Monday, July 31, 2006

Interesting Poll Results

Someone, somewhere,( I admit to forgetting) posted the following: "There are 10 different kinds of people in the world, those who understand binary, and those who don't". After a pause for the gears to click, I laughed out loud. I thought it was hysterically funny. My ego also kicked in as it considered my reaction a sign of a brain younger than the bod - which is aging rapidly.

Now as most know, we live in a community of senior citizens. We all eat in the same dining room. The wait staff is made up of youngsters still in high school or just graduated and waiting for college. It is the one time of day that we get to interact with youth and these are delightful kids. I decided to do a survey. I typed the joke alone on a piece of paper and took it to dinner.

In a poll so unscientific and lacking in validity as to make a statistician quake, I got the surprise of the day. More senior citizens than high school scholars understood the joke.

All you youngsters, put that in your pipe and smoke it. And if you don't understand the joke, ask the grey haired one who walks with a walker.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Riding Running Boards

When I was in high school very few of my classmates had their own cars. The war had started and you needed a ration card to get gasoline. Besides that, most of us were too poor to be able to buy a car. My job ushering at the playhouse paid 67 cents a night and even in those days, that wouldn’t finance a car. My folks had a 1933 Ford, but only an “A” card entitling the family to three gallons of gas a week. I couldn’t do a lot of joy riding on that. Under those conditions in summer, we thought our friend, Ted, was a looney when he said that he had gotten a job delivering the yellow page phone books door to door. Then we realized that he had managed to upgrade his mother’s gas card on the basis of the delivery job. He drove his mother to her job in the morning then had her car to use all day until time to pick her up.

His territory for the delivery was in a section called Short Hills. The name should be your clue that most houses were up or down steps from the road. It was also a well-to-do area and the houses were big, far apart and a long way from the road. But Ted had that all figured out (in true Tom Sawyer fashion). Every day he enticed several of his friends to help with the lure of riding on the running board, a feature of all cars in those days. You stood on the running board and hooked an arm around the pillar between the front and rear doors. It was more fun that riding in a rumble seat. Anyway, the upshot of all this was that Ted got to sit behind the wheel getting paid to play supervisor while we knocked ourselves running up and down hills carrying phone books that got awfully heavy before the end of the day. By then our main motivation was to empty the car of phone books so there would be room to ride sitting inside on the way home.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

What One Doesn’t Know, Can Hurt

While I was working in Paris a zkillion years ago, we had a big party one night. It was to celebrate the finishing of the annual budget. Spouses of Paris folks were invited, while the representatives of the other European countries came single. Previously I had been bemoaning the fact that I worked in Paris but saw very little of the high fashion that was reputed to have its roots there. That evening dashed that complaint. The big boss had invited his secretary who had worked hard on the number crunching in that day before computers. She was very French and far and away the youngest lady there. And she was the very picture of fashion personified. We all met on the second level of the Eiffel Tower at a then fancy nightclub. Unbelievable entertainment including an Edith Piaf-like singer and a meal supplemented with many wines, especially a steady flow of champagne. Our secretary danced the night away with a large percent of the men there and not a few of the women. The representative of the Italian company was a proud lady’s man and he demanded more than his share of dances with her.

Finally we all retired to the bar of a nearby hotel to slow down in order to manage the drive home. Now, the fellow from Italy was a known womanizer who thought himself quite the most dashing charmer there. He had come on to the lady-secretary all evening and since he had a room right there in the same hotel, he turned up his “pitch” to high. The rest of us found this very amusing. Finally, another single at the party spoke up. He was a certified nerd, a geek. He announced to the glamorous lady that he would be happy to drive her home. She accepted in a flash and the Italian went silently ballistic. When they had gone he really lost his cool. The international group that was left conspired, with only glances and facial gestures, not to tell him what everyone, including the geek, knew. She and her partner were, happy, well-adjusted Lesbians, respected and well liked by all that knew them.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Random Thoughts

I have a bunch of things I should be doing, but…

We drove down A1A yesterday to Fort Lauderdale. It was a beautiful day. There is much to see along the way but the ride isn’t what I would call scenic. Most of the scenery is manmade. The so-called Gault Miracle Mile is awesome. It is a line of gigantic condo buildings snuggled up to each other and rising up twenty stories or so. Not for me, but obviously a lot of folks think of that as sunny Florida. The way buildings and homes are going up, it will be true in future years.

Contrary to the forecasters we have had three beautiful days in a row. We have a delightful breeze coming in off the ocean. That keeps the temperature in the livable range. What I don’t understand is how come a breeze that comes from the ocean can provide low humidity. It is about 47% this noon and the temp is 87. Nice.

Our pool was frigid this morning. I like it that way but the majority of the residents here will be unhappy.

This is the first day for a new executive director of this fine institute. I wish her well and hope that the old bitties here can hold off on their griping and let her get off to a pleasant start. The army isn’t the only outfit that is happy only when it has something to complain about.

The shuttle landed safely this morning and we could hear the sighs of relief all the way from Cape Canaveral. It was a beautiful landing.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Why I Hunt and Peck

The other night in the middle of the night I was awake and out of bed with aching legs. I suppose it was the legs that got me thinking about my mother (she suffered from a similar malady). In turn, I began wondering about some of the simple mistakes we make without a semblance of a reasonable excuse. When I was in the early high school years, my mother tried to teach me Gregg shorthand and touch-typing.
Remember this was before the concept of computers had even appeared in “Popular Mechanics" or "Popular Science". I was aware the only people that took typing or shorthand in school were girls. Mom tried to convince me that these skills would be very useful in college, but I would have none of it.

I know, in the next generation, I would be called a male chauvinistic pig. I know and I suffer for it. On ordinary keyboards I see today’s youth (no matter the gender) type like the wind. These young people can type on a tiny blackberry with two thumbs almost faster than I can think. And I go along hunting and pecking with two fingers and an occasional thumb on the spacebar.

One thing leads to another. I bet if I had overcome my macho-ism and learned to type, I wouldn’t be so dependant on “spell-check” today. Of course, another misplaced some-thing-or-other had effects long after a simple goof. In my first years with a secretary I got fairly proficient at dictating memos, reports and the like. I could use a Dictaphone at home and bring the tapes in or at the office dictate directly to the secretary.

When I arrived in France, I was assigned a secretary. She was older and of the "bath-every-Saturday ,needed-or-not club". She also felt brushing the teeth was “sissy”. Her English was not the best and the dictating sessions were long. Air conditioning was rudimentary and these long sessions of the intimacy required for dictating became painful. I was too chicken to fire her. (There are corporate truths. She and the higher hierachy were long time buddies.) I requested a Dictaphone, but none was forthcoming so I (thinking to be out of options) took to writing out what needed to be typed. I got out of the habit of dictation and never really picked it up again. Of course, in retirement a secretary would be a ridiculous luxury so this message is brought to you via the same hunt and peck process first mastered in high school. Who says we were the generation of progress?

Friday, July 07, 2006

Cereal Boxes

This morning there was a time constraint on my getting breakfast. After 8:00AM I was not to eat or drink again until after a test scheduled for 12:00 noon. Since that meant nothing more to eat until 2:30 or so, I decided to eat a larger than normal breakfast. I would have an English muffin AND dry cereal. It was a new box of cereal, never opened. The box opened quickly and easily. There was my “Smart Start” right before my eyes protected by the plastic bag common to dry cereals. I tugged and I strained, my poor old arthritic thumbs could not open that pseudo-wax paper bag. Finally, in desperation I resorted to scissors, something I have never before had to do.

Have you ever noticed that packaging engineers cannot achieve a consistent amount of glue to seal cracker boxes, cereal boxes, detergent boxes and anything where the glue has to be applied after the product is in the container? I have never had much respect for packaging engineers. They are so imbued with the thought that their mission in life is to “protect the product”, that they ignore the consumer who must have the product in hand to use or eat it. But they don’t seem to monitor the volume of glue nor its tenacity used on a packaging line moving at the speed of a space shuttle. Bah!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Genius with Humor

I should save this story until Christmas, but it just popped into my conscious memory. Six months from now surely it will be back to where memories hide from us.

About fifty years ago I was living in a cozy suburban community in North New Jersey. We were only a mile or so from the vast research campus of Bell Telephone Laboratories. The result was that a big part of our social scene was made up of “Bell Lab” people. We participated in a little theatre group and one of our stars was a very unique Bell Lab engineer. He had a mind like few I have ever known. He would drive the director of a production to the brink with his habit of never learning his lines during rehearsals. On the night of the dress rehearsal (with an audience) he suddenly knew his part and everyone else’s too. But that isn’t the story I started to tell.

Gus, our actor friend, did not have a college education and worked midst thousands of PhDs. Some treated him with distain for his lack of formal education, but they didn’t know Gus’s wild imagination and skills. He had a lab of his own and one November he locked himself in his lab and relocked it whenever he left it. This went on for several weeks. In December he came out in the hall and accosted one of the snobbish PhDs. Gus asked him if he thought it might be nice to write a holiday message on an oscilloscope tube. The PhD explained to Gus (patronizingly) that it was an analyzing device. Aside from some known voltage patterns; a specific pattern could not be created. (see dictionary definition:

oscilloscope |əˈsiləˌskōp| |əˌsɪləˈskoʊp| |əˌsɪləskəʊp|
a device for viewing oscillations, as of electrical voltage or current, by a display on the screen of a cathode-ray tube)

Gus waved this fellow into the lab and asked him to throw a switch in front of his oscilloscope. It wrote out in script :
"Merry Christmas" and after a pause, added: "to all" on a second line.

Over the coming weeks there was a steady stream of people, including the President of Bell Telephone, who came to see this miracle that Gus had accomplished. Meanwhile Gus had gone home to play with his kids for the holiday. He was also the first that worked flex-time with management tolerance. They knew genius when they saw it.

You also have probably seen an example of Gus’s genius in a novelty shop. Bell Lab licensed this one to novelty manufacturers. Remember the small coffin with a switch, like a light switch, above the coffin. When you throw the switch, the lid of the coffin opens and from it a forearm and hand rise up and turn off the switch, then descent back into the coffin and the lid closes. A silly gimmick, which uses new electronic principals never conceived of previously. The original was the outcome of another sojourn of Gus in a locked lab. The original arm was lifesize and wore Gus’s watch and wedding ring.

Gus was another proof that humor can share a genius’s brain and be a part of true creativity.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Camping in Luxury

There are two things about our going to Disney World.

First and foremost – we have great fun. The service is great, cleanliness is a hallmark, we can “do” or not as the mood strikes us. We can visit new attractions in the parks or revisit old favorites. We never run out of places to visit or books to read. OK, I didn’t read this trip, having taken the laptop and indulged in several hours of FreeCell. It is addictive.

The second observation that looms large is: old age sucks. At least some of the ailments that come with old age are annoying. I used to run miles just because it felt good. Nowadays my walking is so bad that we rented a golf cart for use in Fort Wilderness where we stayed. In Epcot and Magic Kingdom I rented electric wheelchairs. I admit that I love to pretend I’m practicing for Nascar at Daytona. Tourists scatter when they see me coming.

In Fort Wilderness we had a cabin. We were able to do steaks and hamburgers on an old fashioned charcoal grill. They were delicious. There was a full kitchen so we could have what we wanted to eat. In the woods, surrounded by trees we were beneficiaries of constant bird songs. All and all, a restful and delightful way to spend a few days.