Friday, January 22, 2010

Time & Money

I am a sucker for old technology. I assume it stems from the erector sets I played with as a child and my early days as an audiophile in college, before the days of computers and MP3 downloads. There is some sort of 'guy' satisfaction about finding something discarded or really cheap, and seeing if you can get it to work again. While some are waiting for the advent of Windows 7 or the next Mac OSX, I am still tinkering with OS9 and configuring a Palm Pilot that I recently purchased on ebay.

Since we live in an era of newer and faster is always better, I tend to rely on older proven technology that I know works....and is dirt cheap. In my world, faster isn't always better, and I like to lag a bit behind the curve.

Case in point; The Macintosh IIsi (pictured above)

This computer actually belongs to the State where I work, but was long abandoned during the last century. I rescued it from oblivion and put it in my office as a sort of curio / project. I have made every upgrade that I can to the thing (thanks to ebay and thrift store finds) and it now boosts three hard drives, a Jaz drive and a CD-ROM. It also runs at the speed of about 30mhz. Compare that to the 2.5 gigahertz speeds of most modern day computers.

Many would say that its slow speed makes this computer little more than a door stop or a paper weight, but I disagree. Our fascination with speed and power often times blinds us to the fact that some things are best done slowly. Over the years, my perception of the best way to approach something has changed, based on the resources that are at hand. Here is an example;

When I worked at Budget Rent-A-Car of Arizona, the business was run by a man that had purchased the franchise rights back in the 1950s for a few thousand dollars. By the time I worked there, the franchise was valued somewhere in the millions. The owner thought that he was a pretty slick entrepreneur and the fact that he had wades of cash falling out of his pockets didn't hinder his image of himself. He often time walked through the facility sticking his nose in everyone's business and trying his best to be a 'hands on' owner of the company.

I was often in meetings or within ear shot of the owner when he would put forth some far reaching, and sometimes ridiculous, idea that he felt could increase sales or efficiency in the company. He was almost always met with negative responses from managers and supervisors of why it would be impractical to implement his idea. At which point, he would sort of frown and change the subject.

One day we were having an impromptu discussion about something to do with the claims department at Budget Rent-A-Car when one of his ideas came up regarding changing the structure of how claims were handled. There was a pause in the conversation, and then I spoke up.

"We can make any changes you want, the only real issues are time and money. What you propose might take a long time and cost more than you are willing to spend."

The owner looked at me and his eyes lite up.

"That is what I wanted to hear! Someone that isn't afraid of change.", was his response.

It sort of dawned on me that the owner really didn't think most of his ideas would work. He was looking for employees that saw past the immediate constraints of their job and saw infinite possibilities and not excuses for not doing things.

"You give me enough time and money Mr. Budget, and I can build you a stairway to Mars. Mind you it will take a billion trillion dollars and take about 6 centuries complete, but it could be done."

"Thats the spirit!", he said, slapping me on the back.

This taught me the most valuable lesson in the busienss world. Look at what you can do, not what you are limited to do.

So what does this have to do with a 25 year old Apple computer sitting in my office? This little computer contains something that most of us lack. Unlimited resources. While it is slow, it still calculates a million times faster than my brain can, and it has no other functions to distract it, like writing reports or working spreadsheets. It just sits there looking for something to do.

So I give it something to do. I have loaded an old version of the POV Raytracer onto it and set it to render images. A raytracing program creates images based on a set of instructions. Based on the code that it is given, it can make photo realistic images of just about anything. My modern work computer can render a pretty complex image in about 10 minutes. The little Macintosh IIsi will take about 2 days to render the same image. But, it has nothing better to do.

So I have been running some POV scripts on it to test out various pattern settings to try and figure out some of the more advanced rendering techniques. I set it to run, walk away from it, and check on it the next day to see what the results are. I am in no hurry to learn this. I have been playing with the program for over a decade and will probably never master it.

Below is an example of one of the images it rendered about a week ago (it took amost 6 hours to complete). Four spheres, under spotlights, each with a different color map and texture pattern. By tweeking the numbers, I can adjust the complexities of the patterns

Someday, I hope to retire from the rat race and be just like the Mac IIsi. Left alone to work on simple things without distraction. If I can make it there, the sky's the limit, because I will finally have unlimited resources and no constraints.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

My Next Career

Candle Wrangler

The newest season of the Bachelor is well underway. My wife and I watch this show, for what I hope are the same reasons as the rest of the country. To laugh.

Anyone that actually thinks that these shallow and vampish females are going to find love while camera crews follow them around on 'dream dates' is probably still believing in the tooth fairy and Santa Claus.

So my wife and I usually record the show so we can fast forward through all the commercials (any sponsor that would actually help pay for this type of programing is NOT someone I want to give my money to) and howl at the screen while throwing popcorn at it and debating which of the gold-diggers performs the best oral sex.

There is a style to these types of shows that has become almost formulaic. It is that style that I can see my next career in. A job where the stress is low and the surroundings are pretty easy on the eyes. When I have served my time and I am released from my current capitalist incarceration in the cube-farm, I want to be a 'Candle Wrangler'.

If you catch even the smallest glimpse of the Bachelor, or Bachelorette, or probably Survive for that matter (hey, they have torches), you can't miss the huge numbers of candles that decorate the date sets and hot tub scenes throughout the entire show. The tapers and decorative candles must run in the hundreds throughout the season and the votum candles must run in the thousands! Someone has to light them all AND keep them lite on those breezy evenings. And you never see any half burned candles from the previous evening still laying around the next day. Once they are lite and extinguished, those 1 watt wonders get chucked in the trash by somebody. Why not me?

With my trusty butane fire starter and my exacting wick trimming abilities, I would be a shoe in for the position of Candle Wrangler on one of these shows. I can see myself standing in the background, bathed in the scent of molten Lavender and Bayberry wax as the dude of the hour struggles with who to give the final rose too. No more phone calls or screaming morons to deal with, just me and the glowing sentinels of the evening. I wonder if the job comes with a dental plan?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Blog Roll Results

What An Eclectic Group Of Folks

You can click on the blog graphic or hit the link at the bottom of this blog to view the results of the blog roll poll. If you haven't completed the form yet, you still can and have the results automatically updated to the results page. The link to the Blog Roll questionaire is here.

I found this whole experiment pretty entertaining. Some of your responses were whimsical and others contained information that I would have never guessed. A couple of the attributes you can find on the Blog Roll Summary are:

1) One of my readers is an expert in Hacky Sack (how gay!)

2) The concensous is that I should post more stories and photos about my dogs, I should lighten up a bit and change the background color of my blog.

3) One of my readers knows how to manipulate men.....well duh.....

4) One reader can burp on request.....(now that is what I call talent)

5) Most of my readers find blogging cheaper than therapy (and they say we need national health care?)

If you want to read all the responses and see some of the other excellent blogs that I read on a regular basis, check out the complete results here. Thanks for all those that particapted, hope we all have a safe, productive and happy New Year!

Friday, January 1, 2010

First Friday Flashbacks

The older we get, the more our concept of 'wealth' changes. I feel sorry for the person that values money over everything else. They have missed the important lessons in life. Here is one of those lessons that taught me a heck of a lot.

First Published June 14, 2006

Meet Mr. Stage

28 Years Later

You don't know him. Chances are you won't meet him. You will probably never run into anyone like him. But you should. He could teach you a lot.

Mike was one of my best friends in High School. He was funny, had a bit of temper and was going to take on the world. We all were back then. We thought we knew everything. He married his High School sweetheart; they had a child and drove off into the sunset to make their way in the world. That was the last I ever saw of them. That was 1975. As I write this, it was over a quarter of a century ago.

During that quarter of a century, I went to college, held down about six jobs, got married, got divorced, took some wicked vacations and learned some valuable lessons from the school of hard knocks.

About three years ago I bumped into Mike's ex-wife on the internet. She had divorced Mike and remarried. She was living in Los Angeles with her 5 daughters. To my surprise she still knew where Mike was and gave me his address. On my next trip out to Southern California, I made a point to stop by and see him. I thought it would be a chance to re-live our youth one more time, but instead it showed me just how much our paths had differed.

After getting lost several times in LA traffic I finally pulled into an apartment complex parking lot and there he stood waiting for me. He looked the same. The years hadn't changed him that much. He was a little more wrinkled, his hair was a bit thinner, but it was the same old Mike. His smile told me that. After 5 minutes of catching up, we were right back where we had left off 25 years before. We still had that connection.

At first it appeared that Mike had fallen on hard times. But times are relative to those that live them. It was evident that Mike was happy. He wanted for nothing but also didn't have much. He had a minimum wage job, no savings, no car, no iPod, no Plasma television or broadband internet. But he didn't want them.

Mike hadn't listened to the announcers that preached the American Dream when we were growing up. Over time, his focus had shifted. His passion had become righting the wrongs of society. He was determined to be the lone man railing against the machine. He was the one that would stand in front of the column of advancing tanks and scream at them to go home. His uniform was denim, his resolution knew no fear, he expected no rewards.

When he wasn't answering phones in a call center, he spent his time with other like minded adults planning protests. Protests against police brutality, protests against the Iraq War, protests against big oil and big chemical. He gleefully related the time he was just missed by rubber bullets or how he had felt the sting of pepper spray on more than one occassion.

While listening to him passionately talk of the time he was beaten by the Los Angeles riot police or handcuffed in front of the county courthouse, it made me wonder about my life. The life that I thought was so successful and happy. What was I proud of? Was it my credit rating, my new car, my new plasma television? The more Mike and I talked, the less wealthy I felt.

Mike confided that he had been diagnosed with epilepsy several years earlier. He couldn't drive a car anymore, much less afford one. He wasn't really diligent about finding ways to pay for his medication either. He had blackouts and memory loss, but he managed to get back on track, eventually. But the more he talked, the more I realized that he didn't have a care in the world. It was all good. Life was a challenge. He was a fighter. He loved his daughters and the children that his ex-wife had with her new husband and looked forward to the days he could visit with them. Despite the fact that he had nothing, he had a passion for life.

We walked around Griffith Park that evening and then went out to dinner. We laughed and joked liked Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon. We were a team again, if just for that one night.

I said my goodbyes after dinner and drove back to Arizona the next day, but my time with Mike haunted me. I drove back to a rat race, where I wrestled with the pack and saved for that vacation in Mexico and the new car stereo. Meanwhile, in LA, Mike and his cohorts planned a protest against the death sentence handed down to a convicted teenage boy. Hard times are relative. The more I thought about it, the more I was envious of Mike's time.