Jan 24, 2014
I don't fancy myself a poet, but occasionally I try to write some kind of a poem. Here's one I wrote about 4 or 5 years ago, entitled:
Would I give up my age
In return for my youth?
The thought has occurred,
And to tell you the truth,
There are days when it's tempting
To make such a deal.
But then I consider
What's true and what's real.
In the days of my youth
I was healthy and hearty.
I would jump at the chance
To attend a late party.
There were years to look forward to,
Filled with big plans.
And few thoughts of failure,
No can'ts, only cans.
Now I complain
Of my aches and my pains,
And sometimes have trouble
And occasionally sadness
May touch me, but then
I ask myself would I
Start over again?
Well, sure, it was good.
But not if that meant
That I'd lose all the things
I observed as I went.
Or the people I met
Who taught me so much.
With some of whom
I still keep in touch.
So, without a regret,
I live for today.
The past was important
But in its own way.
That was then, this is now,
And it's now that I trust.
Tomorrow I may,
But it's today that I must.
Jan 3, 2014
I don't mean "nostalgia" in the sense that I have a desire to return to "the old days", more that I enjoy remembering things from long ago and that perhaps others may also remember. Or not.
Somehow, I got to thinking about the old pre-TV radio shows and their sponsors. I can still plainly hear "Johnny" singing out, "CALL...FOR...PHILIP...MORRIS!!" He was a bellhop (actually the midget WAS a bellhop when they auditioned him for his role that lasted decades) supposedly paging someone in an upscale hotel lobby in the days before cell phones. He was familiar to everyone who listened to the radio, having been the spokesman for the American Tobacco Company's cigarette brand, Philip Morris on such programs as Jack Benny, I Love Lucy, and other national programs.
That led me to recall another cigarette brand with huge radio and TV advertising before such advertising was restricted by the FCC: Lucky Strike. My strongest memory of this brand was the slogan, "L S M F T, Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco" and during the Second World War, it was "Lucky Strike Green Has Gone To War!" The latter was supposed to mean that they had changed the cigarette package from a dark green background to white because the green ink was made with copper, which was a scarce wartime commodity; but that was really just a fiction (copper wasn't actually needed for the green printer's ink) to stimulate a patriotic reaction, when the real reason for the change was to modernize the appearance and appeal more to women, who were smoking more than before, and save packaging costs at the same time!
Many of you may not even remember a time when tobacco advertising was permitted, nor maybe those cigarette brands. But I do.
Dec 20, 2013
No, not political power, electrical power. We suffered an hour-long electrical outage early this morning. Fortunately, these occur pretty rarely here, maybe once every year or two. It's a nuisance, requiring me to reset all my electric clocks, and I expected to have to reset my DSL modem, but I didn't have to; but it got my attention, causing me to think of how dependent I am on electricity, and how lucky I am that I live where it is reasonable to expect flawless and endless supply of electricity, natural gas, and water. I have read of countries where it is normal to have electricity only a few hours every day. What a challenge it would be to live in such a country!
I awoke to the sound of my UPS (Uninterruptable Power Supply, not the United Parcel Service) beeping. It provides battery power to prevent my computer from crashing if its power is abruptly cut off while it is running. But, at 5:45 am, my computer wasn't running! Still, it's good to know that it would have prevented a crash if the computer had been on. Among my first thoughts were that it would quickly get cold in the house if power wasn't restored promptly (it is still getting close to freezing at night here), then that I wouldn't be able to take a shower--until I realized that my hot water doesn't come from a hot water tank; I have a tankless gas water heater, and it doesn't rely on electricity from the power grid, even to ignite the gas--the flow of water turns a small turbine that generates enough voltage to create an ignition spark.
Now, with all my clocks reset and the house comfortably warm, after the power was restored and my furnace turned on, all is well. I'm glad it occurred and caused me to reflect on my good fortune to live here.
Nov 9, 2013
It seems so simple to me: our health care system is overburdened with tens of thousands of people whose only contribution to your health is to process paperwork that is, in turn, required by that same health care system. WTF?!! Sure, it's a nice career for those folks, and if we eliminated most of them, our unemployment figures would suffer, but millions of us are suffering now because the system employs so many of them. My position is based on several beliefs I harbor. You may disagree with them, but this is what I believe:
1. Basic health care should be a prime responsibility of government, along with protection against harmful acts by foreign powers, terrorists or criminals, transportation infrastructure, and education. That is, it should be paid for by taxes and guaranteed to every citizen, without qualifying for some "plan" or subsidy or anything else. In other words, basic health care should be a basic right of all citizens, whether they are rich or poor, employed or not. Certainly some tough decisions will have to be made about exactly what constitutes "basic" health care, but that's not insurmountable, and I believe that's where we ought to be focusing our discussion.
2. I see no rationale for involving employers in health care, any more than involving employers in protecting our borders or building highways and bridges. I believe that the government should guarantee a minimum level of health services to everyone. Many other countries do. What does that have to do with whether you are employed, self employed, or out of work? We tax payers end up paying for the uninsured anyway.
3. For medical care beyond "basic" health care, there should be a free market for those who can afford it and there should be no barriers to having insurance plans to cover such care. We could still have private medical practices, some of whom might refuse to accept patients for the level of reimbursements set by the government. If they chose not to participate, they would certainly have that right.
4. The concept of public hospitals should be improved in quality and expanded so that, no matter your station in life, you should feel comfortable going to a public hospital or clinic for health concerns. With the money to be saved by eliminating a large part of the insurance industry, the richest nation on earth can surely provide adequate facilities and staffing to accomplish this. Again, many other countries do, some quite successfully.
If you start with these principles, a multitude of problems vanishes! There's no need for employers to be involved at all in health care, so no issues about how many employees a business has or how many hours they work, nor any of the paperwork that is now required of businesses, nor any employer taxes for this purpose. There's no problem for employees who want to leave one employer to advance their career (or for any other reason); your work life should not interact with your right to health care at all. The majority of the population might not feel the need for extended medical care or insurance, thus removing billions of dollars of currently nonproductive operations and lowering the overall cost of health care! And, most importantly, since the entire population would be, in effect, the risk pool, it would be unnecessary to implement anything like an "individual mandate" or levy fines on those who don't choose to have extended medical care! These are artificial devices and complexities that are only created because we insist on viewing health care as a private or individual concern or employer related. Once you view it as a basic right of citizenship, these complexities disappear.
Some people are distrustful of government and its ability to adequately manage such a large health care system. That is an ironic position, since it is generally conceded that one of the best run federal bureaucracies is Medicare! The government already has a vast program that is generally looked upon favorably and has decades of experience managing. Furthermore, despite what some critics say, many other industrialized countries in the world have been providing universal health care, as a right of citizenship, for years and, for the most part, they are regarded as efficient, effective, and most of the covered citizens would fight to keep their system running the way it is. And it is embarrassing to admit that, while the U.S. spends far more per capita on health care than any other country on the planet, our health statistics--the outcomes of this expensive care--place us well below most of the other advanced nations! I think we can do better than that! The plain fact is that our system doesn't work well.
So I don't call for "Medicare For All," I call for "Medicaid For All." If you insist on calling that socialized medicine, I don't mind. We have socialized military and that works pretty well--most of the time. I prefer that over a mercenary Army and Navy and Air Force.
Oct 10, 2013
One of the benefits of being as old as I am is to be able to recall behaviors or language that were once quite common, but which are unfamiliar to younger people today. One phrase that comes to mind is "banker's hours." In the days before the details of banking were computerized, bank tellers actually had to perform transaction record keeping manually, which was a time consuming task that required them to spend several hours a day when they wouldn't be distracted by customers. Thus, the hours when a bank was open to the public for transacting their business was normally limited, typically to 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM, thus appearing to be a very short workday, when in reality the tellers and other employees started much earlier and worked much later, in order to complete all the needed entries into manual records and calculate balances that would prove that everything had been recorded properly. If discrepancies were present in the balances, they would have to remain working until errors were found and corrected.
Now, of course, tellers are primarily data entry clerks and cashiers. Once a transaction has been entered, everything is accounted for by computer programs. There is only a small amount of cash balancing that is required after the bank closes its doors. So the term "banker's hours" carries little meaning anymore.
So much for the benefits of being as old as I am.
Long Term Memory
Sep 16, 2013
I keep reading about memory failing as we grow older, but I would like to cite an example of my memory of long ago facts that inexplicably pop into my consciousness after decades of having absolutely no reason to be remembered.
While I was in Navy Officer Candidates School in 1952, we were taught many naval skills, one of which was maintaining shipboard armament. One of the contemporary antiaircraft defenses was the 20mm gun mount. We had to memorize all the working parts of this and other weapons. The 20mm, in common with other rapid fire guns, had a mechanism called a "double loading stop" which prevented the firing pin from being released until the previous shell casing had been ejected. There were 2 plungers, one on top of the barrel, the other below it, that would be extended as long as a shell casing was still in the chamber. These were denominated the upper double loading stop plunger and the lower double loading stop plunger. These plungers were forced by levers into the chamber when there was no shell present. Those levers were called "double loading stop plunger levers" and those levers were kept in their default position with springs. Each spring was held in place by a retaining ring. So the proper reference to one of these retaining rings would be the "upper double loading stop plunger lever spring retaining ring."
I can't remember a lot of the things that I learned during those 4 months of training, and I certainly have had no reason to remember such terminology over the past 60+ years, but the other day I suddenly thought about the "upper double loading stop plunger lever spring retaining ring" for no obvious reason!
Neuroscientists, how do you explain that?!
In case you think I'm making this up, just take a look at this vintage manual for that weaponry:
Aug 20, 2013
No, I didn't misspell 'special,' I'm talking about memory that stores positions in space--WHERE something is. I haven't done much research, but I have a lot of personal experience that leads me to believe that the part of my brain that supports spatial memory is much stronger than the parts of my brain that support other kinds of things, like tasks, people, objects, etc.
It is very common for me to be engaged in something such as cooking my dinner, and I'm trying to multitask, keeping track of the time several different items are cooking while making a salad and thinking about what kind of beverage I'll have, and when I do this, I inevitably think of small tasks that I need to do, but because of the press of higher priority tasks, I often forget them while I'm performing the other ones. But I nearly always remember WHERE I need to move (to the upper cupboard, or the drawer next to the sink, etc.) in order to complete the forgotten task. In most cases, if I move to that location, I have a good chance of remembering WHY I need to move there, thus recalling the task that needs doing.
It's not just in the kitchen, either. Another common situation is that I feel a strong need to go into the garage--and to a particular location in the garage; or some room in the house and a specific area within that room. And I wonder to myself, "What is it that I need to get or do at that location?" Typically, I don't have an answer to such a question. It is only when I walk to that location that the reason suddenly pops into the foreground of my memory.
This may be common knowledge to neuroscientists and behavioral psychologists, but I have formulated my own theory about it and it really works very frequently in my everyday life.
Aug 14, 2013
Of course, that includes me. But what I'm writing about today is my house. I recently realized that in 2 more years I will have lived exactly half my life in this same house. Same zip code, same address, same phone number (they changed my area code once), same old, same old. Now, I am not complaining; on the contrary, I feel very attached to this house. But when you've lived so long in one structure, you (OK, I) tend to collect things because I have someplace I can hide them from view, but that means that I never review them for usefulness, so they inevitably grow old. It probably goes deeper than just having someplace to hide them, I admit, because my refrigerator is pretty much the same as anyone else's, but I'm embarrassed to even discuss the age of some of its contents. And my pantry cupboards--well, let's just say that I have things in there that are so old the "Use By" date has faded out! Seriously. For the first few decades I used to justify this to myself by saying that it is prudent to keep several days' worth of dry or canned foods in the event of an earthquake that disrupted food supplies for several days. Sure. Occasionally I do review the medicines in my bathroom cabinet, and do dispose properly of out-of-date medicines. If you hadn't guessed it, I also accumulate old magazines. Well, you know, sometimes special issues become very valuable, years later! If the Time magazine published shortly after we pulled out of Vietnam ever becomes a collector's item, I'm prepared.
To sum up, as much of a pain as it certainly is to pack up and "move house" (as they say in Europe), at least it affords the opportunity--or necessity--of reviewing all the stuff we tend to collect, especially if we have someplace to hide it.
Jun 10, 2013
A couple of facts: I live in a fast growing region, and I'm getting old. But I just looked up some census facts and found the following:
During my lifetime, the world's population has increased by 250% -- from just over 2 billion when I was born to over 7 billion now.
In that same time, California's population has increased by 550%! And the population of the town I grew up in, San Diego, has increased by 780%!!
Meanwhile, the population of San Francisco only increased by 30% and that of New York City by just 18%.
Is it getting a little crowded in here?
May 30, 2013
Do you have a smart phone? I don't, mine is stupid. I mean, what is all this talk about smart phones, smart cars, smart houses?
"Smart" is defined as being capable of applying judgment to situations and solving problems. Some people can do that, but can
an electromechanical device or cluster of such devices exercise judgment? I don't think so. I just read that last year the
number of "smart" phones manufactured was nearly 700 million. Now think about that a minute--the human population of Earth is
around 7 billion--that implies that roughly one in ten humans alive on this planet bought a new smart phone last year! That
includes the residents of New York, Moscow, Bangladesh, Iceland, Fiji, the Republic of Congo, the New Hebrides--ONE in TEN
bought a NEW smart phone--no doubt many of them already owned one. Along with "smart", I question the current trend to using
"intelligent" as an adjective for all sorts of electronic gadgets. Sure, it is probably good marketing language, but what does
it really mean? Robotics is a valuable field of science and engineering. The talented people who work in that field deserve
respect and admiration and their products are beginning to be more and more useful and their use will certainly bring about
changes (mostly for the good, I believe) in our society. But let's not muddy the waters by using terms like "smart" and
"intelligent" to describe them. They can be programmed to execute logical calculations very efficiently--more efficiently than
humans, in many cases. But interpret motivations, judge character, consider factors of which they have limited or no
measurements available? A smart person, an intelligent person, can perform such functions, not perfectly, but we do it all the
time and can, at least sometimes, learn to apply corrective feedback to future similar situations. I'm of the opinion that we
will never succeed in creating non-living objects that have such capabilities. And I rather think it's better that we can't.
May 2, 2013
I remember a time when men and women and even children would carry a cloth handkerchief ("hankie") when they had a runny nose, or indeed any time they were rather formally dressed, or even not. This was before Kleenex and others sold inexpensive, disposable tissues. It was the best solution available, but when I look back on the custom, it's a rather nasty practice, stuffing all those bacteria back into your pocket or purse! So I should really take heart in the knowledge that modern technology has made yet another contribution to our lives. But what I remember is that when I was a kid, a nice linen handkerchief, perhaps even a monogrammed one, was always a fall-back choice for a Christmas present for my Dad, who was notoriously hard to choose gifts for. I wonder how many people remember that period?
Mar 31, 2013
I like to try to simplify and reduce things. I got to thinking about how to be happy, and I came up with this:
Observe the world. Understand the world, as much as you can. Accept the world. Enjoy the world.
Observe, Understand, Accept, Enjoy!
Mar 18, 2013
Much has been written about dreams, so I may not have anything new to add, but my experience has been that I dreamed very little (or at least remembered very little) for most of my life, but as I approached old age (oh, I hate to use that term!), I began having more vivid and more frequent dreams. Now I have dreams that I remember, at least briefly, almost every night. I rarely have frightening or threatening dreams, but I certainly have some odd ones sometimes. I frequently dream of driving--either a car or sometimes some vague, large vehicle; and I usually have some trouble either steering or bringing it to a stop, although I can't remember ever actually colliding with anything. In the past I often dreamed that I could sort of fly, or rather, by leaping and breathing just right, make graceful leaps of yards at a bound. That's not so common anymore, but on a good night I might do just a bit of flying! I don't try to ascribe any meaning to my dreams. No doubt my state of mind has some effect, but I certainly don't think that dreams are at all predictive of the future.
Feb 8, 2013
I was just thinking: when I was a young man I was always fastidious about having my shirt pocket buttoned; as I matured and used reading glasses, I formed the habit of never buttoning my shirt pocket, so I could easily slip my glasses into the pocket; now that I keep my glasses on nearly all the time, I'm back to keeping my shirt pocket buttoned again. Life is a cycle.
Feb 1, 2013
According to Andrew Kohut of Pew Research, only 25% of the American public believes that our Congress is doing a good job, but in the last election 90% of incumbents who ran for re-election won! Why did they vote for them if they thought they were not doing a good job??
Jan 26, 2013
I haven't posted to my blog for a full month, so I'm obviously getting desperate for a topic. In my reading (yes, a hardcover book!) this morning, I came across this fact: all fish with scales have fins, but the opposite isn't necessarily true.
Dec 22, 2012
A correspondent of mine has pointed out that there is a compilation of past apocalyptic predictions from the days of the Romans right up to current times, and there are already predictions that range from May 19th of this coming year to scientific estimates of billions of years (I won't worry about those):
Dec 21, 2012
Well, it seems like the ancient Mayans didn't get it right -- or maybe we didn't get what they were trying to tell us. In either case, we're still here (or at least I am, you can speak for yourself). So now it's my turn to make a prediction: I predict that within the next year someone will dig up some old mythology or discover a "code" in some venerable manuscript and announce that he (or she, let's be gender neutral here) has discovered a voice from the past that establishes a new apocalypse date. And I further predict that the very same group of foolish people will pay attention to this new prediction as have done so to this one. I've seen this movie.
Well, that's a relief
Dec 8, 2012
I've just stumbled across this important fact:
Calvin Coolidge, twenty-ninth president of the United States, averaged ten hours of sleep a night.
Now I don't feel so bad, because that's about what I average!
Dec 3, 2012
Well, I've been reading about how we have lost any semblance of privacy whenever we use the Internet, especially with regard to the social networking sites. But now I have positive proof: when I log into my Facebook account, I get a series of ads on the right side of the page that invite me to "Meet Older Women" and similar messages. Sigh.
Nov 6, 2012
I am proud to say I voted this morning. I don't yet know who our next President will be, but I'm pretty sure of one thing: I don't expect any more political phone calls, junk mail, and the flood of email that I've been receiving for months now. Whew!
Even more on Ringggg... Ringggg...
Oct 20, 2012
So I finally launched a website to bitch about receiving those robocalls. You can visit it at http://robocallsmanifesto.org.
(Actually, it's a web development project of mine, to learn PDO (PHP Data Objects) and other techniques, but who knows, maybe I'll win the $50,000 award being offered by the Federal Trade Commission to the person who comes up with the best technical solution to the abominable robocalls problem.)
California gasoline prices
Oct 16, 2012
I knew about the spike in gas prices, of course, but since I drive so little, Sunday was my first personal encounter with them since the spike, which actually peaked last week. But it still came as a shock when I filled my tank over in Berkeley, where I was on Sunday for our organ club "open console", and where I know the pump prices are about the lowest in the Bay Area. My tank wasn't even on empty, more like 1/4 full, but it cost me $52.39 -- OVER FIFTY BUCKS! It really brings the inflation issue to your attention!
Sep 29, 2012
I just came back from grocery shopping. I had a little trouble finding where they hide the dried prunes. Another man was vainly scanning the shelves nearby and I felt a sense of community with him, so I said, "You know, if they would just put everything in alphabetical order, it would be much easier to find things, don't you think?" He completely agreed with me. The big stores are missing something here.
Life in the Key of B#
Sep 26, 2012
As every musician knows, the key of B# doesn't really exist, because it is an awkward reference to the key of C, arguably the easiest key to play on a piano. I know people who seem to play their lives in the key of B# -- that is, they make everything an order of magnitude more complicated than it needs to be. They could undoubtedly achieve the same ends with far less effort just by acknowledging how simple most matters are, but choose to describe it in the most complicated terms possible.
Sep 23, 2012
Isn't it encouraging to see how our political system has embraced quantitative reasoning? First, there was the 99% vs. 1% distinction pointed out by the Occupy movement. Then it was Mitt Romney's 13% income tax rate. And now it's the 47% of American voters who don't pay any income tax but who are "dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it."
Excitement in the Neighborhood!
Aug 31, 2012
I have just lived through my first Shelter-In-Place! A gas main broke just a few blocks down the street from me and I received a Community Alert, which was cancelled an hour or so later. Traffic on the main street just a few hundred feet from my house was blocked and there were several fire trucks and many police cars and a helicopter hovered overhead. It has all quieted down now, fortunately.
Aug 20, 2012
Today I encountered serious road work in several locations while driving around, doing errands. It dawned on me that the demand for those orange safety cones must surely be on the rise! So I looked up some sources for buying those cones in bulk quantities, and one of the leading providers seems to be W. W. Grainger (GWW on the NYSE). Now, don't tell anybody else, and you must realize that this is not an offer to buy or sell securities, nor is it professional investment advice, and the price of equity investments is not guaranteed, and your mileage may vary -- but if you want to get a piece of this action before everyone else does -- well, you probably get my drift.
More on Ringggg... Ringggg...
Aug 9, 2012
I've been giving this more thought, as I continue to receive several annoying calls each day, interrupting my naps or even (Heaven forbid!) productive activities. On those rare occasions when I end up talking to a real live person, they are always reading from a script, so I have written my own script and will keep a copy next to each phone in my house:
"..Oh, excuse me, wait, I need to inform you that this call is being recorded. Now, my rates for telephone consultation are $120 per hour and I will begin the timer as soon as you agree to my terms."
Ringggg . . . Ringggg . . .
Aug 6, 2012
I'm getting SO-O-O-O tired of unsolicited commercial phone calls (especially robo-calls and those that never answer, even when you answer), despite having been on the National Do Not Call Registry for years. It's bad enough that the FCC rules never included political and charitable organizations in the Do Not Call Registry, but evidently they don't make the slightest effort to enforce the rules even for carpet cleaners and mortgage lenders! I have filed official complaints for a number of these callers, but I continue getting calls from the same ones, over and over again.
Jul 27, 2012
Look, usually I support government regulations that insure that the public knows of any risks associated with a product, but today I went over to Orchard Supply and bought a new hand sprinkler for my back lawn, you know, the kind that screws onto a hose. As I picked it up and looked at the label, it said, "For Outdoor Use Only!" Now come on, WHO buys a hand sprinkler and thinks it is for indoor use? Are they worried that you'll stain your carpet? Or use it in the shower?
Musing on Aging
Jul 23, 2012
Having just had another birthday, I have received several phone calls from friends I haven't spoken with in quite awhile. I find it interesting (not at all offensive, just interesting) that there is an unspoken question of, Gee, are you still alive? A consequence of growing into one's eighties is that others often seem relieved just to hear you answer the phone. It's certainly based on common sense, as anyone knows from reading the obituaries. Just interesting.
Voices From The Past
Jul 11, 2012
At my high school class 50th reunion, I was talking to several old classmates when a fellow came up from behind me, walked around in front and peered at my name badge, then said, "Well! I wouldn't have recognized you, nor remembered your name, but I recognized your voice!" Evidently it is true that we remember voices and vocal patterns better than we remember many other aspects of an individual. It may be the result of evolution. Once it would have been important to distinguish the sounds of predators. Why did I think of this at 3 o'clock this morning?
Teaching at the Library
Jul 8, 2012
began 5 years ago assisting the librarian at the San Mateo Main Library as he conducted classes in their new 24-seat classroom with new computer equipment. I mainly sat in the back of the room and watched for opportunities to help individual students who were having trouble keeping up. After a few years, the library staff was reduced and I was asked if I could and would take over the classes, which I have been doing for a couple of years now. We have settled on a schedule of 4 Wednesday afternoons to cover Introduction to PC Computers, followed by Basic Internet (2 weeks) and Using Search Engines. This cycle is repeated several times a year. Recently we took a survey of what current enrolees would like to be offered, and as a result I am developing 2 additional classes: Getting a Free Webmail Account, and Creating Your Own Website (using a free web hosting service like Weebly.com that offers templates that don't require learning HTML, etc.). I expect we'll offer these classes as part of the next series, probably beginning in September/October.
[Update 8/20/2013:] A year later, I'm still teaching the 6 classes and the library has upgraded to new computers running Windows 7. You can see my PowerPoint presentations for them HERE.
I told you I'm not a blogger!
May 27, 2012
"What is work? Work is of two kinds: first, altering the position of matter at or near the earth's surface relatively to other such matter; second, telling other people to do so."
- Bertrand Russell, "In Praise of Idleness"
May 3, 2012
Remember, nobody is here permanently. Each of us is just visiting.
May 1, 2012
I've redesigned this page and I hope I improved it from both a layout and content perspective. I'm not much of a blogger, but I will try to note interesting things that I run across from time to time, and express my feelings about current events.