Monday, January 31, 2011

Beano for the brain

The problem with mental flatulence is that it can't be attributed to too much fiber in your diet. For my own part, I attribute it to not having enough creative outlets. So every now and then I just hop up manically and start letting loose random ideas with very little merit.

For example (and I feel bad about exploiting the misfortunes of others), it dawned on me that this would be an excellent time for an investor to buy one of the Great Pyramids of Egypt and have it moved stone by stone to some place in the United States, maybe a WalMart parking lot for example. Then whoever bought it could market their company as truly one of the great wonders of the world. If you threw in some camels, you could have all kinds of opportunities for hump day promotions, too.

I have several of these types of ideas on any given day. The problem is, my talents are for coming up with big ideas. But I have very little interest in the practical aspects of implementing them. The big challenge in any great idea is overcoming the petty details and obstacles thrown in their way by operations and logistical people. No matter how loudly I shout, "Give me solutions, not problems," most people ignore me.  Perhaps this because am often shouting this on the bus or train at random strangers who aren't privy to my grand ideas.

I wish I could figure out a way to get recruited by some big think tank where I got paid beaucoup bucks to come up with big ideas. And after I'd passed forth these pearls, I'd leave it up to some other swine to string them together into a necklace. I'd be in hog heaven.

The problem is, someone other than myself would have to recognize me as a creative genius before they would offer me a six-figure job passing brain farts every day. It's the same problem I have getting my blog to go viral and capture the world's attention.

I suppose it is all in how you define genius. Thomas Edison once said that "Genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent inspiration." Most of the population, however, seems to think that genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent regurgitation. I prefer to think genius is closely aligned with original thought. And the more original ideas you have, the more of a genius you are.

Notice I said original ideas, not good ones.

Not that I think there is a lot of room for original thought in the world anyway. I've expressed my frustration on more than one occasion about having what I thought was a cool idea only to Google it to find out that about a million other people had the same cool idea. And don't cliche me with "great minds think alike" crap. Mediocre minds think alike.

I'd like to think great minds digress a lot, too.

Anyway, I was thinking of changing the title of my blog to Beano for the brain.  But a quick Google search has shown that several other people have gone down that path, so I'll pass on it.

Besides, I am the only Dizgraceland and I'd hate to see all the brand equity dissipate by trying to freshen it up with a cheap play on words. A man has to have a place to pass on his ideas without someone wanting to beat the dog.

I feel so much better now.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Computing in the cloud

I had a post almost complete yesterday when blogger belched and it evaporated into the computing cloud that Microsoft is so proud of touting on its television commercials. I haven't a clue as to what key combination I hit that made the post disappear. God only knows where or when it will turn up.

I was going on about how silly it seems to refer to Web based computing as the cloud as if it was some new invention to use software that wasn't housed on your PC or laptop. Before personal computers and the Internet, people used remote terminals hardwired or connected via a modem to a mainframe computer. So it isn't like it is a new concept. Just instead of tapping into a mainframe, we're tapping into a network of servers.

I used to consider myself fairly tech savvy. I worked as weekend computer operator on an IBM mainframe computer for the Idaho State Department of Transportation when I was in college. It was kind of a pain in the ass job because you had to work two rotating 12-hour shifts. One week you'd work from 11 p.m. to 11 a.m. The next weekend you'd work from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. You'd get every third weekend off. It wouldn't have been so bad if it was the only job I had, but at the time I was also working full time at the local public library and carrying a full load at college. So for almost two years I was working 64-hours a week and going to college. There we some weekends where I'd work all night at the computer job and then go work at the library, get off and go back to the computer job.

I drank a lot of coffee back then.

The computer I worked on took up a room the size of a small gymnasium. The CPU sat in the center of the room and rows of large magnetic tape drives surrounded it. And being a computer operator back then involved essentially being the machine's bitch. There was a monitor and keyboard console at the front of the room along with a card reader. You'd feed a stack of punch cards containing computer code -- usually COBALT or something like that -- into the card reader. That would be processed by the CPU and then, depending upon the program, the monitor would beep at you to go retrieve a numbered tape from an adjacent tape storage room and load it on one of the tape drives.

Sometimes you'd load a tape and the computer would access one small bit of data and then ask for a different tape. I used to curse at the programmers who ran jobs that asked for 40 or 50 tapes. If I wasn't loading and unloading tapes, I was loading paper on a large chain printer the size of a coffin that sat in the back of the room. And if I wasn't loading paper on the printer, I was carting stacks of three-part carbon forms to a room behind the computer room that housed a machine known as a burster. You'd load the three part paper stack into it and it would burst the three copies apart into three separate stacks and spit out the ribbon of carbon paper between the copies.

Although it was mind numbing work at times, I got so I preferred the days and nights when lots of jobs had been submitted because the alternative was 12 hours of sitting there with nothing to do but pace around the
CPU and check in on the monitor every 30 minutes to make sure the thing was running. In addition to housing the data for the department of transportation, the computer also housed all of the state's driving and driver's license records. So it had to be up 24-hours a day because cops would call in to their control center when they made a traffic stop to check some one's license. The control center would in turn would tap into the computer records via remote terminals.

Because the computer housed driver's license and driving records, the computer room was under 24-hour surveillance by Idaho State Police via closed circuit cameras. The cops were housed in another part of the building so I never met them, but I got to know them via telephone. The were quick to call me saying the "com" was down even when they saw me on the computer frantically trying to reboot to solve a problem.

The only way to escape the fishbowl of the computer room was to slink off into an adjacent data processing room filled with card punch machines manned during the day by a small army of data processing clerks. It was my sanctuary. After a few weeks I started to figure out ways to take naps during the lulls in changing tapes and printer paper. I discovered a custodian storeroom behind the card punch room. In it were stacks of quilted pads used for moving office equipment. I converted them into a makeshift mattress and blankets

We weren't technically supposed to sleep because you were required to check the machine every 30 minutes to make sure everything was running. But I managed to program my body to take 30 minute naps and wake up automatically to stumble into the computer room and check the machine. I wasn't fully awake, so I suppose you could say I was originator of the concept of computing in a cloud or for as the case may be.

Looking back, it all sees so archaic. I probably have more computing power now in my desktop computer than that mainframe had back in 1980. And long gone are the days of programming via punch cards and computer tape. I don't imagine anyone uses the phrase "data processing" anymore. We now surf and float in the clouds, tweeting and interfacing on social network sites.

Even though the technology has evolved and become an inseparable from our lives, the basic concept of computing comes down to a series of 0's and 1's combined in various patterns at an ever increasing speed. But boiling down the complexity of computing to binary code doesn't sound as sexy to marketers trying to keep Microsoft hawking its system snake oil to the ignorant masses.

That's okay. I have always liked the fog and my head in the clouds.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Bad medicine

I don't think all television sucks, just the plethora of programs that have been cloned by the creators of Grey's Anatomy, especially that new one called Off the Map about doctor's working in a remote and undisclosed location in South America that is actually filmed in Hawaii. That show sucks major loads of swamp water.

I watched the first episode on On Demand during a desperate search for something I hadn't seen before. The actor who used to play Lenny on Laverne and Shirley (Michael McKean) guest stars as a tourist who is injured after running into a tree while repelling through the rain forest. His internal injuries are so severe they need to operate on him at the jungle clinic. They discover in the middle of the surgery that they don't have enough plasma on hand so the doctors leave Lenny on the operating table while they go retrieve coconuts. They then hook Lenny up to a coconut IV since everyone knows coconut milk is an excellent substitute for plasma.

Lenny survives the surgery and the coconut milk, but resists being airlifted to a real hospital until he has the opportunity to dump his late wife's ashes in a local lagoon famous for its glow in the dark algae. Apparently this was the real reason for Lenny coming to the undisclosed South American location. No one bothers to ask him why scattering his wife's ashes to get closure wasn't the first thing on his To Do list before taking the canopy ride on a harness through the rain forest. They simply throw his stretcher into a canoe and paddle to the lagoon. Lenny then proceeds to pollute the pristine ecosystem of the lagoon with his dead wife's remains and looks quite relieved. Perhaps this is really because he will have less luggage on his return trip home.

I won't go into any of the other inane and implausible subplots going on in the program but suffice it to say they involved cheesy stereotypes of third world patients gratefully paying the young, beautiful white doctors in chickens to thank them for saving their lives.

I want to go out on a limb here and state bluntly that the biggest lie shows like Grey's Anatomy and Off the Map perpetuate is that people who work in hospitals are attractive and majorly buff. Maybe I'm not going to the right hospitals, but no one in a hospital even looks remotely like anyone from Grey's Anatomy. No one in any hospital I've been in even remotely looks like they have ever seen the inside of  a gym or passed by a box of jelly doughnuts.

These doctor shows also falsely suggest that when you enter a hospital, you are immediately surrounded by surgeons anxiously waiting to remove your spleen regardless of whether there is anything wrong with it. My experience with hospitals is that you can languish for hours in the waiting room filling out paperwork before you get to spend an average of three minutes with someone you assume is a doctor. They generally look at your paperwork, look at their watch and then rush out the door presumably to act busy and distracted with the next patient. None of the doctors I have encountered seem overly enthusiastic about trying any new breakthrough surgery on any parts of my body, either.

But I suppose no one would watch television shows that depicted what doctors and hospitals are really like. Nor would they want to watch television programs about doctors who chose less glamorous specialties than brain surgery and plastic surgery. Dr. McDreamy wouldn't be as dreamy if he was a podiatrist or proctologist now would he? And what makes a person decide to concentrate on such things when they go to medical school anyway. Do they wake up one morning and say, "You know, I think staring at assholes all day is the direction I should take with my medical career."

Of course, I think staring at assholes all day is the direction many people's careers take them.

Butt, I digress...get it?

Anyway, I'll be glad when we get off from the doctor themed doctor drama's and move on to the next theme in the cycle. But please don't let it be more crime drama's or remakes.

I think the new Hawaii 50 sucks, too, BTW.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Snow how, snow way

As predicted, it did indeed dump a great deal of snow here on Tuesday night. By morning we had five inches of snow. But a heavy rain was falling when I backed my car out of the driveway into the now slush filled streets to drive to the train station.

My wife rushed our kids to a local park to make slush angels and lopsided snowmen in the rain. By the time I returned home in the evening, the snow had been reduced to what looked like skid row versions of Frosty the snowman lying in the gutters.

Temperatures are now in the 50s so the bogeyman has retreated into the closet until the next slow news day.

I'm sure other parts of the nation would like to dope slap Seattle for its whining about snow. We are definitely a city of weather wimps. Perhaps it comes from all the rain. It creates a mental mold that is hard to shake off. Even when the sun shines here and the temperatures rise above 60 degrees, people bitch about the heat.

Ironically, I moved here years ago to go to college because I liked the idea of being near water. You would have thought that would lead me to look for colleges in California or Florida, but no, I chose the Pacific Northwest. Forget the fact that when sitcom and screenplay writers want to pick someplace at the edge of the known world, they pick Seattle. When Frasier Crane ran away from Cheers and his ex-wife Lilith, he ended up in Seattle because it is as far as you can get from Boston without going to Alaska. And I'm sure the writers ruled out Alaska because it would be too much of a ripoff of Northern Exposure.

I am used to living in places which are considered on the fringe of civilization and culture. Idaho is also used by screenwriters as a place still waiting to be discovered by Lewis and Clark. I am surprised Kelsy Grammer, star of Frasier, didn't end up in Boise instead of Virginia in the plot of his failed sitcom Hank a few years ago.

I can tell you though, after growing up in Idaho, Seattle is pretty darned urban hip in comparison. But the rain thing is a bummer. And don't get me started again about what happens when it snows here. Also, living here makes you digress a lot.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Is the bogeyman made out of snow?

"A bogeyman (also spelt bogieman, boogeyman or boogieman) is a monstrous imaginary figure used in threatening children. This legendary monster has no specific appearance, and conceptions of the monster can vary drastically even from household to household within the same community; in many cases, he simply has no set appearance in the mind of a child, but is just an amorphous embodiment of terror. Bogeymancan be used metaphorically to denote a person or thing of which someone has an irrational fear. Parents often say that if their child is naughty, the bogeyman will get them, in an effort to make them behave. The bogeyman legend may originate from Scotland, where such creatures are sometimes called bogles, boggarts, boggers, bugaboos or bugbears."
--Definition of bogeyman from Wikipedia
Ironically, the definition of bogeyman could easily be applied to the threat of snow in the Pacific Northwest:
"Snow (also known as blizzard, slush or freezing rain) is a monstrous imaginary figure used in threatening commuters. This legendary weather has no specific appearance, and conceptions of the weather can vary drastically even from household to household within the same community; in many cases, it simply has no set appearance in the mind of a commuter, but is just an amorphous embodiment of terror. Snow storm can be used metaphorically to denote a an excuse employees use to avoid coming to work."
I shouldn't be surprised that people in the Seattle area react so viscerally to the concept of snow. These are the same people who don shorts, tank tops and sandals if the sun peeks through the every present cloud cover. If a snow flake is spotted within a 40-mile radius, people here sack the local grocery stores for supplies and run home to cower under their beds waiting for the Apocalypse.

Oh, I exaggerate slightly. It does snow heavily once or twice here every five years or so. And since much of region seems perched either on the top or the bottom of a hill, most drivers voluntarily drive their cars into a tree or other parked car to get it over with.

I try to avoid being one of those annoying people who drone on about people here not knowing how to drive in snow. Unless you are in the Ididarod driving a dog sled, no one really knows how to drive in snow. I grew up in Idaho where it snowed a lot. And yes, we drove around regardless of how much snow there was, but I lived in a relatively flat place that wasn't quite as populated as Seattle. You could slip and slide and chances are you wouldn't hit anything except an unfortunate squirrel trying to protect its nuts. So it isn't really fair to say people in Idaho were better driving in the snow. They just had more experience and less things to run into.

Still, I get irritated that the media here talks about the possibility of snow as if it were the threat of alien invasion. And nine times out of ten we get a dusting of snowflakes and it stops. Then the media points the finger accusingly at Al Gore and starts ragging on the economy until some new more promising clouds form.

I kind of miss the joy I felt as a kid when it snowed. Snow translated to snowmen, snow forts, snowball fights and hockey games in the streets. Later it meant great skiing at the local ski resort. Unfortunately when I was a kid in Idaho, snow never translated to school closures or delays.

But I do think the bogeyman lived in the coal bin in my grandmother's basement.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Fee, FIOS, Fo Fum...

I pay Frontier FIOS for umpteen hundred channels including most of the premium channels. But the only thing I ever watch anymore are the on demand shows that you can't get unless you pay for the premium channels. The irony is that I never watch the real time premium channels, just the on demand shows. So why do they bother having anything but their on demand shows?

Its not like they make any more money by having the regular premium channels. I don't see the point. If everything is available in the on demand what is the purpose of having scheduled programming that you have to tune into or DVR? It isn't like the commercial channels that need you to watch commercials to pay for them. I'd even be willing to watch on demand programs with commercials you can't fast forward through if someone would simply give me the option of only on demand television.

I have this dream that some innovative cable company will create an option of just paying one fee a month to simply get unlimited on demand television. I don't want to skim through guides trying to figure out what is on. I don't want to have to use the DVR anymore. I just want to watch what I want to watch when I want to watch it.

 Is this too much to ask out of life?

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Elvis turns 76 (or turns over in his grave at 76)

Elvis was born on January 8, 1937 in Tupelo, Mississippi. He would have been 76 years old if he hadn't died on the toilet in August 1977 at aged 42. And I would be remiss if I, who once inexplicably (even to me) called himself Tim-Elvis and started a blog called Disgraceland that eventually became Dizgraceland after a upstart record label stole the domain name, didn't wish the king a happy birthday and say a few words about what Elvis means to me.

I'd have to say that Blue Moon is one of my favorite Elvis songs, though Mystery Train and Heartbreak Hotel are up there, too.

I once made a pilgrimage to Las Vegas strictly to visit some of the sacred Elvis sites, like the statue of Elvis at the Las Vegas Hilton. I also visited Landmark Drug Store where Elvis had his prescriptions filled. And I swear that I ran into Colonel Tom Parker coming out of a casino nearby. But I could have been having hallucinations.

I was Santa-Elvis at a work holiday party many years ago.

I used to have a Elvis shrine at my desk at work years ago. I even won a local newspaper's best toys in the office contest.

And I own an original Howard Finster Toddler Elvis artwork.

But I'm not really an Elvis fan.


Happy Birthday Elvis!

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Year of the Rat

Before anyone corrects me and points out that we are approaching the Year of the Rabbit and not the Year of the Rat, this post has nothing to do with the Chinese Zodiac (although my son was born in the Year of the Rat).

I took a vacation day yesterday to wrap up some errands and appointments. And since it is a new year and all of the holiday crap is 50 to 75 percent off at most stores, I decided to take my family on a road trip to a Walmart to check out the artificial trees.

I realize that checking out the artificial trees on sale at Walmart after Christmas is a major white trash thing to do, but when I took the Elvis tree down and packed it up over the weekend, I noticed it was getting a bit ragged and shedding more needles than a real tree that's been up for a month. And since I bought the white artificial tree that would be transformed into the Elvis tree at a K-Mart back in 2001 or so, I figured Walmart would be a suitable place to look for its replacement in 2011.

I will be very upfront here. I do not like Walmart. I feel a strong need to shower just driving by one, let alone walking inside.Let's face it, the stores appeal to the shallow end of the gene pool. But standards or not, I wanted to replace the Elvis tree without spending a great deal of money. And disgusting as Walmart and its corporate policies are, I'm not above trying to save some cash.

The nearest Walmart to us is only about six miles away, but it seemed like we were driving to the Arctic Circle to get there. It has been pretty cold lately and there was still snow on the ground from a brief storm that passed through parts of the Puget Sound region a week or so ago. One thing I noted was that the parking stalls nearest the store entrance were dry and ice free (although packed with cars), but the fringes of the parking lot were icy and relatively vacant. This was due in a large part to the reluctance on the part of most Walmart customers to park anywhere that will require them to walk more than 10 feet to get to the store entrance. There was a line of cars in the parking lot idling their engines waiting for spaces to come open that would minimize their need to walk.

I parked our car in one of the icy stalls on the fringes of the lot and we gingerly made our way to the Walmart entrance. Inside we steered our kids past the McDonald's and dodged walkers and motorized scooters to make our way to a large sign marked "Holiday Clearance."

I left my wife and kids rummaging through bargain ornament bins and rounded a corner to an aisle where boxed trees were arranged haphazardly on large warehouse shelves. I had a glimmer of hope when I saw a white artificial tree on display. As I got closer, my hope was crushed. The tree had a Charlie Brown quality that made my old Elvis tree seem upscale in comparison. Plus, it came prelit with white lights. The Elvis tree can only have blue lights. I am pretty easygoing about most things, but not the Elvis tree.

As I shook my head in disgust at the poor quality of the artificial white tree I caught sight of what I first thought was some one's pet Chihuahua scooting across the aisle floor. Then I realized in horror that it was a rat scuttling out from underneath some pallets supporting cartons of artificial trees.

I went back around the corner and told my wife about the rat and suggested we move the kids towards the other end of the store. Unfortunately this sent them through the toy section. After a half hour or so of saying no to toys my kids had to have and glancing nervously about the floor for more vermin, we eventually herded them towards the checkstands with one cheap toy apiece and then out the door to our car. We passed several people jumpstarting dead engines while other cars waited patiently for their parking spaces.

As we strapped the kids into their car seats, I vowed never to go into a Walmart again.

Well, unless they have some sale that is just to good to pass up.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Talking about a resolution, well you know, I don't want to change a thing

I generally always resolve not to resolve a thing every new year. I've been a health club member for enough years to know that health clubs make most of their money off from New Year's resolutions. Every January clubs are packed with people resolved to get in shape. And every February the clubs are back to their regulars just sweating away and bitching about the dirty locker rooms.

Human nature being what it is, making a New Year's resolution is like drawing a line in the sand with your subconscious. And nine times out of ten, your subconscious is going to whoop your ass.

Don't get me wrong. I think people can and should change things about themselves that they think need to be changed. However, New Year's isn't the time to do it. Change is hard enough without putting the pressure of a New Year's resolution on top of it.

I looked at my blog post from last year around this time and I wrote about resisting to resolve to write in my blog everyday because it would probably have the opposite effect. I was right. I wrote more in 2010 than in 2009 because I only wrote when I wanted to and not because I had to.

I wish that resolving to do things would give you the resolve to actually do them. But resolutions are kind of like wishes in that if they were horses, beggars would ride.

I will say that I did manage to maintain the weight loss I began in 2009 through 2010. But it had nothing to do with resolutions, just diet and exercise. Because accomplishing anything simple comes down to doing it and not thinking to much about it.

I obviously have not resolved to be more profound in 2011.