Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Society on two wheels

In my wheeling about town, have come to the conclusion that there are three classes of bicycle riders:

The Enthusiast – the Bicycle enthusiast loves to ride bikes for fun and recreation. These people usually wear helmets and other safety gear. They stick to the bike lane in the street or available bike paths and share the road with other vehicular traffic. Mostly they know that in a confrontation with a car, they will lose. They avoid that.

The Activist – These folks feel the bicycle must be forced onto society to replace the evils of the internal combustion engine. They will ride in all weather conditions and spend hours commuting to work in full foul-weather gear. These folks think that their bike is an equal to the motor vehicle and will ride down the middle of the street… pedaling as fast as they can to keep up 25 mph in a 35 mph zone – cars lined up behind them unable to pass. Yet these folks are the most likely to blow through stop signs and ignore red lights. They are on a mission and the bicycle is their instrument of social change. And most of them are not very friendly. Should you just barely avoid hitting one of these guys with your car, they will usually flip you off.

The Suspenders – These are people who are riding bicycles because they are not ALLOWED to drive cars. For any number of reasons they either have had their drivers license suspended or are unemployable and therefore unable to even purchase a full carton of cigarettes at one time, let alone buy a car. These guys usually wear a dirty baseball cap on backwards, no helmet. If they got off their bike and sat on the curb, someone would likely hand them a dollar bill. These guys don’t stop for stop signs or red lights either, but for different reasons… they wouldn’t if they were driving a car either.

I like to ride my bike every chance I get. My wife doesn’t like to ride that much. I think she has ridden her bike about three times in the two years we have had them. I just concluded that she doesn’t fit in any of the above categories. No wonder bike gathers dust in the garage.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The abducted brain

I was pissed – I just stepped off the shuttle to my hotel-resort, everyone's bags made the trip except mine. My green fabric suitcase was not there. All the guests sauntered in to check into their rooms; the shuttle driver was no help, he just looked at me blankly and shrugged.

I followed the others into the hotel, the lobby was huge and I was having difficulty finding the hotel front desk. To make matters worse, I was wearing my pajamas; I really needed my suitcase to get into some decent clothes. Wandering aimlessly past banks of slot machines and gift shops… I could feel my anger rising. Where the hell is that front desk?

I was still angry as I lay there in the dark in my bed until I slowly came to the realization that -- I had been dreaming. There was no shuttle, no hotel, my suitcase was empty and stowed in the garage… and I don’t wear pajamas – ever!

I am amazed how our sleeping brains free-associate unencumbered by our logical frontal lobe. How it can weave intricate stories, images, even create “extras” walking, talking in the background. We know, for example that this place we may be in is our home, yet it doesn’t look anything like our real home. And why is it, when we are in a hurry, the atmosphere turns into molasses forcing us into slow motion, like running under water?

The brain is active all the time, regardless if we are awake or asleep. I believe the brain does some very interesting “filing and sorting” of the information it takes in and processes. For example, we seem to forget our dreams rather quickly upon awakening unless we rewind and run them again in a conscious state. Barring that, they fade from memory like frost on a window.

I think this is intentional, a result of brain evolution. It is why I can still remember after 40 years that the scientific name of the Western Fence Lizard is Sceloporus occidentalis but can’t remember what I had for dinner two nights ago. The brain chooses what is important and needs to be remembered (like where the car keys are) versus that dream which quickly goes in the mental trash heap when we awaken.

And I think that sometimes, a system as complicated as the brain may occasionally drop a datum or two as it sorts millions of bits each minute. I find it significant that a lot of supposed Alien Abductions happen at night when someone is tucked away snugly at home in bed. Is it possible that this memory is merely misfiled in the “real” file when it should have gone into the “dream” file? Remember, if you rewind and rerun your dreams, you can put them into a different level of consciousness.

Hypnagogic hallucinations are events many people experience when in the first stages of sleep. At these first stages, the brain is releasing its hold on reality and lapsing within to its very normal inner realm of sleep. For example, it "disconnects" motor functions so we don't actually run in bed during our dreaming. Seeing deceased loved ones at the foot of the bed is a common experience at this stage. For me these hallucinations are usually auditory; I think I hear the doorbell ring or someone call my name. Once in a motel room, I quite vividly heard someone say in a hushed voice: “I think they’re asleep now”. Thinking someone was hiding in the room with us, I flew out of bed and turned on the lights. I was relieved to confirm that the room was locked and we were quite secure. But it was still creepy. Had I not become a "Skeptic" and learned about hypnagogic hallucinations, like many I could have easily attributed such an experience to Paranormal origins.

Some people are able to experience Lucid Dreaming where they can control the action as one might control a game or role play. My brain isn’t that talented, apparently. I seem able only to go along for the ride. -- Unfortunately, my suitcase didn’t make it to my destination with me on this last trip.

Monday, October 19, 2009

My mind in Jeopardy

My wife and I have just recently discovered Jeopardy, the TV game show that has been running for… well, decades. It airs during our evening cocktail hour so I have taken it on as a very RARE opportunity to prove to my wife that I am smarter than her in some things… (most of which have no relevance to our daily lives, but I digress.)

I do fairly well on most subjects, excelling in those of a scientific nature. Obscure trivia, geography, followed by history I do fairly well on. Just about the time my first Cosmo of the evening hits my neural cortex, I get a bit cocky and think I could probably rake in some quick cash being a contestant on this show. About that time the show offers up some of those “Black Void” categories – subjects which I have almost no hope of knowing remotely about. Should I ever be selected as a contestant on Jeopardy, these categories would realize my worst nightmare:

SPORTS – During no part of my life have I had ANY interest in any sort of sports. I have no interest in who is playing who let alone what their scores may be. Sports are never final; they are played over and over and over again. Now the ancient Maya ball court games would put the winning (!?) team to death at the end of a game. Now THAT I would watch.

SHAKESPEARE – I never could figure out Shakespeare. Its written in some kind of literary “code” so you can’t just read it, you have to decipher the sentences to determine what exactly is going on: “Thrift, thrift, Horatio! The funeral bak'd meats.” What the hell is that supposed to mean? Even reading the Cliff Notes from Shakespeare made my head hurt.

MATHEMATICS – I require the use of a calculator to figure out how much to tip a waiter.

WORD ORIGINS – We speak English, right? So I am assuming all our words came from England. I hope that one was the “Daily Double”.

THE BIBLE – See: “Shakespeare”.

FRENCH LITERARY POETS – OK, You gotta be kidding!

Jeopardy both humbles me and buoys my fragile ego that I am not a complete ignoramus. Besides, all the Simpsons episodes now are reruns.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A father's pride

Yesterday I watched with extreme pride as my daughter had her day in small claims court - taking an asshole of a landlord down for trying to screw her out of her rental deposit. You can read her account of her courtroom experience here.

The point is, Dad's are pretty sensitive about protecting their daughters. But I must say my little girl whipped some serious ass in that courtroom yesterday. My feelings can best be summed up right now pretty much like General Buck Turgidson in this scene from Dr. Strangelove:

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Home Improvement

I am a bit of a do-it-yourselfer. I like to save money, of course, but that isn’t why I do a lot of home repairs myself… seem to enjoy it. At least, I think I do.

The problem with most do-it-yourself projects is that there is a major disconnect between how one visualizes the job will come out versus how the process actually evolves in reality. Let me give you a quite common and recent example.

Problem: The outdoor faucet on the back of my house leaks.
Solution: After having replaced the washers twice, it’s time to replace the faucet.
Estimated job time: 20 minutes

Step 1 – Go to Home Depot. There are two choices of faucet. Not knowing which one will fit - buy both.

Step 2 – After shutting off the water supply, crawl under the house and clamp a vice grip wrench on the pipe so it doesn’t unscrew the galvanized steel extension screwed into the copper supply line.

Step 3 – Unscrew the faucet. However, the wood mounting plate is in the way; it will need to be cut away for the faucet to be unscrewed.

Step 4 – Begin sawing the wood mounting plate with a hand saw to free the faucet. The saw bends. It will require a power reciprocating saw.

Step 5 – Insert a new saw blade into the reciprocating saw. The new blade will not insert due to a stability pin in the saw chuck.

Step 6 – Find a slotted screwdriver and force it into the saw chuck with a hammer to move the stability pin so the blade can be inserted. All the screwdrivers in the tool box are Phillips.

Step 7 – Pound the saw blade into the saw chuck with a wooden mallet.

Step 8 – Use a hammer to remove the saw blade now embedded in the wooden mallet. It's now taken an hour to put a blade in the saw... normally a 15 second job.

Step 9 – Return to sawing the wooden faucet mounting plate with the power reciprocating saw. The saw blade breaks.

Step 10 – Using a hammer and chisel, chip away at the wooden faucet mounting plate until the faucet is free and can be safely unscrewed.

Step 11 – Using a pipe wrench, unscrew the faucet fixture. Note that it surprisingly comes completely free after a mere ¼ turn. Discover that is because the faucet’s rusty and corroded threaded coupling has completely BROKEN OFF inside the copper fitting under the house.

Step 12 – Locate a blow torch which is now needed to unsolder and remove the now damaged copper fitting under the house.

Now approaching the three-hour mark, PAUSE momentarily to assess just how “well” this job has gone so far… Visualize using a blow torch under the house on copper pipes fixed to the wood beams and with the water completely shut off.

Step 13 – Call a licensed plumber to come to the house to replace the faucet.

Cost: $158.00
Plumbers repair time: 20 minutes.
NOT burning down the house: Priceless.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Constantly moving images

The CEO of “NetFlix”, the US Mail DVD rental company, was interviewed on National Public Radio recently. He was giving his projections about where he believed technology, specifically regarding video technology, will be offering us in the near future. NetFlix has been offering more titles for “immediate download” now thereby positioning itself for when the DVD becomes as obsolete as the Bakelite 78 rpm phonograph record.

Reminiscent of the VHS versus Beta Max wars of a few decades ago, the battle between High-Def and Blu-Ray came to armistice with Blu-Ray declared the victor. It has taken me three years to sort out the difference between Blu-Ray and Blue-Tooth… I don’t use either one at the present time.

Eventually all entertainment content will be online – “streamable” I guess is the term. And I am sure it will come at a cost; both to my wallet and in the number of advertisements I will be required to sit through. I said wallet? -- More likely electronic debit from my bank account. With i-pods and i-phones, we are headed toward ponying up more money to watch epic films on a screen less than two inches square. For a kid who grew up on Cinerama, I personally think it’s a step backwards.

Already music CD’s are fading as a media market. Over half the music purchased today is paid for a song at a time and downloaded into an i-Pod or i-whatever. In the NPR article the correspondent asked the NetFlix CEO, “What’s next – hearing music from a chip surgically implanted in our brains?” Laughter… but it was nervous laughter.

I have two old Hi-Fi sets (that’s “High Fidelity” for you youngsters) that were built into furniture quality mahogany cabinets. One of these I gutted and turned into a bar. The other I gutted and turned into a stereo cabinet. It’s odd to think that even my stereo system will soon be obsolete. What do I do with the beautiful cabinet? I don’t need a second bar.

Much of the content on the Internet now is free. Expect that to change also. YouTube is already mulling over ways to begin charging people to view the content. Information is a commodity and commodities are sources of revenue.

I am considering the options of charging all of you to read my blog.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Don't leave home without it

I'm in the "Express Lane" at Safeway this evening... waiting, as one ALWAYS has to do in the Express Lane. The guy in front of me is buying one single packet of Kool Aid. Cost: 28 cents. -- He uses his debit card to make the purchase. [sigh]