I was at my desk composing an email to a customer who had asked a question I did not want to answer about a service issue which should not have happened.  I had thought out what the problem was, how I should describe the issues, what information I would provide to support my position and the type of attachments I would include in my response.  As I was Googling for support information I thought about how professionally this batch of manufactured material was being put together in what some would describe as an attempt to conceal the real issues (there’s a word for this but I can’t think of it).  Years ago I would have had to put together much more verbiage in an effort to conceal the real issues and cover my rear end (there’s a word for this but I can’t think of it).  Isn’t technology great?

Technology is great but sometimes I think that it would be nice if developments took a break so I could catch up. Am I 3G or 4G? Maybe I should write something about not being able to keep up with the changes, you know, “take my computer, please.”  But that’s been done over and over.  It would sound too much like a minor league comedian who has a standard routine about airline food.

“Hey, I just flew in on such and such airline. You ever fly them? Their food was terrible”.  Except now there is no airline food other than a bag of peanuts and the only thing that’s funny about that is the bag itself which says something about, “these peanuts may have been processed in a plant which processes peanuts.”

We’ve learned to accept the new technology and embrace it whether it’s banking on-line or ordering stuff from Amazon or sending emails or planning vacations or reading up on subjects we never knew existed and that’s terrific.

I read an article, on-line, about burning fossil fuels and the possible damage the carbon does to the environment.  The article said we need to reduce the amount of carbon that is released into the atmosphere; we need to reduce our carbon footprint.  It occurred to me when I read the word footprint that as individuals we are really not leaving much of any kind of footprint at all.

My wife sometimes gets brilliant ideas.  A recent idea had to do with cleaning the clutter out of the basement.  I had seen enough of these brilliant ideas to know that if I went downstairs and asked what she was doing that she would have another one which would most likely include me.  So I stayed upstairs and waited for her to come up and whisper the words, “you can do the rest”.  In this case it meant lugging giant plastic bags out of the basement.  Rather than haul them to the garage and then again to the curb on trash day I loaded them into the car and headed for the city refuse center.

As I was unloading the 500 lbs bags I noticed what I would call a small mountain of desk top computers and key boards and monitors in the corner of the refuse building.  Maybe as part of the on-going recycling frenzy aimed at keeping these items out of the landfills there is a search going on for a society which has not been introduced to the digital age or one which is still based on 386 technology.

Those computers may or may not work, I thought, but I’ll bet the hard drives are filled with recipes, addresses, old emails and probably more than a few have something like Girls of the Big Ten Gone Wild.  In addition they have other information and items that were once cherished but now are just forgotten bits and bytes.

You loved those albums but they got scratched so you replaced them with CDs and, “isn’t the sound crisp and clean and no scratches.”  You loved those CDs but if there was just a way to carry that music with you.  So you downloaded the songs to your computer and then onto your iPod because you really do need to have 10000 songs available at all times.  Now that you’ve downloaded all those tunes you might as well get rid of the CDs, “let’s downsize.”

“Hey, Honey.  What happened to that old photo album, the one with pictures of my grandparents and great grandparents?”

“It was falling apart so I scanned all the pictures and now they’re filed under Photos, family.”

I read another article, on-line, about creating a family time capsule. It said not to bother including cassettes or tapes or CDs or DVDs because by the time that someone opens the box there won’t be any machines around which will be able to read those items.  If I told you that I have the winning numbers for tonight’s lottery drawing which will take place in an hour but that they are on an 8 track cartridge what would you do?

We know what the people of America were like at the time of the Revolutionary War, in the 1800s as they pushed west and during the Great Depression because we have pictures and journals or, in the case of the Depression, we can talk to elderly family members who lived through it.   Fifty or one hundred years from now what will be left of this age of downsizing?  Will our music and pictures and thoughts have been digitized and then lost when the delete key is hit or when the hard drive fries?  Will sweet old Aunt Ruth be over there in the corner of the refuse building waiting to be buried with all the other aunts, uncles, cousins and Hootie and the Blowfishes?

I can imagine a time in the future when landfills are excavated and archeologists come across all those discarded computers (this assumes that they never found that 386 based society).  As they sift through the evidence they will wonder why we buried the pictures of our ancestors and our times.   They will question why we buried our music (although I’m pretty sure they will understand why rap music was buried).  As they read through our various messages and posts will they decipher our shorthand and wonder if we were a rather simpleminded people because we seemed to laugh all the time—lol, lmao?  I can’t imagine that what they find will be of much interest although there will no doubt be an on-going study of this group called the Big Ten.

Now is probably a good time for me to say that I am going out to buy a new fountain pen, a journal, some stationery, a file cabinet and a Kodak Instamatic camera but I’m too far down the digital road to go back.  What I will do is take this opportunity to say to the archeologists that I told them so, I warned them.  I warned them but I guess the message was probably deleted, fried or buried.


My name is Bob?

It always seems to freeze up when I’m in a hurry to send an email or I need movie information or the weather forecast or I have to find the answer to the question, “how many elephants are there at the Duluth Zoo?”  These crashes or lockups or breakdowns have been happening more often so I decided to call Fix-a-Byte, after seeing their website, “America’s on-line computer fixit shop”.   America’s.  They say they’re pretty good.

“Welcome to Fix-a-Byte, America’s on-line computer fixit shop.  Please listen to the following message as our options have changed.  If you are calling about computer repair for a business computer please press “1”, if you are calling about computer repair for a home computer please press “2”, if you are…”


“You pressed two, home computer repair.  Please hold for a moment while we connect you to our next available technician.”

Oh great, the sitar.  And the Beatles liked this?  This isn’t a good sign.  I don’t think Ravi Shankar is from Omaha.

“Hello, my name is Bob how can I help you?”

“My computer keeps locking up and I don’t…”

“Oh, I am sorry to hear that.  May I have your name, please?”

“Gregory Palmer.”

“May I call you, Grigoree?”


“Now, first, Grigoree, please tell me whose computer you are using.”

“Mine, it’s a Dell.”

“Thank you, Grigoree, and second can you tell me what operating system you are using?”

“Windows XP.”

“Thank you, Grigoree, and third, can you tell me which version you are using?”

“I don’t know.”

“Thank you, Grigoree, now I want you to open a website for me, please type, eggspore…”


“Please type eggspore, Grigoree.

“Can you spell that?”

“E as in Edward, Eggs as in Eggs-ray, P as in Peeter, L as in love, O as in Orange, R as…”

“Oh, Explore.”

“Thank you, Grigoree.”

“What was the first thing you asked me?”

“What was the second thing I asked you, Grigoree. Who was the first.”


“That’s right.”

“The first thing you asked me, what was it?”

“What was the second.”



“I’m asking you what was the first thing you asked me?”


“What?—–wait, don’t tell me.”

Now, getting back to opening the website, Grigoree.  Before we do that I must inform you that this call is being recorded and may be monitored for quality purposes, is that okay, Grigoree?”

“What? Sure. I guess. I don’t know.”

“I don’t know’s on third, Grigoree.”

Put Ravi back on.


Coming in to pitch

I always thought it was poor form to walk into the manager’s office when he was working on his pitching assignment and lineup for the next game.  Skip had enough on his mind and I let my teammates have it if I saw any of them try to influence his decisions.  Let the man do what he was hired to do.  If you’re good and can contribute you’ll be in the lineup.  If you’re a pitcher and you’ve been outstanding like me you’ll most likely get that opening game of the World Series starting assignment so he can have you available to start again once or maybe twice more if the Series goes beyond four games.  That’s where I found myself more than a few times and then on top of that I would oftentimes get the call to pitch in relief because my stuff was always better than anything we had coming out of the bullpen even on my off days when I was a little tired from my last game (am I bragging?  Just check my stats).

It’s all very quiet when you walk to the mound and block out the over 40000 screaming fans going nuts in the stands.  As I would make that walk all that I ever heard were the mouthed words of my catcher who had become a full partner in taking our team to the pennant.  He and I were together a long time and worked out of an awful lot of tight spots so when we would meet half way between home and the mound I could tell that he knew we could pull this off one more time.  What a guy.  Not just for the games he called and the jams he helped me get out of but also for the support I knew he would give me on those days, my off days, when Skip would call me into his office to tell me I was going to start in the outfield or at third because the team needed my bat.

I’ve had a number of personal issues come up and haven’t played for a while so it was pretty great last Sunday when, at the crack of the bat, I looked up into the blue sky and realized that I had a good chance of pulling in the pop foul. A few years ago I would have had no problem with that catch but time marches on and as it came down I just barely grazed the ball as it fell to the ground in front of a grandmother and her two grandchildren.  It was then that my instincts took over and I scrambled down like a cat and picked up the ball after it rolled under the lady’s seat just ahead of my granddaughter who was coming on pretty darn quick.  It was all mine and as I raised that ball above my head I could feel those thousands of eyes just like the old days.

Yeah, it all came flooding back, my name being announced to the stadium as I came into the game, the cheers of the fans, the almost daily pitching jams in the ninth inning of the seventh game of the World Series classics, setting down the heart of the order every inning, the twelve no-hitters (three consecutive), the four perfect games and my dad yelling at me to stop throwing the tennis ball at the front steps before I break the screen door.  It was all there just like the old days and it felt good. You know, I really should look up Johnny.  I’ll bet he’s still there crouching down and ready to go in front of the steps at my parent’s old house even after all these years.  Good old Johnny.

National security, databases and wiretapping

We are now hearing about the US government tapping into our emails and phone calls and texts under the guise of protecting national security.  Supposedly, the government, using the information provided by the telecommunication companies, has developed algorithms which can look through massive amounts of data for links between people working together on potential terrorist acts aimed at the United States.  Now I know that powerful computers can do amazing things with information but I found it hard to believe that even with the government’s ability to track billions of calls daily that it is possible to find those links since they are looking at such a miniscule percentage of the total calls (just trust me on this, I know what I am talking about, I’ve had a computer for a long time going way back to my TRS-80).  But then after receiving some information recently I am starting to change my mind about the computers and algorithms and the abilities of the people who explore databases for information and I’ll tell you why.

I’ve always been interested in railroad operations, taken numerous long-distance train trips and enjoyed participating in railroad excursions.   Recently I was able to take a railroad excursion with the 17 car train pulled by a large steam locomotive.  The trip was very well organized from the reservation system to the way in which the passengers were quickly seated on the train.  After I made my email reservation through Eventbrite, a company contracted by the excursion group to handle the trip arrangements, I was able to print the ticket and be checked in at boarding time by the same company. Everything went flawlessly and those who rode the train thoroughly enjoyed the sound, sight and thrill of riding behind a steam locomotive as it rolled through the farmlands of northern Ohio (as you would expect, the vast majority of the people riding on the train were men and I would say that most of those men were middle aged or older).  But here’s why I am starting to change my mind about the government’s ability to track phone calls to find whatever it is that is targeted.  Here’s why I think that they can actually do it.  After taking the steam train excursion I received an email from Eventbrite, the company which managed the trip, (Eventbrite apparently handles numerous types of events).  The email said that they had identified another event that they thought would be of interest to me.  Great, like the government Eventbrite seems to be using their proprietary computer programs and databases to match my interests (riding on trains) with upcoming events. From the email it looked to me like I might just be going on another trip. As I sat there reading the words “another event” I started to reach for my credit card to reserve my space so I wouldn’t be shut out on this new trip but then I continued to read the announcement—“Events for You, From Us—Surprise! Our robots have picked out more great events just for you”.  I’m thinking, “I wonder where we’re going?”

I read on, “Check out more recommendations just for you on Eventbrite”—Alright.

A conference on shale gas exploration and,

Speed dating for singles with graduate degrees (ages 25-39)

Not really interested in shale gas but speed dating for singles, with graduate degrees? 25-39? Apparently Eventbrite’s computer programing gurus have designed a program which identifies young females with graduate degrees who like to ride on steam train excursions with large groups of middle aged and older men who love trains. Isn’t this great?  Only in America.  So I figure if Eventbrite can match these two unique groups using its computer expertise then the Federal government with its vast resources shouldn’t have much trouble using telecommunication database information to run down potential terrorists.

On a personal note, I told my wife about this speed dating event and she’s very excited in fact she said she’ll drive me to the event.  She wants to come in to see these women.


Quiet, shhhhhhh, there’s a weather alert

I fell for it again.  I checked the batteries in the radio and the lantern and then sat there glued to the TV watching the brightly colored maps and radar and the storm warnings scrolling by at the bottom of the screen because of the beep.  The beep?  Beep, beep, beep, beep, “This is a weather alert”, beep, beep, beep, beep.

“Weather alert? Better watch.  Better watch but what am I watching?  Those counties are two states over, beep, beep, beep…  Look at those multicolored clouds move across the map, over and over and over again. Look at the maps with green and yellow and red radar clouds and storm warning boundaries and meteorologist Jim Barometric standing there in his rolled up shirtsleeves so we’ll know he’s working hard.

Now let’s listen to Debbie Doppler tell us all about lows and highs and arrows and storm bands that are affecting towns you don’t even know exist, beep, beep, beep.  Oh, here’s an interview with a crew foreman of some electric company in front of one of their trucks telling us he and his crew are standing by–good to know, beep, beep, beep.  Back to Debbie who is looking ever so cute in her outfit which goes so well with the different colored clouds floating by on the screen.

Then Debbie tells us to be ready to head down to the basement because this could be the worst storm we have seen since last week when she told us the same thing.  Beep, beep, beep and you’re almost ready for the southwest corner of the basement but then when you glance out the window you see a bright blue sky so much different than the green and yellow and pink and blue clouds on the TV which is showing the severe weather being experienced just 525 miles west of here.  Back to the TV in time to see some guy buying flashlight batteries and bottled water.

The news anchor shakes his head, swivels around and glances at his Action Eyeball Witness 7 news co-anchor, “Let’s check in with our own Debbie Doppler at weather central, how’s it looking, Debbie?”

Debbie, who is about ten feet away from the news desk, smiles and says, “Looks like we dodged this one” and then tells everyone to have a good weekend because “it looks like the weather will be just beautiful”.

“Thanks, Deb. I’ll get my umbrella, and gloves and boots.”

How my career got to be my career

In October, after on-going discussions in our various classes about possible careers in those fields, we were scheduled for a 15 minute meeting with a counselor to talk about our interests, thoughts about college and possible careers.   For a few weeks all day long at five minutes before the quarter hour someone would walk out of class and head to the counselors’ offices.

Now I’m sure that sometime in the past those counselors went through the same procedure themselves and talked to their own high school counselors about education and helping young people and I’m sure they dreamed about someday encouraging a Bobby Adams to go to college and then hearing Dr. Robert W. Adams at an awards banquet fondly remember that it was his counselor who pointed him in the right direction.  The link between the counselor and Bobby’s success would probably have been true and why?  Because Bobby Adams (Adams with an “A”) would have been in to the counselor’s office at about 8:30 on the first Monday of “Career Month”.

“Let’s talk about your skills and talents and experiences and dreams, Bobby.  Take your time and let’s try to work together and make sure you choose the right career path” later in the month turned into “Hi. Sit down, ah, Tom, I see you in the janitorial trades.  Good luck with your career and send in the next kid” if it was Tom Wilbert or maybe if it was Anna Zucker, “Hi. Have you ever thought about the food service industry, Amy, ah, Anna?  It’s really all about choosing the right restaurant.  Good luck and send in the next kid”.  Those who made their visit to the counselors’ offices two or more weeks into Career Month got to sit opposite a burned-out counselor for maybe ten minutes and that included the time it took to dig out their file.  And why? The alphabet.

Using Google I did some research and found that if the first letter of your last name is one of the first 6 letters of the alphabet you have an 8.4 times greater chance of becoming a physician or lawyer than if your name begins with one of the last six letters of the alphabet (if your name begins with the 7th to 12th letter that chance drops to 4.1).  Coincidence?  I don’t think so.  Those with the most respected careers (physicians, lawyers, teachers, accountants, and higher level business managers) tend to have names like Anderson, Barker, Collins, Davis, Edwards and Foster and it’s all because of a simple letter, a letter that got them in to see a counselor early in Career Month.  The letter “A”?—judge, surgeon, rocket scientist, CEO, author.  “J”?—vacuum cleaner repair technician. “P”?—-landscaper helper (edger, sweeper, sprinkler). “T”?—-plumber’s drain cleaning assistant. “W”?—the guy who scrapes gum off the floor of the airport terminal: a gum scraper.

Something must be done and I think that something is the students should be called in randomly and also be given a report with the names of the students counseled and their current careers with the counselor’s pay rate for the next year linked to the scholastic ranking of the college attended and the grade point average or salary of the counseled students.

“You’re going to see Mrs. James?  You’ll like Arby’s” would turn into, “You’re so lucky that Mr. Evans helped you with something better than Arby’s, Wendy’s is much nicer”.  Imagine the thrill when Mrs. Becker says, “I don’t see you at Arby’s at all, Marty, let’s just see if we can get you into MIT” and Mrs. Becker’s pay rate would go up, the student would be successful and everyone would be happy except Arby’s.

It’s just so sad that my counselor, Mrs. Higgins, didn’t take the time to recognize my abilities and talents when she spoke to me long ago during, you guessed it, the fourth week of Career Month.   I could have done much better for myself.  I could have had a meaningful career.  Instead of working in the main terminal maybe I could have had a chance to run that Arby’s slicer.

Where are the children?

Remember counting down the days until the end of the school year?  Remember when the summer stretched forever and you were out of the house early in the morning and came dragging back in when the sun was about ready to set?  Remember games and bikes and forts and playgrounds and swimming and Kool-Aid stands and all of the other things of a kid’s summer.

Take a drive around your town this summer.  Some towns look like they’ve become “The Villages—Florida’s Retirement Hometown”.  Not a bike, not a baseball glove, not a kid is seen. Where are the children?