Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Chasm Widens

Feed The Machine

I found myself paying for something with cash the other day. This was odd because I realized at the time I seldom do this anymore. I had accidentally pushed the 'cash back' option on a previous purchase and the self check-out machine spit out a $20 bill to me. At my next stop, I thought I might as well use the money and actually got change back, which again was a first in the last 3 months. When you use debit, you never get change back. It felt funny in my pocket.

This is the way it starts. The slow transformation into a different society. The telephone did it back in the 1890s as did the electric light, the transistor and scores of other inventions. They have changed the way we think and the way we interact.

This was also brought home with the response I give to the homeless when they ask me for spare change. "I only use debit.", I respond. I don't have cash or change on me anymore. Hence, the chasm widens between the haves and the have nots. Those that can't ride the wave, drown in the ocean.

More and more, hard currency is becoming the economic engine of the poor and disenfranchised. Those that can't afford the bank account, or those that can't accept change get left further and further behind. Is this a good thing? Can't say at this point, but it is changing things.

The last footnote that I observed in this pending revolution? The picture above of the new parking meters in downtown Phoenix. They accept Debit Cards and Credit Cards. Which is probably not a good thing, since this cash strapped state / city will probably be increasing the parking fee to $5 a hour. It is sort of hard to carry around that much change in your pocket.

Friday, December 19, 2008

A Shameless Plug

In Praise of AppleTV

While my contempt for mainstream media is well documented in my past blog entries, I sort of experienced the straw that broke the camel's back with the initial airing of "Momma's Boy" this week on broadcast television. Coming right on the heels of the final "The Biggest Loser" and foreshadowing the coming of "Bromance", I leaped from my couch and ran out the front door screaming while jabbing knitting needles into my eyes.

Well, not exactly, but that is what I felt like doing. I have often stated that I feel that mainstream media is 'dumbing down' the American populace and I believe that these shows vindicate that prediction.

But, I am happy to say that I have found salvation. Brothers and Sisters, I give you AppleTV. The little DVR from Apple computer that sits on top of our HDTV.

I originally bought one of these units on a whim, because I thought it would be a 'cool' little toy to add to the Apple Wireless network in our home. In retrospect, it may have been the best entertainment investment I have ever made.

The wife and I don't watch a lot of broadcast television anymore. The simple reason is that most of it just isn't worth watching. But with AppleTV we have a whole new world of options....all commercial free.

Besides having complete access to the iTunes store on line (through our Wifi network), it can also play video from DVDs that I have ripped on my iMac G4 (most of which I get from free from the Public Library). I have just finished ripping the wide screen version of "Mutiny on the Bounty" with Marlon Brando, all in HD format and it cost me 'nada'....not a dime.

If you want to watch television on this little wonder, you can, with no commercials, in HDTV. Only you will have to pay for it. While it might sound stupid to pay for something you can watch for free off the airwaves, bear in mind that most of the shows are in HD, none have commercials and you can download entire seasons of shows onto the unit and watch them at your leisure. The wife and I are on Season #3 of the Sopranos, we will be through the entire series by sometime in February. That is six seasons of the Sopranos, uncut, HD when ever we want.....sweet. (for about the same price as the DVD boxed set that just came out, and it isn't in HD)

If that weren't enough, we also get free access to Video Podcasts (NBC nightly news each night without commercials), access to my entire iPhoto collection and access to my online Flickr account along with all my Flickr contacts. Which means I can view my Flickr photos in a slide show AND any of my contacts photos in a slide show....again, all in HD.

But wait, theres more, I also have access to YouTube through the AppleTV unit, which lets me browse and search anything on Youtube with the AppleTV remote.

They keep hammering into our heads that Digital TV is coming in February, but I am not really that concerned. Thanks to AppleTV I have become my own network and I schedule my own programming. It is all in HDTV and there are no commercials. Better still, there is no Real World, Paris Hilton's BFF, Bachelorette, Biggest Loser, Bromance or Momma's Boy.

Thank you Steve Jobs.....from the bottom of my heart. You kept me from shoving knitting needles into my eyes.

(click the title to go to the AppleTV website, do it, you know you want to)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Digging Ditches

Predicting The Future Isn't Easy

The ways of the world are changing and it gets harder to see these changes the older we get. As humans, we tend to strive or security and comfort when in fact, nature is the exact opposite. We need to constantly remind ourselves that nothing is static and the future is never guaranteed.

When I was a young lad, my father always made sure to reinforce the ethic of hard work and planning for my future. His view of the world and success were based in the great depression and the Second World War. His career path ended up being an officer in the U.S. Military. In his eyes, hard work and a good, competent employer were the keys to security and happiness in your old age. For his generation, this all made perfect sense.

I will never forget one of the lessons that my father taught me while sitting around the dinner table one night. It went something like this:

"You need to study hard and get good grades in school. You can't get a good job with a big company if you are a slacker. If you get good grades and work hard, you can get a job with Boeing or ATT or General Motors, work there for 25 years and then retire with a nice pension. Otherwise you will end up being a 'ditch digger' or a 'garbage man'."

As a young child of 10, I nodded my head in agreement. Sounded like good advice and what the heck, this was my father. The man could do no wrong in my eyes.

My father could not have foreseen the economic collapse of the early 21 Century. Countries that win World Wars don't fall apart 50 years later. The Boeing Corporation that made the bombers that he flew in WWII is half it's former self and struggling to compete with France's Airbus. The ATT he referred to was the 'old' ATT (at the time the ONLY telephone company) before it was broken up, and recently resurrected as the new ATT. And General Motors....we won't even go there. By the time you read this, they might not even exist anymore.

And those jobs I was supposed to avoid at all costs?:

Ditch diggers now sit in air conditioned backhoes and make upwards of $30 an hour. Those garbage men? Their hands never touch the garbage can as they sit in trucks and control pneumatic arms that process the trash. The are usually unionized and have better benefits and stability than I could ever imagine.

Predicting the future is never easy. Life has taught me that you have to be able to roll with the economic punches and to never trust your employer. Regardless of what they say, they NEVER have your best interests at heart. As a fellow blogger mentioned, we are all our most precious resource. We shouldn't trust others to use us on their behalf. We need to manage ourselves and be ready for any eventuality.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Next Big Step

Asking Questions

My wife and I were cleaning out the back yard last Sunday. I was working in the garage (the never ending project) and she was cleaning off the back porch.

As we took turns taking stuff to the dumpster in the alley and asking where various things went or what they were it became apparent that my wife was in a bit of a funk. We all get this way. My theory is, we are all bi-polar to some degree, some of us need medication for it and the rest of us just deal with it until we start to rebound.

So I asked my wife what was on her mind and why she was so 'down'. She didn't want to talk about it. This is an ongoing problem with the Mrs. She bottles things up and doesn't 'work' things through. So I did what "Mr Sympathy" should do and I started 'tickling her' and making fun of her to try and get her loosened up.

She finally confessed that she was in a rut because she had been thinking. Why does she work so hard at her job while most of her co-workers have no interest in doing a good job or striving to make things better?

I almost fell over on the pavement when she said this.....and then I started laughing. I confessed to my wife that I was very proud of her.

My wife has finally 'caught up' to the rest of us and realized that giving 110% only means that your employer is going to to give you 120% of the work. I believe that my wife was sort of struggling through an epiphany of some sort regarding the order of human society and just how many of us are slackers and nair-do-wells that take up space and collect a paycheck.

I knew I married the right person when I said the 'I Do' thing. She just keeps re-affirming that I made the right decision more and more each day.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Meet Mr. Sympathy

The difference between Boys and Girls

We have two dogs. One is about a year and a half old [Bacchus, the good looking one in the background] and the other is all of 6 months [Max, in the foreground]. They each weigh about 40 to 50lbs. They love to play and chase each other around the back yard, which is a hoot to watch. Only problem is, when they are really going after one another they don't always watch 'where' they are going. This translates into 100lbs of dog going about 30mph. My wife found out just how dangerous this can be last weekend.

She was standing in our rear driveway and took her eyes off the dogs. Without warning, the 100lb dog missile slammed into the back of her legs and sent her flying backwards. She did a one and a half gainer into the concrete, with the back of her head hitting the ground first, followed by most of her shoulder blades and back.

She let out a scream and went limp on the pavement while the dogs circled her, trying to lick her face.

I came running out of the house to see what was wrong, and this is where my exceptional husband skills came into play.

I stood over her and asked her what happened.

"I fell, the dogs hit me!" (in a very painful voice, half crying)

"Can you get up?"

"NO!, I can't move! (more crying and grimacing)

"Can you move your fingers and toes?"

"I don't know!....it HURTS so much!" (more tears coming down the cheeks)

"If you can't get up in 3 minutes, I am calling an Ambulance"

"No you're Not....arrrggghhhh!" (more grimacing)

After about 5 minutes I was able to help her up and she survived with no permanent injury. She was stiff as a board for about 3 days and in a lot of pain. After consuming a whole bottle of Tylenol she healed enough to confide in me that she was not impressed with my empathy skills while she was laying on the ground. Her expectation was that I should get down on the ground with her and hug her and tell her everything was going to be all right.

Unfortunately, this is not how men think. My wife's mishap and injury were a problem to be solved, not an excuse for an emotional outburst. My first concern was for spinal injury and ascertaining if she just had accute pain or permanent severe injury, and if so, to get her professional treatment as soon as possible. In that respect, I wasn't going to try and touch or move her until I was sure that her spinal cord wasn't damanged

Obviously my wife thought otherwise. Her opinion, is that in cases of spinal injury and head trauma....hugs are best. '

So my new nick name is "Mr. Sympathy". I can live with that.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

When Coincidence, Isn't

Somedays It Seems Like This

If you have read enough of this blog you probably know that I am a bit frustrated with some of the people that I have to interact with on a daily basis. My expectations of others may be a bit too high and maybe I should think about lowering them. Or, there is always the conspiracy theory.

I was pondering this in my favorite pondering place the other day, the men's bathroom stall. I get a lot of good blogging ideas in that little room. On one recent visit, my brain started analyzing some things that have been bugging me and I came up with some interesting 'what if scenarios'.

Many of the things that drive me nuts are not one-off occurrences. They are repetitive, they happen more than once, often times involving the same people, over and over. There comes a point where what initially looks like random stupidity starts to form a pattern. Where there are patterns there is predictability and organization.

Which leads me to the concern that we are really dumbing down over time and that we just don't perceive it because it is so slow and gradual.

Back in the 1950s there was a classic science fiction film called "Invasion of the Body Snatchers". This films underlying premise was based on the concept of the communist conspiracy that was overshadowing everything during the Cold War. The film has since been remade several times, most recently with Nicole Kidman, but nothing can really beat the original.

The premise behind the film was that as we slept, alien life forms were duplicating people into mindless zombies, that looked the same as the day before, but were emotionless and hollow. Sometimes, I have the feeling I am in a real life version of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers".

If we all wake up tomorrow to find that our spouse / significant other has forgotten how to operate the car. Would we wonder if it is early Alzheimers or is someone putting something in the water to make us more stupid? Rarely does cultural change happen overnight. Most of the time it is gradual from generation to generation. However, the people born into today's media generation don't tend to see things this way and have a hard time understanding the concept of gradual change. Be it change for the good or change for the worse.

If a terrorist really wanted to 'defeat' us over time, they wouldn't be blowing things up. They would be finding slow, undetectable ways of dumbing us down with chemicals or media saturation. Or worse yet, we could be doing this to ourselves and not even know it. We don't know yet if using 'Splenda' or 'Equal' in our coffee might shrink our brains over generations.

Some of the recent patterns that really make me wonder about all this are:

The issues with my job (here are a few examples); "Example-1", "Example-2", "Example-3", "Example-4"

Auto Bailouts....doesn't anyone remember that we bailed out Chrysler once already about 20 years ago, and now they are back looking for more loan guarantees?

Bank Failures.....I can understand one or two.....but almost every large financial institution in the country is going down the tubes and none of the CEOs saw this coming? [Enron, Lehman Brothers, AIG, Washington Mutual...the list is endless]

Sex Scandals w/Politicians: Bill Clinton, Eliot Spitzer, John Edwards, John Kennedy, Quami Kilpatrick....absolute power corrupts absolutely, but don't you think these guys would learn? .... not if they are using enough 'Splenda' they won't.

If a person has 6 auto accidents in 6 years, is it the car, the other drivers on the road or the owner who can't pay attention? As the driver you are choosing to accept the risk knowing that the competency of other drivers might not be that great based on the number of accidents in your area. However, when we do get into an accident (at least here), you are encouraged to assume it is someone else's fault and sue them (cha ching).

Your assumption of the risk has no bearing on your probability of getting injured. Therefore, the premise of interacting with other people that you know to be stupid means a win-fall for you? This is akin to doing jump rope in a minefield and then suing the land owner for your missing foot, even though the mine field is clearly posted. Are we really dumbing down this much?

I am starting to get worried....I am going to dig a bomb shelter for when the mindless zombies come looking for me in mass. At times, it seems like they already are. I can stock it full of food, LaserDiscs, Playboys and ..... lots of 'Splenda'.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Going Legit....

I never thought that when I started writing this blog that it would actually start to pay for itself. That was never my intent, but I must be doing something right, because that is what folks are starting to do.

I got an e-mail a few months ago from a publishing company called Turner Publishing. They indicated that they were willing to send me a copy of one of their latest books for free if I would review it in my blog. I sort of wondered if this was legit, but I figured I had nothing to loose, so I wrote back to the company and said sure, send me the book. Sure enough, 5 days later it showed up in the mail, and it is a 'nice book'. Hard cover on glossy paper. So without further delay, here is my review of "Historic Photographs Of Phoenix" published by Turner Publishing.

I liked this book because it deals with subjects that interest me, so in that regard I am a bit biased. I live in Phoenix, Arizona and I love photography so this is a match made in heaven. Add to the mix, the fact that Phoenix is a pretty 'young' city that does not have a lot of history or culture and a book of old pictures from the city's past makes for some interesting reading.

While the book covers a good portion of the history of Phoenix, it does seem a bit limited in its scope. There are segments of the history of this city that are left out or only slightly touched upon. Most of the photography deals with the history of Phoenix from 1890 through the early 1950s. During this time period, Phoenix was still a relatively small town. It grew considerably during the Second World War, and then really took off in the late 1950s and 1960. It is now the 5th largest metropolitan city in the United States. That is a lot of growth in a very short period of time. This book covers little of the time period from 1960 through 1980, when most of that growth took place.

The other thing I discovered that limits it's scope is the fact that all of the pictures are from public archives. The Phoenix Public Library and the Arizona Historical Society to be exact. Which means they are in the public domain. All the author did was go to these two sources, pay the copyright fees, do limited research and publish the results. There does not appear to be a lot of digging through the past to come up with images that are rare or out of the ordinary. The author simply packaged what was available to the public in a nice neat format.

Still, this is an entertaining book for most Phoenicians that have moved here in the last 10 years and don't know about how and why this city came to exist. Up until the Second World War, this was a very backward town. While New York and San Francisco were thriving in the 1920 and 1930, we still had dirt covered streets and swam in irrigation canals to beat the 110 degree heat. It was still the wild west up until 1941.

The book touches on some of the darker issues in Phoenix's past, but only slightly. The issues of race relations between Caucasians, Hispanics and African-Americans is barely mentioned, but was a big issue between the 1940s and 1960s. Prior to 1940, Hispanics played a major role in the development of the town. With the onset of WWII, the tightening of borders and the expanding military industrial complexes that sprang up around the growing city, the Caucasian influence became predominant and most ethnicities were marginalized until attitudes started to change in the 80s and 90s. The issue of race is still a hot button issue here regarding illegal immigration.

This would be a good gift for anyone in Phoenix that wants to know more about the city. If you want to know the real secrets of this town, you will have to dig a little bit deeper, but this book scratches the surface pretty well.

Historic Photos of Phoenix
Text and Captions by Eduardo Obregon Pagan
Published by Turner Publishing Company, Copyright: 2007