around, I could not have asked for a better recognition that I’ve got some sort of place in his heart. Maybe this parenting stuff is working after all.

Everybody’s Special

Seeing as many birthday parties as I do (helping Kat at her job), it’s obvious things are different from When I Was A Kid. The new kid order is further highlighted by the end of the school year, which I’ll get to in a moment. First, parties.

Back when I was a kid, the only one who left a birthday party with anything other than cake in their belly was the birthday kid. I don’t know when it changed, but by the time Alex was attending birthday parties, the gift bag culture had developed. If you didn’t hand out candy and toys to the guests at a party, good luck getting your kid invited to anyone else’s. Are we teaching kids that even on a day when one kid is rightfully the center of attention, everyone is still Special?

When I was a kid, the only graduation ceremony you had (before college) was when you got a diploma after 12th grade. That is graduating. Any graduation that ends with, “See you in the fall” is not much of a graduation. I understand marking major events in a child’s life, but when Alex “graduated” from kindergarten, I don’t think he nor his classmates gave a damn about it. The whole thing was for the parents to prove their kid is Special. When he “graduated” from elementary school a year ago, I’m pretty sure the kids didn’t care much either. The boys seemed uncomfortable in their nice clothes, but otherwise they acted like it was just another day. Which it was!

I suppose in two years, he’ll “graduate” from middle school. It still won’t mean much to him, nor should it. Why have we started doing this? If your child doesn’t know how much you appreciate him on a regular basis, if your child doesn’t know how much you love him every day, do you really think a silly ceremony is going to make him feel Special? It seems like we’d be better off celebrating our kids’ individual (or team) achievements when they happen, rather than just wrapping up the year with one big ceremony. It seems to be an admission that we don’t have time to recognize actual accomplishments if we recognize “not being held back a grade” as worthy of a ceremony. When everyone is special, nobody is.

Tivo vs. MythTV

It’s been over a month since my MythTV DVR committed suicide and I replaced it with a Tivo from my cable company. I think I’ve explored the features enough to be able to deliver a decent comparison of the two. Overall, I think I’d be very satisfied with a Tivo if I’d never used MythTV. Let me go into some more detail.

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We’ve Come a Long Way

Every so often, an event reminds me of the rapidly changing face of technology. I was reading a review of Gnome Shell this morning, and of course there’s the never-ending stream of iPad news this month…but the trigger for me this week was the purchase of a terabyte hard drive and being upset that it cost over $100. Coincidentally, it’s almost exactly 20 years since I got my first Windows PC. Let me take a look at how far I’ve come from that old CompUSA 486 to my current machine, which I call Ralf (the Wise and Powerful).

My desktop computer now has 2.5 terabytes of fixed disk storage and 1.5 terabytes of external storage. The 486 had 120 megabytes, so I’ve got twenty thousand times more storage space. The single-core 486 had a 33 megahertz clock, and Ralf has 3.0 gigahertz quad-core chip – 90 times the clock speed and at least five hundred times the computer power (bogomips of around 800 times greater).

While the 486 had 4 megabytes of RAM, Ralf has 12 gigabytes – three thousand times more memory. In 1992, I was glad to have a 14″ monitor, with the impressive resolution of 800×600 with 16-bit color; my 24″ LCD has 1920×1080 resolution and 32-bit color – five times the number of pixels and ten times the video bandwidth.

One of the most influential games of 1992 was Dune II – the first realtime strategy game to become a hit and the precursor to Warcraft. 2012 is barely begun, but it’s hard not to think of Mass Effect 3 as being a big deal on the PC.

Wow, have we come a long way in twenty years.
Also on my desk, I have a Chumby One. The Chumby has a 454 megahertz processor, 64 megabytes of RAM, 1 gigabyte of storage, and a 320×240 touchscreen. Except for the screen resolution, the Chumby beats the 486 by leaps and bounds – it cost me 45 bucks.

Playlist for Life

I was thinking about playlists (formerly known as mixtapes) the other day and decided to make one that involves songs which evoke a particular location or event. Since this set of criteria is so loose as to allow a playlist of thousands of songs, I set myself some rather arbitrary limits. It had to fit on a standard audio CD (74 minutes) and each song had to be specific to a particular location/time and only one song per location/time. So, although high school is four years long, it gets one song. I went to Korea three times for a total of four years, so that’s three songs (one per trip). I also decided that any trip of less than two months didn’t count. So, no song for BNCOC or CEWIOC or business trips. Here’s the 57 minutes I ended up with; commentary follows:

Doug E Fresh La Di Da Di
Living Colour Cult of Personality
Violent Femmes Blister in the Sun
Faith No More Epic
Ministry Everyday Is Halloween
Divinyls I Touch Myself
Ace of Base The Sign
Soundgarden Black Hole Sun
Los Del Rio Macarena (Bayside Boys Mix)
Smash Mouth Walkin’ On The Sun
Kid Rock Bawitdaba
Transplants Diamonds and Guns
Evanescence Bring Me To Life
The Waterboys When Will We Be Married?

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Adventures in Customer Service H&D

I’ve been wary about ordering from Harry & David since their bankruptcy last year, but finally could stand the lack of Moose Munch no longer. The local Target used to carry a nice array of H&D products, but I presume the bankruptcy is to blame for the disappearance of my beloved popcornd and chocolate snack.

Using my mother’s birthday as an excuse to treat myself (hey, I was already ordering from them anyway!), I picked out four flavors of yummy goodness and awaited the mail delivery. Opening the package, I couldn’t help but wonder if my fingers were working without conscious thought on ordering day. Why would I have nothing but milk chocolate products? Why did I have two of the same one? This can’t be right… I hit the email archive to see what I’d actually ordered, and I wasn’t crazy – Harry & David screwed up my order. *sigh*

After alerting them, I got an email two days later (which is an eternity in internet time, but they are primarily a fruit delivery company so we must make allowances) which told me they were shipping me the correct set and to please keep the wrong order as well.

So, that worked. I’m still wary of post-bankruptcy H&D, but at least I got some extra confection out of the deal. Oh, and their S’Mores flavor is really good.

Veterans Day 2011

Originally a memorial for the losses and celebration of the overall victory of World War I (somewhat erroneously called The War to End All Wars), amended later as, “a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace,” Veterans Day is not the same somber commemoration as Memorial Day. Never ignoring the sacrifices of those who fell in battle, it is a somewhat melancholy celebration of our servicemembers.

I had a great discussion at work this week with one of the Air Force folks I work with, ranging from the importance of the civilian leadership of the military and the intelligent employment of our forces. We agreed that it’s a shame so few of our elected representatives are veterans, as having a background other than international finance might be helpful when dealing with the pointy end of the stick.

I continue to be impressed by the active duty folks that I deal with on a daily basis. This all-volunteer force has had a great deal asked of it in the ten years since I got out of the service, some things a great deal less productive than others. The geopolitical situation has changed greatly and rapidly, and our servicemembers have been forced to adapt just as rapidly.

TS91_Full Team.JPGEveryone who has worn the uniform knew they could be asked to do things and go places where survival may be unlikely. We need to respect that willingness to sacrifice to support the policies of the United States, and we need to hope we don’t ask them to do so unnecessarily. “Support the troops” is a lot more complex than just “war is good” – remember that and maybe the hope that today is dedicated to world peace won’t be in vain.

Three Years

Yesterday marked three years since Kat and I got married. It’s been a pretty damned good three years, and shows no evidence of that changing. For ineffable reasons, the lovely lady decided to celebrate our anniversary by going camping. This surprised me, as I’m pretty sure I’ve spoken before about the relative ambivalence toward anything which resembled going back to a tactical Army mode.

Fortunately, she was smart enough to rent a cabin with air conditioning and a refrigerator and bed. Calling this “camping” may be a bit of a misnomer, but it was a great evening. Kat got to sit around a campfire for the first time in her life, as well as make her first s’more. We saw a porcupine shuffling across a field, were serenaded by mockingbirds, and went on a 2.5 mile hike. I also discovered that match-light charcoal is a much better fire base than crumpled paper and small twigs leading to larger twigs blah blah blah. Sure, it’s cheating – so are matches to some purists.  :-)

We exchanged gifts, which comprised a rather large number of books for me. Yay for books! And now I’m spending the day chilling at home, ready for Year Four. I love you, Kat!

Story Ideas

I need some inspiration for GearDiary posts. I started writing for Judie back in May, but I can’t come up with a huge number of ideas. The first few posts were a mish-mash of reviewing my watch, talking about geocaching, a how-to on getting free blogs on your Kindle, and a series of reviews about open-source media catalog/player software. I recently wrote an op/ed piece about the coming “impulse buy” era of ereaders.

But, since I am a poor person who does not have every new gadget to review (anyone who wishes to send me free stuff, I will happily review it), I run into stumpers of what to write that hasn’t been done to death by every other gadget geek out there. It’s the rare day that I come up with something insightful or interesting that Gizmodo, Engadget, Techcrunch or someone else hasn’t already beaten to death. To be fair, those people are actually paid full-time gadget geeks and people send them information leaks and new toys.

So, any ideas on geeky topics that I might write about? I’d write about building my own DVR, but since the advent of HDTV (another technology I do not possess), my experience is no longer all that relevant. What to do, what to do…

Kochu what now?

After finding great success with the BLT & watermelon salad last week, I decided to go old skool, back to my days in the land of the not-quite-right. Like gang jung, some things may be better left in the memory.

Pulled out the kochujang and tri-tip last night, and produced a meal of bulgogi, be kimchi, and pa jun (I hate Romanized Korean – it’s always just a little off). Alex, the boy who claims to love spicy food, found the kimchi too spicy to consider seconds. Kat declared the tri-tip to be a wonderful cut of meat and it should in the future be served with some potatoes and maybe a side of green beans. She also found the pa jun to be not her style – something about steak and eggs not being cool with her or something.

I guess that’s the end of Korean side dishes; the bulgogi was a hit, of course.

Email is not foolproof

The USAF continues to rely far too much on email for communication, and continues to trust that sending an email is the perfect all-encompassing method of disseminating info with no possibility of failure.

Many years ago, when I was in the Army on this same Air Force base, a zoomie LT thought that a lack of getting a “reply receipt” from an email she sent was insubordinate and got very angry that I was, “deleting without reading” her emails. Of course, I was doing no such thing; Outlook at the time didn’t send a return receipt for previewing a message, and that’s how I read her missives (which didn’t apply to me in the Army anyway, but so much for logic).

Fast forward to 2011. The refrigerator is down the hall from my office, and I keep my sodas there. The fridge is in a common area, and there is a bulletin board right next to it. Imagine my surprise when my sodas were thrown away today. A sane person would have put the sodas aside, if cleaning out the fridge. They aren’t likely to spoil, after all. When I inquired, I was told that “everyone” was informed about the coming fridge purge, so wah (or something equivalent).

Obviously, I was not informed. The building manager sends an email to the squadron secretary, who sends it to everyone in the squadron. I am not in the squadron, but I had myself added to the squadron email list last year due to the necessity to stay abreast of issues in this building, and there is no email list for residents of the building. I apparently got booted out of the squadron email list sometime in the past (who knows how long ago, as I rarely care about USAF business and maybe I was just relieved at the lack of spam I didn’t care about). So, no notice for me, but complete notification to everyone in the building in the mind of the manager.

So…am I a crazy person for thinking, in addition to an email, a sign or note or post-it on the fridge or near it would have been a normal thing to do? I’m simple, apparently.

Broken car

Drivable?

This morning, I headed out the door to go to work, and noticed a distinct lack of car parked behind the truck.  Since I remember leaving a car there, this was somewhat surprising. After the fun of dealing with the most humorless police officer ever, we eventually found that the car had been found even before we reported it stolen. The police said they thought the car might be drivable, but they were going to take it to the impound lot to await all the legal stuff. I question the perceptiveness of whichever cop said this might be drivable. There are only two tires!
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Fake Big Mac

Once again, my imaginary friend Kenji has inspired yet another winning meal. If nothing else, he was able to produce a great recipe for the “Secret” sauce for a Big Mac. We only had larger sesame seed buns (there was no way I was going to glue hundreds of seeds to smaller buns), and thus we made 1/6 lb patties instead of 1/10 lb micropatties. Overall, a great success. Who knew that nuking onions on low for ten minutes made them mild? Yay Kenji!

Day of the Moon

What is up with Steven Moffat and his “arc-y” approach to the Doctor Who series? Although billed as the conclusion of a two-parter, “Day of the Moon” still managed to sneak in a giant hanging cliffhangery wobbly thing.

I love the Silents as the monsters, the whole Rory/Amy/Doctor triad, and the idea that Rory can sort of remember the previous reality where he was made of plastic. That’s about as far as I can go without giving away any major spoilers, but this is a great way to kick of the new season. Woohoo!

Time-shifting and place-shifting

The demise of soap operas (of which I was never a huge fan anyway) prompted me to write a rather long-winded piece recently, wherein I decided that DVRs were the final nail in the coffin of long-form serialized daytime dramatic television. Since then, I’ve been thinking a bit more about the disruptive technologies of the recent past and how my childhood differed from my son’s. I was interrupted in this reverie by a phone call, which ended up serving as a perfect example of the major differences.

Caller ID (didn’t exist for my childhood) showed me that The Boy was calling from a friend’s phone. The Boy requested that I bring him a particular toy from his bedroom. I wandered down the hall on my cordless phone (didn’t have that when I was a kid), and found the toy. I said to the child, “You’re at Friend’s house then?” Oh, no – they were at the park. And there went another piece of the implied landscape of my youth – a phone belonged to a location, not a person, when I was a kid.

We had a phone for the family, not for each member of it. We called people at home, and expected the person answering the phone to not necessarily be the person we were going to converse with. This seems to affect telephone etiquette, or my son’s peers are all just clueless gits. I presume the former, out of generosity. When I answer the phone when one of The Boy’s friends calls, it is almost painful to get out of them anything like a coherent statement. You know the kind we were taught to use as kids; something along the lines of, “Hello, this is Gary, I’m calling for James.” What I get now is some sputtering where, if I’m lucky, I’ll be able to pick out the name of the child calling me. More often, it’s incomprehensible or a demand to speak to The Boy, with nothing like an introductory preamble. I’m convinced that all of his friends have their own personal phones now, so they just know to start talking when they answer. *Ring Ring* Look at phone, see it is James. Hey, James, what’s up?  That sort of thing is so completely foreign to us old geezers, even if we are cell phone users. Think about it, how many times do you know who is calling you, and yet the person still goes through the (now old-fashioned) introduction? I predict that the “Hello” when answering the phone may eventually die out entirely, as nobody needs to just answer as if they don’t know who is calling them.

Meanwhile, people talk on the phone an awful lot more than we did. If you were lucky enough to not have siblings screaming at you for their turn, you might be able to have a half-hour conversation on the phone in the 1980s. That was probably all you’d get for a day or more. It’s not that we didn’t have more to say, we just got tired of sitting in the one room where we had a phone for so long. Now that phones are completely untethered from a wall, much less the house itself, why ever stop talking? And so we have people who stick their phones to their heads the moment they are no longer prohibited from doing so. Hey lady, just do the grocery shopping, stop discussing your latest sexual conquest at HEB, huh?

As everyone from Ogg the Caveman until the end of humanity notes, Things Are Different Now. Listening to the Skeptics Guide to the Universe recently, the youngest member of the crew had no idea what “F Troop” was. Nearly everyone from my generation and before knew the same television (and radio prior to TV) shows as everyone else in their generation. After all, we only had three channels. Shoot, even PBS has only existed since 1970, and for most of its early existence was consigned to the UHF dead zone.

So, we all watched Gilligan’s Island when we came home from school, oblivious to the fact that the show had been cancelled before we were even born. We knew all the characters in the Addams Family, which also ended four years before my birth. Such was the nature of the highly-syndicated rerun system of 1970s afternoon television, in the days before cable.

In pursuit of the desire for more options in entertainment and technology, we seem to have lost most of our generational shared experiences. Just about the only thing that seems to remain is popular music. Whether you like the songs or not, if you’re remotely aware of the outside world, you’ve probably heard Cee-Lo’s F You, or Pink’s F-ing Perfect, or Enrique Iglesias’s Tonight (I’m F-ing You). Yeah, I chose those examples because of my amusement at how far we’ve come in pop music. Not that any of those three actually has the F word in the radio version of the song, but what the heck?

If you ask someone born around 1940 what they remember from their childhood, many of them would reference “Fibber McGee and Molly” on the radio, listening to Bo Diddley and Elvis, and the films of Hitchock or stars like Cary Grant, and of course Sputnik and Apollo. When you ask someone born around 1970 what they remember from their childhood, you’ll get references to “The Brady Bunch;” listening to Joan Jett,  Johnny Cougar (neé Mellencamp), Madonna, and Michael Jackson; movies like Star Wars, ET, and the Breakfast Club; and the space shuttle (first launch and the first explosion). When kids today look back in nostalgia at the early 21st Century, will any significant percentage be thinking of the same things? Will the customized nature of modern society mean the end of common experiences? And is that even a bad thing anyway?