Saturday, December 11, 2010

Leaving Well Enough Alone

I'm a sucker for music. I listen to just about anything good, and even some stuff that's not so good. I still have a substantial collection of vinyl records in addition to my CDs and my downloaded music, and it ranges from classical to jazz to popular songs from the turn of the last century to rock and roll from my own youth.

And, of course, since I grew up listening to music, I know a lot of traditional children's songs. Like Down By the Station. You know:

Down by the station early in the morning,
See the little pufferbellies all in a row.
See the station master pull the little handle:
"Puff Puff, Toot Toot" off we go.

So I was a little annoyed when I saw this tune in my son's recorder method book with these lyrics:

Down at the station early in the morning,
See the locomotives all in a row.
Hear the station master calling all the engines:
"All aboard!" Off they go.

Okay...why? They didn't even match the meter. Someone I mentioned this to thought they might be trying to make the song more "accessible" to modern youngsters. How? By taking out any reference to steam engines (pufferbellies)? Kids love steam engines. Have these people never heard of Thomas the Tank Engine? I mean, I can forgive singer James Coffey, who replaces the station master with the engine driver, which makes more sense, and goes "Chug Chug" instead of "Puff Puff," which is also a better description. He's keeping the meter perfectly and the adaptation still keeps the spirit of the original.

But there's just no reason for this. Next thing you know we'll see an adaptation of the "Little House On the Prairie" books where the Ingalls family rides across the plains in a car.

Probably a Prius.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Inspired By an Old CDROM

There's a new section on my blog ("Music Out Of My Head," to the right), and a new song, which I composed on the fly using an old program called SimTunes.

It was quite a challenge to install the Window 95 program on my newer Windows XP machine (I don't know if I'd even try it on Windows 7), especially because the disc, found in a local landfill's "swap shop," was so encrusted with dirt I had to (gasp!) scrub it clean with a dish scrubber.

But I got it to load and I got it functioning, and I'm having fun. I hope listening will be fun for you, too.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Computers and Headaches

I'm having issues with my computer.

I should explain that I have, in fact, more than one computer. To tell the truth I have more computers than most people, even most computer people. I have trouble, sometimes, letting go.

For example, I have three Amiga 3000 computers. I keep them even though they are considered obsolete, because they run a program called Deluxe Paint IV, which only runs on Amiga computers. Deluxe Paint IV is a great tool for teaching children how to do simple animation. I'm planning on combining the three Amigas into one truly-decked-out machine, but I just can't quite get rid of all of them.

My family has four Windows machines, and I have one. I use mine, an ancient machine that runs Window 98, for legacy software like Autodesk Animator Pro, a DOS program which can only be run in Safe Mode under 98, and can't be run under XP at all. Three of the four others are laptops, and the fourth is the central family desktop computer that I happen to be typing on.

Because, as I said, I am having issues with my computer.

I have three Macs. One is an old iBook, and the other two are Minis. And it is one of these that I consider "my" computer. It is, or was, the one that I did 90% of my computing with. And it's hard drive developed some nasty glitches that couldn't be fixed using Disk Utility, and so I had to carefully copy everything I could grab that had changed since the last backup, reformat the drive, and reinstall the system.

That sounds easy, but I seem to have some issue with the optical drive as well, and so ended up installing the system from the optical drive of the other Mini, hooked up to my Mini with a Firewire cable and started up in Target Disk Mode.

And, of course, since this is a G4 Mini made about five years ago, the system software is hopelessly out of date. And so my computer is spending the next evening or two endlessly updating the system software. And then I have to step in and figure out what I'm going to put back onto the machine. Because, after all, in five years you accumulate a lot of junk that you don't actually need taking up space on your hard drive anymore.

And so meanwhile I am browsing, blogging, Facebooking, Googling, and even FTPing and writing my Website updates, on a Dell PC running Windows XP. I won't start a fight and say that it's a step down.

Let's just say that it takes some getting used to.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Don't Rush Me!

I use Quicken, a computerized personal bookkeeping program for anyone who doesn't know, to keep track of the family finances. And the other day as I was entering in a receipt from the grocery store, where my wife and I had bought all of two candy bars, I noticed something I had not been aware of when we made the purchase.

A discount. It was there, as a separate line item, right on the receipt. For a moment I couldn't figure it out, and then it dawned on me. It had been a Tuesday. And on Tuesday the store gives a Senior Discount.

A Senior Discount. Do you hear what I'm saying? I said a Senior Discount! A discount for seniors. That means, in this particular store, people who have reached the age of 55. That's not me.

So, okay, I'm getting close, but I'm not there yet.

What's funny is that I might not have gotten the discount had I not been there with my wife. Karen is a little younger than I am, but she looks a lot younger, and I think it makes me look older by comparison. Not that I'm complaining.

And of course, it depends on the age of the cashier as well. If the cashier is a contemporary, he or she is less likely to make me out to be older than I am. But the youngsters, teen to twenty-something, nearly always peg my age above the speed limit. And I don't even have that much gray hair yet.

I'm also less likely to get the discount if my kids are with me. Maybe it's because although I am technically old enough to be a grandfather to either of my youngest boys, it's quite obvious that I'm not Grandpa. I'm definitely Dad. And so I lose the discount. Not that I'm complaining.

I am complaining, however, about being sent mail by AARP. That's the American Association of Retired Persons. Retired persons. I'm not thinking about retiring, I'm trying to start a new career!

So what do I do about this? If asked about the discount I'll say no. If given the discount without being asked, I'll say nothing. And the AARP mailers?

Ripped up and thrown in the trash before I even leave the post office.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Scam Spam. Damn!

Anybody who is out there on the Web for any length of time gets a lot of junk email. But lately, perhaps because of the faltering economy (to put it mildly) I've noticed a lot of messages in my email box that are obvious con games. Not very good ones, and certainly nothing on the scale of what the big financial companies have been doing to us.

But if they did manage to hook me they would make a pretty good chunk of change. Most of them are of the "you have unclaimed money" variety. A cashier's check, or lottery winnings, or some other riches await you if you'll just contact the sender and, oh, put up a little "good faith" cash, or "shipping and handling charges."

Hey, what's a few hundred weighed against a couple million? Where's my checkbook?

After all, most of these people say they are from some kind of bank or another. And we all trust bankers.

Don't we?

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Making Music On the Fly

Peavey is a company know for making guiatar amplifiers, although a peek at their Web site shows that they make a lot of other things, including instruments and microphones. But what caught my eye in a recent issue of Pro Audio Review is a cute little white box that also comes from Peavey.

Let me set the scene: you're walking down the street with nothing in your hands except your guitar and maybe a small bag with a few picks, a few cables, a pair of headphones, and your cell phone, when suddenly an inspiration strikes you and you really want to record a hot lick. You don't have your amp, and you're not in the studio. What do you do?

You pull out the little white  box and your cell phone, which happens to be an iPhone. You connect box to iPhone, your axe to the box, some headphones to the box, and start playing. The white box is the AmpKit LINK ($39.99), and the app to record it is AppKit (free) or AppKit+ ($19.99).

I have not tried these, having no iPhone at present, but I am still fascinated by what can now be found in very small packages. AmpKit is both a recording system and an amp modeler, with effects, in something that's about as wide as the iPhone and not as long, and maybe three times as thick. Amazing!

And it's not just small and portable and versatile. It's cheap! The tools for making cool music, like the tools for making video and recording audio and publishing books, are becoming more available, more sophisticated, and less expensive with each passing year.

It's a great time to be an independent artist. About all you really need to suppy are the effort and the talent.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Powerless

Our power was out for a total of over four hours today, with a one-hour outage just before the kids got home from school, and a four-hour outage just before Thomas was going to start frying up some chicken. We ended up having Chinese food for dinner, and the power came back on just as we managed to get the boys to bed, an hour late.

As it really frosted me. Yes, okay, it was raining and windy, and so a couple of dead trees fell down and the line and knocked us out. Nothing the power company can do, right? Well, I'm not so sure. If you read our family blog or keep up on our YouTube page, you might remember something that happened over a year ago, when a tree fell and split the line right in front of our house, while it was still under construction. At that time there was another tree leaning against one of the power poles. Did they take that tree down, too?

Yes they did—in August of this year when it caught on fire. Our local power company is not too swift when it comes to keeping trees off the line. In addition, the power lines in our neck of the woods are not insulated (as they are in the neighboring town). That means if a wet branch lays across the neutral and either or both of the hots, even if it doesn't break the line, it will cause a short circuit and shut the power down, maybe taking a transformer with it.

It seems for what we pay, which is among the higher rates in the country, that we might expect to get a little more infrastructure to go with it. Not a lot. Just some insulation as lines are replaced.

And the cutting down of a slew of dead trees.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Audiobook Withdrawal

I wrote in another entry about the way I devour audiobooks. Unfortunately, that has come to a screeching halt for two reasons. The first is that the nature of my job has changed in a way that requires more of my attention. Not so much that I can't listen to, say, music, but enough that I can't do my job properly and concentrate on spoken words at the same time.

The other is that I changed my car. My Chevy Astro finally gave up and got replaced by a 1998 Subaru Legacy. Which has a radio. And a cassette player. And no CD player. I don't know if the cassette player can be trusted, and besides the supply of audiobooks available at the library on tape has dwindled to nearly nothing. So I'm on an audiobook crash diet at the moment.

When I get a little money, and figure out how to replace the stereo myself so that I can avoid installation charges, I will replace the stereo with an inexpensive radio I've found that still has no CD player, but does have an input for my iPod and, to my great surprise, slots for both a thumb drive and an SDHC card. I love the idea of putting an audiobook on a thumb drive and just plugging it in for my commute.

I also love the idea of installing such an interesting bit of technology into a car that was built before the technology existed. There is something satisfying about the idea of cruising down the highway in a car that's older than two of my three children listening to a good book contained on a memory card that wasn't available until after they were born.

It's a lovely juxtaposition. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Why Do Cars Cost So Much?

This connects to a site and group that I'm in the process of developing (slowly since I have other projects higher up the list), suggesting that it should be possible to profitably build and sell a safe, reliable car in the US that retails for less than $5,000.

I was just reading a letter about a $4,000 car that GM was developing last year, but only to sell outside the US. The requirements imposed by the Federal Government, it is said, make it impossible to sell a car at such a low price here.

And, to a certain extent, this is true. But the auto makers are padding the statistics by overstating the cost of the government's requirements as well (and now that the US Government owns a substantial amount of GM, this is unlikely to change). I mean, if you really think about the technology, labor, and physical material that goes into these systems, they really shouldn't cost nearly as much as they do.

For instance, I can walk into my local Home Depot and get a 5,000 BTU air conditioner that will easily cool a small bedroom for about a hundred bucks. A small bedroom is 960 cubic feet of space. A small car contans less than 50 cubic feet of occupant space. So why does an air conditioner for a car cost over a thousand dollars?

And then why should we believe an automaker that tells us that the airbag systems required by law add $1,000 to $1,500 to the cost of a car? Why does this component cost so much?

While the rest of new technology has plummeted in price, especially in inflation-adjusted dollars, the cost of technology used in cars has remained high. Is this a matter of necessity? Or is this just because auto makers can get away with it?

Just as I've said that an electric car that is practical and affordable will not come from any car company you already know, a truly affordable low-end car will come from out of left field. It will be a tough fight, against the power of the entrenched automotive industry (remember the Tucker!), and it will only be won if American consumers demand it.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Charge!

I couldn't help noticing when an ad for the new electric car from Nissan came up on my Facebook page, and I just had to follow the link to find out about it. I like the idea of an electric car; with a clean source of electricity (nuclear, anyone? but that's another discussion) and the right battery technology, good electric cars could solve a lot of our transportation-related energy problems.

But the problem is that the major car companies don't seem to actually want to sell electric cars. I can think of lots of good conspiracy theories to why that might be so, but we needn't speculate as to why in order to demonstrate that it is, in fact, true.

Let's start with the price of the Nissan LEAF. About $32,000. People's car, right? That's for a subcompact five-seater with a range of about 100 miles per charge. Nissan is trying to send a message, which is, basically, "don't buy this car." Anyone with an eye on their budget will get the message, and only hard-core eco-fanatics will pony up so much money for so little transportation.

And there's another message Nissan is trying to send: this electric car thing is just so difficult and complicated that we can't possibly make it viable in the marketplace.

But come on, people, this is old news! Not only did we have a working electric car twenty years ago, but the car companies, especially General Motors, used the same arguments and tactics to kill it. This is not as complicated as they make it out. Tesla invented the brushless AC electric motor more than 100 years ago, and Thomas Edison created an electric car that could be recharged using water.

The EV1, the General Motors electric from the late 80s, had a range of 80 miles using conventional lead-acid batteries. Is Nissan trying to tell us that, twenty years later, they can only get 25% more range?

Look, if the major car companies wanted to build and market a viable electric car, they could make one with sufficient range and at a reasonable cost. This is not an exotic technolgy like, say, hybrids or hydrogen fuel cells. Lets just all admit that if the electric car is to be a part of modern transportation, it is not going to come from any manufacturer you've ever heard of.

And when that car comes along, we'll just have to fight to make sure the big car makers and the Feds dont' get in its way. More on that some other time, and perhaps in some other blog.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Distracted Driving Laws

I spend a lot of time driving. Two hours a day commuting, plus another half hour or more getting the kids from day care, and all of the weekend trips we take. So I'm on the roads in New Hampshire a lot. So obviously, I can see the dangerous behavior of drivers who are using their cell phones or eating while driving, right?

Well, no, not really. The drivers I fear most usually aren't doing either of these. No, what the worst drivers on the road are doing is simply being stupid.

They are tailgating, following at barely half a car length going 65 miles an hour. Passing on blind curves and in the fog. Weaving in and out of traffic, and changing lanes on the bridge. Drifting over far to the right of the traveling lanes and then catching themselves just before they run off the road. Waiting just long enough before pulling into traffic to make sure that it is unsafe to do so.

And at no time that I recall have I looked at one of these jokers and said, "huh, no wonder, he's talking on his cell phone." Because for the most part, they're not.

I'm all for improved highway safety, as long as it's approached reasonably. And to me the most reasonable approach is to crack down on driving practices that actually cause the majority of accidents.

Granted you can't outlaw stupidity. But you can try your best to keep it off the road.

Having A Job Is Too Much Work

Okay, trading time for money is a very limiting way to make a living, and it's something I'd like to change. But this morning I was also thinking about all the time I spend on work-related matters that I don't get paid for.

No, I don't mean my employer is making me do unpaid work; that's not even possible in my job, where my work is inexorably tied to my location. But I commute ten hours every week. And because my work day starts fairly early in the day, I take breakfast as well as lunch, and I have to make sure it's all taken care of before I go. And because my work does not use much of my brainpower, I need to supply my iPod with a constant stream of audiobooks and music, downloaded from the Internet or transferred from CDs.

All of this takes a lot of time. As well as making sure I have appropriate clothing (and keeping up with laundry is a challenge in an unfinished house). All in all, I think I probably spend about fifteen hours every week getting myself ready for work and getting to work. That means I'm getting forty hours' pay for 55 hours of effort.

And frankly, that's a pay cut I can't afford.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

21st Century Disaster Relief

I was listening to a report on NPR Radio this morning talking about people in Haiti who still are living in lean-to shelters on a median strip of a highway, using inadequate portable toilets that they have to cross traffic to use, and that fill up before the day is out.

By an odd coincidence, I am in the middle of listening to an audio book of the novel 1906, set in San Francisco in the days leading up to, during, and following the great quake.

Now, in terms of the actual earthquake and its immediate aftermath, those in power in 1906 San Francisco had far fewer excuses for their lack of preparedness than those controlling the government in 2010 Haiti. After all, San Francisco was less than 40 years past its last major quake, while Haiti's most recent quake had been some 200 years before.

But as far as providing food, shelter, and sanitation, among other things, I think we could be doing better by now. This is not one of those "if we can send a man to the moon" arguments that are, I admit, quite popular with people of my generation (I was twelve when Buzz Armstrong put his footprint in the lunar dust). It is an opinion based on things I have read recently about people who, for reasons other than disaster relief, are doing some rather amazing things in these realms.

Like the company in Malaysia that converts shipping containers to motel rooms. Or the Dutch company Spacebox, who builds stackable module to create housing units. There are companies working on low- or no-water sustainable toilets and water purification systems. And there are a lot of companies and researchers working on the problems of preserving or creating food under harsh conditions.

The problem, I think, is that many of those who control disaster aid, those who are considered "experts," are stuck in a certain mentality. It reminds me of an architect, someone who specializes in very small houses, who wanted to bid on a low-cost housing project. He had many excellent ideas on how to make small spaces liveable and save time, cost, and materials without compromising quality. But when he got the specs, he found that the bid called for minimum 1200 square-foot, three bedroom houses.

Convention can get in the way of real solutions. When you start with the end in mind, trying to think about what's needed instead of the ways things have always been done, you sometimes find that solutions that are faster, better, and cheaper really are available, especially at the level of technical and creative sophistication we find ourselves in right now.

I don't have all the answers; I don't think anybody does. But what is more important for those in charge is much more basic: ask the right questions. And don't just go to your usual experts for answers.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Media Overload

My wife was talking to a friend of ours the other day and mentioned how much she liked digital photography because digital photos don't take up any room.

Well, maybe. There's physical space, and then there's virtual space. Metaphorical space. That is to say, disk space. It may not be anything you can pick up and examine in your hand, but it does get used up, and it costs money.

We are a society inundated, quite suddenly, with digital records of our daily lives. Photographs, videos, sounds, Web sites, blog entries. And they all take up space on our hard drives. Our digital photographs, from cameras, phones, camcorders, and scanners, take up about 40 billion bytes. Not a lot of space in today's world of terabyte drives, but it's still space.

They also take up space in our schedules. I remember the time it used to take my wife to arrange hundreds of photographs into albums. Now it's me, the family computer guru, trying to make some kind of organizational sense out of thousands of photographs and movies, along with scans of the hundreds of old photographs, not all of which made it into albums before the digital revolution.

Supposedly, there are programs that make this easier, such as iPhoto and the organizer within Photoshop Elements, both of which we have. But they have the downside of keeping multiple copies of the digital files, on the theory, it seems, that disc space is unlimited.

I would prefer to see some kind of tool that lets you organize and reference media files by reference, so that you only keep one copy (besides a backup on a seperate drive) no matter how many different ways you want to reference it. I might consider writing one of my own.

But on the other hand, perhaps my time would be better spent just dealing with the pictures and movies I already have.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Stealth Inflation

I was eating breakfast with my family at a nice little local restaurant on Saturday morning, when saw a headline in the Wall Street Journal proclaiming that inflation was at only one percent. And I had to shake my head.

That's preposterous. Gas prices are up and food prices are, well the same. But, and this may be part of what's missing in the figures, food quantities are down. A half-gallon carton of ice cream is no longer a half gallon, it's 56 ounces, or 12.5% less for about the same money. Burger King still has Chicken Tenders for a buck, but now four instead of five. And the Buck Double is the old Double Cheeseburger, less one slice of cheese.

And it's not just food. I recently bought a bottle of Ivory dish soap, the same height as the bottle I was replacing, and about the same price. But the old bottle was a quart, and the new one is 24 ounces.

Maybe I'm wrong and the powers-that-be have figured this in. Or maybe inflation includes housing prices which have fallen through the floor. But in either case it does not matter. Average folks like us are paying more and getting less.

We just don't always know it.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

One Bite of Sanity

Yesterday I took a big step and got rid of something that has been getting in my way, and weighing on my mind, for quite a long time. I have been driving a van on my 84-miles-a-day commute for about six years, burning up a bunch of gas and, in the last couple of years, worrying about the day when the van would leave me stranded.

I'd like to say that I got smart and took the step boldly, but the fact is that the van made the decision for me and actually did abandon me when the lug bolts on one of the wheels started to shear off.

But I did take bold action after that. I took a day off work, and in that day I located a car, bought it, registered it, and took it home. I still have to get rid of the old one, which is sitting on someone else's property, but that will probably be little more than a phone call to a junk yard or charity; the car is unsafe to drive and its time is up.

I did this without adding debt burden. At first I considered a new car, but then I thought about the financial side of that. First, I just didn't want to add monthly payments in this uncertain life, a move that would have obligated us further and made it harder to be flexible.

Second, I did some simple math. If you buy a car for $14,000 (which is pretty low-end these days once you have an automatic transmission and air conditioning, both of which my family needs), and you manage to keep it running for ten years, then it costs $1,400 each year just to purchase the car. Add interest to that and it's more like $2,000 a year.

I just bought a car for less than $2,000 including the day I had to take off work to get it, and if it only lasts me a year I'm even, without the obligation. And I think that the car will probably go longer.

It's nice, for a change, to be doing something so completely sane.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

I Envy My Kids, I Cry For My Kids

My children are growing up in a world in which they can take for granted many things that, as a child, I could never even have imagined. I grew up in the age of television, but only the television of network power and limited choices. Now my children can choose what they want to watch and when, using DVDs and streaming video from the Internet.

Computers are a normal part of their lives; I never saw an actual computer until I first played with the Radio Shack Model I just after I graduated high school. Cell phones, MP3 players, video games, digital cameras,and microwave ovens, are just a few of the many wonderous things my kids can enjoy every day.

But I cry for my children as well. You might expect me, at this point, to say something of what they've lost by being exposed to all this technology. But I've watched these same children, after listening to audiobooks from tiny iPod players during their bus ride to school, spend hours outside enjoying the experiences of playing with each other and exploring their world without benefit of toys or technology.

But I cry because they are growing up in the world of the lowest common denominator. I see it at their schools, where political correctness and an over-developed sense of fairness have dominated at the expense of facts and solid learning.

And they are growing up in a world where the major institutions in our lives cannot be trusted to look out for anyone other then themselves, and where no one in power seems to do anything about it except talk.

I wonder how I can prepare them for this uncertain world, and, more importantly, equip them to change it for the better.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Of Waste and Water

In a recent entry in the Web site Springwise, a claim is made that 58 billion paper coffee cups are discarded each year, using up 20 million trees and 12 billion gallons of water.

I don't have any facts to dispute that, but I find myself objecting to the notion of using 12 billion gallons of water. Except in rare circumstances, we don't use water. The amount of water existing on the planet is an amazingly stable thing. The water we make use of is still water.

Now, we can pollute water and make it unsuitable for living things, and that is a problem we have to consider as we put water to work. There can also be localized water shortages, as anyone who has lived through a drought can attest. And in certain areas getting clean water for drinking, bathing, and food preparation is a huge problem.

But on a global scale, we don't use water so much as move it around. Let's take a simple example. You wash you hands. Where does the water come from? In my case, in a rural area, it comes from an underground well. It goes down the drain into my septic system, where it leaches back into the ground, and eventually find its way back into the water table, which is also fed by rain and underground streams.

It's different if you live in the city, but the net result is the same. The water goes round and round.

It would help the discussion of water coservation if we avoided meanlingless statistics about so many gallons of water, or millions or billions of gallons, being used, and gave more thought to how the application of water affects the quality of the water.

Because nothing we do on any meaningful scale affects the amount of water in the world.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Enlightenment At Your Fingertips

I recently ran across an ad from the 50s on Facebook, from the Soda Pop Board of America, citing scientific studies and encouraging parents to start their children on cola earlier in life to improve their chances at a normal social life in their teens.

Some commentators see this ad as an indication of how far we've come. Others use it to demonstrate that Corporate America, for too long, has manipulated us with this kind of propaganda. Even Kevin Trudeau, who presents himself as a expert on, well, just about everything, used the ad in a diatribe about dishonest advertising.

Out of all the comments I've seen about this ad, only a couple have come close to the truth: that the ad is a fake.

It is not a hoax, for a hoax is something faked in order to convince others that it is real. Piltdown Man was a hoax. The Balloon Boy was a hoax. This ad was conceived as a joke.

It took me about five minutes to verify this. A Google search for "Soda Pop Board Of America" yielded only references to this ad, and no actual organization. Searching for the terms "soft drink" and "trade association" helped me find the American Beverage Association, which in the 1950s would have been called American Bottlers Of Carbonated Beverages.

Melissa Data quickly brought me to the conclusion that the address listed on the ad does not exist (always a good idea in a fake, to avoid someone at the actual address getting harrassed). And on the way I found a blog entry by the man who actually created the ad in the first place.

Much has been written about the lack of reliability of information found on the Web, but this is nothing new. Plenty of nonsense and misinformation made it into print long before the Internet, or for that matter moveable type. The aforementioned Kevin Trudeau was responsible for plenty of bad information in the pre-Internet era.

It's all a matter of getting back to the basics of research. For any given bit of information you seek, is to answer the question: "Whose business is it to know?" And then, you need a collection of trusted sources, sites where you know the information to be reliable.

With those principles in mind, the Internet is a magnificent resource for seeking the facts. It amazes me that so many will believe so much that is so unbelievable, when just a few minutes and a few keystrokes could get to the heart of the matter.

The Bucket List

I got the title, and the idea, from a movie of the same name, directed by Rob Reiner and starring Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson. Two terminal cancer patients who fate throw into the same room decide to spend some time doing things on a "Bucket List," a list of things to do before you, well, kick the bucket.

I've decided I need a Bucket List, not because I have only months to live, but because an awful lot of what I'm doing now I wouldn't call living.

This isn't an exercise that should be done solo, unless one is planning to leave one's family. And since my family is the one thing in my life that I most want to keep, I'll do this with my family, so that we can decide on and share these experiences together.

Not that I won't have specific wishes that are mine alone, or mine and my wife's and none of the children's business. But it would much more exciting for everyone if we have things in our lives that we really, really wanted to do that we could share with each other.

Not to do someday. But to do as soon as we possibly can. Because we may not have only months to live (or perhaps we may, fate being what it is), but neither are we going to live forever.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

All the Great Books I've Never Read

I spend a lot of my time driving and, like most everyone else, working. I also have young children and a house under construction, and so I don't have a lot of time to read. I probably don't read more than 14 or 15 books a year.

But because of the long commute, and the less-than-challenging nature of my work, I listen to a lot of audiobooks. In fact, between ten hours a week of drive time and about six hours of work time I can spend listening, I probably hear more than 100 books every year.

Although this is a much better use of my time than, say, listening to talk radio, I mostly find the experience of listening to a book inferior to the experience of reading a book. But there are notable exceptions. If the reader is very, very good, then listening to the book is a joyful experience.

The Sofie Metropolis novels are read by Ana Fields. I listened to the first two, then read the third one because I couldn't get hold of an audio version. But having listened to Ana Fields portray these characters thoroughly enhanced my enjoyment of the reading experience. I kept getting her voice in my head, and that was a good thing.

The are a couple of books I'm glad I didn't have time to read, because I had the pleasure of listening to the authors read them instead. Most authors should not read their own books, but two wonderful exceptions that come to mind are the actor Alan Alda and the writer Neil Gaiman. Both of them added dimension to their own books that I could not have conjured out of my own head.

It might seem that Gaiman would be more of a surprise in that respect than Alda, since Alda is an actor, but it is not always, or even mostly, true that great actors make great readers. I have heard many actors lose almost all of the personality they put into their performances on stage or on camera when sitting in an empty booth with a microphone.

I've also noticed that certain authors bring out the worst in readers. I like Ernest Hemingway, but I've pretty much given up on finding a good audio version of any of his work, since everyone who reads him seems to get all quiet and flat, almost, it seems, out of reverence, when in fact his work is full of drama and emotion.

But those caveats aside, if you find yourself with too much drive time on your hands, or a job that doesn't require much from the symbolic processing part of your brain, I strongly suggest trying a good audiobook on for size.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Surprised By Sanity

Insanity has crept into my life over time, especially during the last decade when more and more of what I did with my life, and my family's life, defied all sense of reason. I knew, of course, that most of what I was doing with my life was insane, but I expected that sanity and reason would have to creep back in, as insanity had, over time.

Imagine my surprise when, sitting at my desk, I suddenly and without fanfare became sane.

Not that it has had any immediate effect on my day-to-day activities. It is easy to imagine a scene where I get up from my desk, work unfinished, and walk up to my boss and say, "I can't do this anymore."

"I beg your pardon?"

"Look, it has nothing to do with you, it's just that I can't do this anymore. It's just that I've gone sane."

But I have mouths to feed, and there it is. But now that I can see clearly that so many things in my life are clearly insane, I can accelerate the process of aligning life with my newfound sanity. I don't know where, exactly it will lead me; it is a story that may have no end, at least until I do, and so is bound to contain more than a few surprises.

Why Another Blog?

I already have blogs on a couple of different subjects. My family life, my thoughts about video production (that one's getting revamped and restarted), a review of what I'm finding out about the mortgage crisis, and so on.

I felt the need to start a blog that was not about any subject at all, where I could put random thoughts as they occur to me. Are these valuable thoughts? Probably not. But it's easier to dump them into a blog then to let them rattle around inside my head, where they might cause who knows what kind of damage.

Consider it a form of mental hygiene. Lucky for you, there are plenty of meaningful blogs out there (perhaps, even, one of mine), and leaving this one is a simple click away.

Are you still here?